On that day, I woke around 7 a.m., got dressed and donned my walking shoes. I slipped a tape into my Walkman. Before the advent of iPod, I relied on my tape player to keep me company on my daily two-mile walk.
I don’t remember whether, on that day, I listened to music or Books on Tape. I walked down my street to James Way, along James Way to Fourth Street and back again; the return trip, all up hill. I took little notice of the people and cars that passed that day.
When I opened my front door, I heard the phone ring.
My friend, Henry said “Do you have your TV on?”
“No, I just got in.”
“Go put it on,” he said.
“What happened?” My skin puckered with sudden apprehension.
“Someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center. Another crashed into the Pentagon,” he said.
I slammed the phone down and sprinted to the TV. The picture showed billows of smoke over downtown New York. The phone rang again.
My sister Dorothy said, “Isn’t it terrible? Both towers . . . gone.”
“What do you mean, gone?” I didn’t understand her.
“They’ve collapsed. They both crumbled to the ground.”
“Both of them?” I couldn’t wrap my mind around that information. It seemed impossible.
I remembered the time in 1945 when a military plane crashed into the Empire State Building. It caused damage but the structure stood erect. How could two towers collapse?
As all Americans did on that day, I stayed riveted to the TV, tears freely flowing. Not only did I mourn the loss of life, I also felt a personal affront. They had attacked New York, my hometown. I later learned my former neighbor, Pete Ganci, a New York City fire chief, had perished that day. I thought of Pete, as a boy, playing softball with my nephews in a neighborhood field.
My first cousin Richard Fahey had worked as foreman of the ironworkers who built the North Tower in the 1970s. I looked at pictures of him perched above the final construction with the whole of Manhattan fanned out below him like a miniature village.
I remembered the Frenchman who secretly strung a wire between the two buildings before they opened. The next day he walked across with a balance pole, stopped midway and taunted the police to come and get him. Decades later I watched the film “Man On a Wire” that chronicled his exploit.
I reminisced over pictures of the towers and Statue of Liberty that I took from Ellis Island. Dorothy and I had visited the island to see the plaque honoring our mother who passed through those immigration gates in the early 1920s.
I recalled the day Dorothy and I went to see the towers in the early 1980s. The position of the two buildings caused a wind tunnel to blow between them. A stiff breeze whipped my hair into my face and flapped the ends of my coat away from my body. I looked up at the multiple tridents that soared to the sky. We entered the three-story lobby. Bright sunlight streamed through the windows that surrounded us. Flags of all nations hung from the high ceiling creating a colorful tapestry above our heads.
We took the elevator to the observation area. When I stood close to the window, floor-to-ceiling glass gave me the impression of standing outside the building. It made my stomach lurch. I looked down at the toylike vehicles going up one street and down another. From that height, people were invisible unless they stood in clusters. We had lunch at “Windows of the World” on the 106th floor and looked over the expanse of water, land, and sky.
The radicals took a great deal away from us on 9/11, but they can’t take away my memories. The tragedy of that day will stay in our collective consciousness for as long as we live. In the aftermath, we heard stories of quiet heroism. Ordinary people did extraordinary deeds to help each other. Patriotism flourished throughout the country. The terrorists could wreck our buildings, but they couldn’t wreck our spirit.
Pismo Beach resident Mary Fahey was born in Brooklyn and lived in the New York area for 50 years.