[posted 09.25.2001]


BROOKLYN. TUESDAY, THE ELEVENTH of September, 2001. 10 a.m. I walk out of the gym, sweat in my hair and I’m hungry. Decision: protein shake or English muffin? Six steps, seven, I’m crossing the street and shit, a column of smoke is rising into the day-blue sky and everyone’s standing around buzzing. There’s a fire, wow, must be the bank, a plane, what?, well, not my bank, thank God, shhh!, I say to my growling stomach and I’m pressing through and I’m asking is it a fire or what? and they’re looking at me, all these people, looking at me like I’m from another planet or I’m slowly turning orange or WHAT? and the black kid next to me with the little goatee and skin like polished wood says the World Trade Center just got hit by two jets and I think, Jesus, can’t these airline pilots fucking learn to fly?, and then I think, Jesus Christ, the World Trade Center just got hit by two jets on purpose and I’m in a city under siege and suddenly I’m not hungry at all, not even for an English muffin.

I get home; I turn on the TV first thing like always, only now I’ve got no Golden Girls reruns, no slap-happy game show host but news news news. Reporters in choppers as close as they can get to the scene, vying with each other for information and updates, thinking, Yes! This is the scoop that’s gonna get me that Emmy!, and OHGODOHGODOHGOD this cannot be happening how the hell do I find words and phrases to describe this to people who can see the smoke from miles away and are losing their minds with the fear and the heat of it? I think back to junior high when I despised these broadcasts, these disasters, for covering over my precious programs with their THIS JUST IN and SPECIAL LIVE REPORT logos, only now I’m this grown-up and I have friends who can add and they are working at the World Trade Center and the tower just collapsed and maybe they are not adding now but lying still and twitching and I am frozen inside and I am crazy in my head and I don’t know what to do I don’t know what to do.

My phone doesn’t work. I depress the little plunger over and over and think This time, this time I’ll hear the dial tone, but I don’t. My friend from the street, the black boy who told me what was going down in that jovial way ‘cause he had the inside scoop, he said no trains are running into Manhattan. The city is closed down. This city, the biggest, the sparkliest, the wildest most important city perhaps in the world or at least in my world, is SHUT DOWN and I think, How can that be? I flash on my responsibilities: meeting my friend Christine for coffee in Midtown, going to purchase tickets for an upcoming hit show, buying those sequined pillows at Urban Outfitters; and I guess I’ll be putting those off for the moment. And then I remember the child I’m supposed to pick up at her school and now I can’t and what should I do with the phone not working to call her parents and that makes me think of my mother in the shut-down city and I panic even though she works 30 blocks away from the danger zone because I’ve already lost my daddy and I don’t know if I can make it all alone and who knows whether or not terrorists might strike a high school for fashion design just because they can?

And the phone does not does not does not work.

I am thinking about Napoleon and his takeover of countries and how in his day there would be men, grizzled men with limps and empty canteens and sword-thrusting men on white horses outside of my home, slashing through my orchards, burning my roof and scaring my goats or whatever, and I would see them and scream and taste blood in my mouth. But here I am in my quiet apartment and the trees still sway outside even as residual smoke that I can’t even see is curling through their branches like ribbons through hair. What a time to be alive.

Is this D Day all over again? Are we going to be at war? Is this what it felt like for my grandparents, everyone’s grandparents, the ones who will never forget that day?

The phone works. It rings and it is Sara, who is fine. She may not make it home tonight with the trains and the standstill but she can’t add either and is therefore safe. Thankgodthankgodthankgod. She says she saw the tower collapse with her own eyes and she cried and I think again, Thank God she is safe, and then I think, How come I didn’t get to see it with my own eyes? and What will I tell my grandchildren about being on a fucking treadmill when the world fell apart? and then I remember that I’m not planning to have any kids but I still feel cheated.

I am such a selfish nasty bitch.

No, I’m not. I’m just human.

How strange to stumble across one’s humanity when so many people have probably just lost theirs to a senseless attack. How strange to think, too, that the people who did this did it because they were trying to save the lives of their loved ones or avenge them or something. How strange that life should be a commodity so hard to bargain for and so easily lost when it’s given to each of us free upon arrival in this world, to everyone a fair share.

I’m hungry again because I’m alive. I go to the kitchen, eat something, eyes on the TV. The country is shutting down piece by piece and I’m watching it happen via a magical box. This reminds me that if the TV stops working I will not know what, if anything, is happening, and I think again of Napoleon and understand how easy it must have been then to sneak up on people and destroy them, and how easy it still is.

Everyone is evacuating, they say, but where are they going? Home? Where can so many people go in the standstill city, a city with a bag tossed over its head, blocking out the light? I try the phone again and again. Dial tone at last, but every time I dial I get a busy signal. Now it’s dead again and I am alone and not afraid but very very awake and that is almost the same thing somehow.

The slowness of tragedy, the waiting, is the worst part. I am suddenly so sleepy now from watching watching watching the story unfold so far away and yet so close to me, with people calling to see am I alright when I am fine and snug in Brooklyn. I think it would be wrong to shut my eyes for a moment, an insult to those who are suffering or who are no longer suffering, but my lids are drooping and my head is heavy and I can’t help anyone anyway from where I am….

On TV there are Palestinians dancing in the streets and throwing candy and I want to vomit. My friend Ben who works right by where the Trade Center once was calls to say he’s walking home across the Manhattan Bridge and do I want to get some lunch and I want to laugh. He may be indestructible, but there is no stock market anymore and I am glad I don’t own any stocks and I am afraid for the people who do and I wonder if any of it matters.

They are saying there is a plane, one of the hijacked ones and it is circling and may have to be shot down by US F16s and I am still sleepy but I am wondering how it must feel to be in that plane and knowing death is imminent no matter what. What would I do if I were there? Toss back as many mini bottles of liquor as I could? Hold hands with the stranger next to me? Lock myself in the bathroom and pray? Scream and scream and scream and scream? What can any of us ever do to stave off death? I wonder if it is better or worse to know and be waiting than it is to be surprised and I remember how much I’ve always loved surprises and I thank God I am not on that plane and I pray that He takes them quickly.

I know that in the end I cannot change what has happened any more than I have caused it. Still I wait and wonder what will come to pass, as though by thinking about it I will have some say in the matter. I climb up to the roof of my building where I can see the smoke billowing into the sky and I can almost catch it.

Evening comes and still the world is turning.

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meredith zeitlin is a writer and actor in new york city, where she is currently struggling with the chronic unemployment that seems to go hand in hand with those professions. she is a graduate of northwestern university and likes ice cream a whole lot.