The sky was so blue the brightest, brightest blue. A year later, when I think back, that's what I remember - the blue, blue sky, contrasted with the smoke rising so high and so thick that we saw it from the highway almost 50 miles away.
I wasn't working on September 11, 2001. I had an 8am appointment for chest x-rays and an abdominal ultrasound to see why I had such terrible pains in my side (it was my gallbladder) and an early afternoon appointment with my rheumatologist, an appointment schedule 3 months before at my June appointment. Craig switched his schedule that day so he could drive me to the morning tests. We finished up just after nine, I think, and got on Route 80W in Denville. Had we looked to the east, we would have seen the smoke rising from the city.
As we got up to speed, Craig said that a man had come in to the office while I was having the ultrasound and told people he had just heard that a plane had crashed into the Empire State Building. I thought that was so strange, because just a few days before I had heard about a time many years ago when a small plane had hit the Empire State Building. What a coincidence, I thought.
So we turned on WDHA, the local rock station that Craig listens to, and they were talking about how a second plane had hit, that they didn't have anymore information that that. I knew immediately that it was terrorism, and my thoughts flew to the Palestinians. Would they be blamed? I never suspected them, I just thought they would be the first blamed. Then we started thinking about who we knew in the city Bridget lived uptown, but there's always a chance she's at MSG? Had the Rangers started training camp yet? Where would she be? I had professors in the city, but they all lived uptown. OK, everyone is accounted for.
Except Dave. Dave was in the city for a meeting and his back injections. Oh, God, where was the meeting? It wasn't downtown, was it?
We arrived home and that's when I noticed how quiet it was. No birds, no planes, just silence against this brilliant blue sky.
I turned on CNN, to the image that greeted most of us, the two towers burning. I turned to WNBC, thinking a NY affiliate might know more. That's when I saw the video of the second plane crashing and that's when the tears started. I held Craig, kissing him goodbye, knowing he had to get to work. He promised he would try to call Dave, and try to get home as soon as he could. "Cancel your appointment," he said. But I couldn't. I didn't know when I'd be able to get another one - they wait is usually at least six weeks.
Craig left, and then the news of the Pentagon being hit came across the screen. The towers were just smoking away, and all I could think was "How will the firefighters get to them?" It never occurred to me that they might not, and that the towers would collapse. I had no idea it was even possible.
I went to the computer to see if there was any more information anywhere, and to tell people I was home and waiting if they needed me. I tried to contact my sister and my best friend, who I thought was flying home from Florida that morning. My parents were in Virginia Beach, VA - I couldn't get through to anyone.
I sat and stared at the TV, losing all concept of time. The reporter was talking to firefighters and people who were staggering up the street then there was a rumble and this cloud of dust just came roaring down the street, and everyone began to scream and run, and then they cut back to the anchor. The first tower had fallen, and I felt like Obi-Wan in Star Wars - as if a million souls had cried out in terror and then silence.
I'm a Pisces and more than a little psychic. I will never, never, never in my life forget that feeling, as if the fabric of the universe had torn and Mother Nature was screaming. By the time the second tower fell, I had become numb, stunned by the emptiness in my soul.
I called Craig. He had just talked to Dave. He had come up out of the subway near the Bronx, turned to look downtown and saw the second plane hit. He was trying to get out of the city, but didn't know how he could. I called to tell him that the NJ Transit trains were still running, and connected with him as he ran to catch the last one. We found out later he had missed it and ended up walking to the ferry, to Weekhawkin, where his brother retrieved him.
I couldn't believe the tower had just crumbled like that. It was steel! How could that possibly happen? I didn't know about the fire melting the structure. What about the people? Could they get to them?
I remembered when the Oklahoma City bombing happened, and how I just sat in front of the tv for hours, rocking and sobbing, while my boyfriend begged me to turn it off. "The babies," I said, "why the babies?" Was there a child care center in the towers? Could there have been tourists with children there?
They reported about the other planes - not knowing, really, how many their were still unaccounted for. At one point they reported a plane going down in Somerset County I didn't realize it was PA, and I panicked because there is a Somerset County, NJ
The morning continued in a blur. I checked in at the office, trying to connect with people, telling them to go home and be with their loved ones.
Then I left for my doctor's appointment. I couldn't get the NPR station - I hadn't realized they were evacuated from their studio. I turned to WPLJ and Z100, where the morning DJ's were still on. Taking calls, trying to calm people down. PLJ was on in the office, where I was the only patient, and we didn't mention what was going on, we just listened to the radio. My doctor sent me upstairs for bloodwork, where they were listening to a local station that was reading announcements from churches saying they were open, that their would be prayer services tonight. People were calling Labcorp to ask about donating blood, but they couldn't do that their because they didn't have the storage.
I headed home hoping to get something to eat, since I hadn't eaten all day because of my tests, and calling Craig to let him know I was on my way - and he was already home. There were no cars on the roads.
As I pulled into the parking area, he came down the stairs and out the door.
"Madison First Aid just called. They're taking your sister to Morristown Memorial because she's got stomach pains."
We got in the truck and headed back down the road. Apparently Sam had gone to the health center on campus and they elected to send her to the hospital.
I tried again to get my parents, but couldn't. As we got on Route 80, this time heading east, we were joined by a caravan of heavy rescue trucks and ambulances coming from Pennsylvania and Northwestern NJ. My heart was heavy, yet inspired by what I considered to be the selfless acts of volunteers, ready to help however they could.
We crested the hill, from which on very, very clear days you might see NYC. Today we saw plumes of smoke, trailing south. I think at that moment it became truly real to me. It wasn't just on TV anymore. As we traveled South on Route 287, toward the hospital, we watched the smoke and tried to imagine what the hospital would be like.
It was in lockdown, with hazmat treatment areas and many men with guns. Craig dropped me off and I went seeking my sister, who was seated at registration. The ER was set for triage, and Sam was handed a green tag. We were told to walk to the back where someone would help us. Doctors and nurses were gathered around TV's. We showed them the tag and were brought to a room. There were people crying out in pain, but no one had yet been brought from NYC. I saw administrative personnel stocking blankets. They were anticipating several hundred patients. Just as I was about to offer my assistance, they examined Sam and determined she had an ovarian cyst, a low priority given the trauma they were expecting. She needed an ultrasound, but they didn't know when they could get her in, because they didn't want to tie up the equipment in case it was urgently needed. I told them to give me a prescription for pain medication and we'd be on our way. On our way out, we passed a group of women and men. Craig heard them talking. They were with the FBI, waiting for their husbands who had been in the tower. They were told they were being brought there.
My friend who works at the hospital told me less than 50 patients were brought there.
We brought my sister home, then called my aunt to come sit
with her. We finally got in touch with my parents, who were watching planes,
battleships and submarines go out to sea from the balcony of their hotel.
We got my sisters pain medication, I got some food, and we headed home, weary
at 5pm, knowing a long night was still ahead of us.