I first heard that the "tower was coming down" was from my mail-woman. I just assumed it was an exaggeration. I'd already been through a report of a car-bomb in the WTC garage, so I'd just assumed that there had been another one and that the world hadn't really changed.
I had something to do... I honestly don't remember what. So, I did whatever and then went to my parents' (since I live on an island, and you have to pay for going there, you don't bother leaving without doing everything you have to before returning).
When I got there, I turned on the TV and tuned into CNN. I heard the anchor (I actually have no idea who it was even) going on about how America was under attack. I didn't believe it. I presumed still that this was another car-bomb from another anti-government nutbar and there would be a quick arrest and we'd move on.
We were too far away ... things like this didn't happen... the anchors were in the habit of exaggerating for ratings.
But then? I saw the tower struck and it kept replaying on a loop over and over...!
I thought that it was an accident, until I saw that second jet airliner strike the second tower....
I didn't know how to feel, honestly (for those not in the know, I'm American), but my thought was "This isn't an accident" ... I thought that it was another McVeigh and we'd be fine. We'd be fine because we'd suffered such a loss before... in fact, we'd even had a car-bomb attack before....
But then CNN had shown live footage... and I saw the WTC Tower collapse and I thought, "Jesus Christ, this isn't happening, it's a horrible accident."
And then? CNN reported [complete with that footage] that a second plane had hit the second tower! And, I had thought... "No. This isn't happening... not in the United States"... but it was. It was happening, and the news was showing both jets slamming into the towers over and over and over. And one of them had collapsed completely. And, I thought, "There are hundreds dead after this...."
Then CNN had these tiny black dots falling from the windows... and I thought to myself, "Wow. Parts of the building are falling!"
But, no. They were people. People, who were so desperate that they threw themselves off from 10's of stories up.
I was too shocked to cry. That came later... it still happens, when I see the images in my head.
I saw men and women throw themselves out of windows; They must have known they coudn't survive that fall. I saw men with briefcases falling from much too high... holding briefcases above their head as if this would slow them down enough to save them.
I heard about how NY's fire departments had responded and I saw the first tower fall. I knew. I knew that no one in that building had survived, and still I didn't cry - I was too stunned. I just could not accept that this was happening.
In my mind, you see, this was still an exaggeration. This was a car-bombing, an accident, a miscalculation because the Twin Tower couldn't fall. These things happened due to tragic circumstance or in other countries.
And then, we saw the second tower fall. And I was watching CNN replay that footage over and over and I thought suddenly, "This changes everything. Nothing will ever be the same". And the news, the anchor -whoever it was - kept saying, "The towers have fallen" just as my mail woman had said, but I still couldn't believe this... not this, please God... not this!?
And, God Help Me, but I thought, "Everyone who thinks America is too arrogant must be loving this"... and then we received word that the Pentagon was hit. And, honestly... I think I felt the way that our parents must have felt when during the Cuban Missile Crisis... that the world was about to end and I was sitting alone and my parents were at work and my brother was at work and we were going to end and I had no one to tell that I loved them....
But, of course, the world didn't end. I went to work. People were talking about what had happened. We were all in too much shock to grasp what we'd see, what was in front of us....
And, I think that a small part of me still doesn't quite believe this.
And, I still cry. I'm crying right now. I will never EVER get those shadows out of my mind.... the shadows of people throwing themselves out of those high-rise windows, looking like debris...not knowing that they are people until the cameras zoom in and we saw those limbs... arms and legs... knowing that there was no way they could survive that fall... wondering what it would be like in those moments to choose between throwing yourself to the ground or burning to death?
And here is the God-Awful thing... I thought that the worst was watching the Challenger launch and explode when I had to go to a "Freshman Orientation" at college and have the woman in charge berate us for being late... she had no idea! None. And when it was pointed out [including me, but I wasn't the only one] that the Shuttle had just exploded, she also acted like our "the freshman" being late was the most horrible thing. She didn't know. She didn't get it, because she hadn't just watched what we had seen.
I didn't know, either.
I thought that watching the Challenger explosion was the worst thing I would ever see. I had no clue.
And, to be frank, neither do any of you who are younger than I (now, 44). For you, this is history and politics. When something you take for granted is blown apart in front of your eyes, you'll get it.
I cry still. Whenever I see a movie set in NY and I see the Twin Towers, I feel like someone has hit me in the gut. I'm torn between feeling like someone should remove these images, and we need to see the past in order to appreciate what we've lost.
After watching the tower collapse, after seeing the aftermath of the Pentagon rammed, after hearing the conversations of that flight in Pennsylvania, I'll never - ever - be the same. Never.
But we have to go forward, so we do. But this doesn't stop me from weeping every single anniversary.
You can't know unless you see this live, in front of your face. I'm crying... I always cry. They took something from us and those of us who understood what we watched - we'll never get it back.