I was on my way out the door to go to work when the phone rang. Odd, because it was too early for any phonecalls for our household. It was my sister, Andrea told me, and through her she asked if I knew about what happened to the World Trade Center in New York. I got on the phone to see what she was talking about. "You might want to check it out because it's all over the TV. Some sort of freak accident. A couple of planes hit the towers." I had no clue what she was talking about. Since we had a one year-old at the time, it was typical to have PBS on in the mornings. In fact, I think the Teletubbies was on the screen before I switched it over to NBC. It was then we saw it: both of the towers were engulfed with flames. It was a crazy sight. Just as I turned to that station, the announcer said, "Can we show the playback of what just happened five minutes ago?" And the crazy sight got even crazier: a plane slamming straight into one of the buildings. I remember thinking that you just never see anything like that. To see something like this on television, with millions of people watching, it's just unthinkable. It was a sight that I'll never forget.
Andrea's brother, Von, was visiting us at the time. He was hanging out with family before he made the big move to New York City in another week. It was Tuesday morning, and he was going to watch Ava while Andrea took me to work. I stayed a couple more minutes and grabbed a tape to record some of what was happening. Like I mentioned before, it was simply something that you don't see. This was a traumatic event—catastrophic, even—and being the nerdy video hound that I was, I had to record some of it. I remember thinking to myself, "This is our Kennedy assassination."
Andrea and I sat in the car in silence as we listened to all that was happening on the radio. One of the stations that we normally listened to was relaying the CNN newscast so we got to hear all the reports that this was definitely an attack on US soil, especially since both of the towers were struck. Not just coincidences. Silence in the car.
I was in a daze while I said good-bye to Andrea as she dropped me off at Primal that morning. I was wondering if anyone had heard about the attack at work and when I walked through the door, it indeed was known. By 10am all the studio monitors were on various stations: CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox. I remember that a number of us animators were huddled around CG director Shane McGee's TV when the first tower fell. Whatever station was on had a close-up of the two towers. At one point I noticed some debris falling and then the building in the front began to move slightly. I said, "Look, it's moving!" and immediately the shot changed to a wider angle, revealing the horror. Amidst the expletives and gasps of "oh no's" in the studio, I recall that the on-air announcer was not aware that the tower was falling. He kept rambling on about whatever it was he was talking about without a beat. It was then another announcer interrupted him to let him know what was going on.
For a while, there was fear around Atlanta that we could be a target because of the Center for Diseases Control. This was after we heard of the attack on the Pentagon and then later of another hijacked plane. It was crazy with all the fear mongers who began to talk of possibilities and potential targets. None of these theories would prove to be true, but I remember thinking to myself that reporters were beginning to be sloppy with their sources and on-site accounts. But it was an unprecedented event and everyone was going around trying to get as much information they could about what had just happened. Remember the insanity? It was nuts.
It was a somber day, needless to say. I couldn't sit still. I would go to my office and sit down and look at the current job I was supposed to be working on and say, "How can I draw stupid Quickdraw McGraw when innocent people are dying?" I didn't get a single drawing done. Nothing like a terrorist attack to put it all into perspective.
The day after the attacks, I went outside with Ava in my arms and looked up into the clear blue sky. I distinctly remember thinking that we would never experience this again: a sky free of planes.
I sat up late each night throughout the week, watching the reports of the attacks and the footage of the second plane hitting the tower over and over, ad nauseum. In an age of camcorders and video and cameras, I thought surely someone got the first plane, right? And eventually we found out that one French film crew had actually recorded the first plane attack. We would find out that it was recorded by two brothers who were doing a documentary on rookie NYFD firefighters. What an amazing stroke of luck. I felt that as long was we have enough evidence to convict the ones responsible then this was a good thing.
But then as Ground Zero became the new buzz word, my heart began to sink further than it already had. It sank for the family members of the ones in the planes who were being forced to watch the deaths of their husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, nieces, nephews, etc....over and over again. And when it became apparent that the firefighters and police officers working at Ground Zero were not going to find many survivors my heart sank even further still. But during the midst of all the sadness, I saw some positive things that I hadn't seen before. People bonding together to work at a common goal: to fix what had been broken. All those workers at Ground Zero were so resilient and dedicated to getting the job done, it was amazing to watch.
Now, it's five years later and I still am amazed by all the stories that came out of the attacks of 9/11. Andrea and I just watched the CBS film that the French brothers had put together from their amazing footage while at the North Tower, and it tore open old wounds for me. All the fear, the hurt, the sorrow, the pain, the suffering was brought to the forefront again. And best it should. After five years it's easy to become complacent with all that had happened. Politics make the complacency worse, and then you get all the US government conspiracies diluting the impact of that monumental day. It's all hogwash. Anyone can spin a conspiracy theory with the slightest of footage, documentation, and hearsay and make it seem true. We mustn't lose sight of what happened that day: people died and buildings fell. Families were torn apart and memories were burned forever. It was a day that shouldn't have happened, but did.
To all those who died that fateful day five years ago and to their families and loved ones: peace be with you all.
To see what is in store for the future of the World Trade Center site, go here.