The only question left

15 years on, remembering September 11 img_7390

By Geeda Searfoorce | The Charlotte News

Everyone agreed that the weather couldn’t be better. You couldn’t ask for a nicer morning—the kind of warm but crisp, illuminated paradox that only September can serve up. You couldn’t ask for a nicer day.

I was getting off the subway when the first plane hit. I had no idea—none of us did. We all, New Yorker worker bees, exited the train and walked up the stairs as usual, prepared to spend this stunning Tuesday inside buildings, making the rent.

I walked across 14th Street and up 9th Avenue, still unaware of the terrifying chaos just beginning to the south. What a morning! Oh, that sun! That blue, blue sky. You couldn’t ask for a nicer day.

In the elevator, people were talking. “A plane just hit the World Trade Center,” someone said. “What? When? How?” Questions, questions. “What a terrible accident,” I thought.

The elevator doors opened onto the panoramic view that reliably instilled me with awe. Those towers, glittering against that blue, blue sky. There was smoke pouring out of one of them. Then I saw the second plane hit.

I was able to call my husband, mom and brother before the phones gave up working. My coworkers and I shook our heads, cried and paced the length of the floor, returning to the panorama periodically to remind ourselves why nothing made any sense. There are people in there, we said, but couldn’t really believe it. People were jumping. Eventually we left.

I walked home, a member of a crowd of gracious strangers. A new refrain was already beginning—“Do you need water?” “Can I carry your bag?” “How can I help?”—and would repeat throughout the next few months to counter the fearful voices of hate that shouted during that dark time. White powder mailed in envelopes, threat level orange, war.

The smoke plumed. The crowd walked over the Williamsburg Bridge. I could see my apartment. My husband was sitting on the roof, staring. We met friends at a bar. The television beat the drum. We shook our heads. “Why?” It was the only question we had left. All the others had been answered, or were becoming apparent. Who? What? When? Where? How? We can come by facts much faster than reason.

It was February when I felt the event in my body, really understood the enormity of it. After the smell had—mostly—dissipated. After the pictures of missing and dead began to weather. After the volunteer tents were rolled up and packed away. After airplanes in the sky stopped looking like sharks to me. After the country stopped shaking its head and asking why and started pointing fingers.

I don’t remember my dream, but a plane hit me full in the chest and I sat bolt upright in bed. I crept over to the window and craned my neck to the east. The towers were gone, an empty space filled the vault of the night sky. Those people!, I thought. Oh, those people. Why? Why? Why?