Don’t Look Back



22 Cortlandt street, new york, ny 10007

Neighborhood: World Trade Center

September 11, 9:30AM I was still nursing a baseball hangover from the previous night, a game that never started. Just as warm-ups were finishing, a 43 minute downpour erased all hopes of watching Roger Clemens add one minor record to his ego, winningest percentage among 20 game winners. Goers huddled near the concessions, splitting peanuts and sipping Budweiser, cops warned people staring at the bars across 161st street that an exit meant just that. Then the skies cleared and newspapers gave their lives to wipe seats. An hour later the umps decided the field was still too slippery and the announcement began “Ladies and gentlemen……” The crowd groaned and dispersed.

Less than 12 hours later I was on the same subway line, diverted pre-work to do a style run, clothes held for me at Century 21; wool pants by an unknown Japanese designer. The woman at the hold desk reminded me twice they opened at 7:45 and she’d keep them until 10 am. The 4 train hit the usuals: 14th, Brooklyn Bridge, Fulton, where I oddly forgot to exit, instead jumping out at Wall, where instantly there was a change in tone.

Sirens were moving around above ground. Cops were running up the stairs, but running doesn’t do it justice, they were booking, and the token clerk had turned his back to us, on the phone. Upstairs was controlled pandemonium. Jayrunning was the rule. Cars were half-paused, heads pressed driver’s side, cocked backwards, where up there, everywhere up there, was a wide path of dark smoke, lit at the edge with sun.

Adrenaline and urgency was overtaking Tuesday normalcy, and I headed north, and at Liberty Park, sparsely treed, a few hundred Path arrivals were massing for the shock. Both Towers were covering themselves with shadows from their smoke. Bits of debris were slipping from behind the haze and curling earthward. Some had cameras (how?). One or two walked right by, not looking back, but staring into the eyes of beholders. One right at me.

I understood, they were gathering news sympathetically, what they had seen was more than enough, now they were seeing what they had just felt, agin and again in they eyes who had just rounded the corner. And gathering strength, or whatever, I dictated now was the time to join them and continue. I moved up Broadway instinctually, still not aware of the exact reason for the damage, but there was heat all over my ears, you could overhear it, the plane…fucking crazy, believe this, now where am I going, where is she, hey and no, no, no repeated. A few men in dark suits were sitting on a bench. Gripping their briefcases. Cell phones were all up, straining for connections.

I stared ahead, cars were not so much of a problem. They were bouncing slowly against each other and people, who were now moving faster, whirling. A woman walked by shrieking, she was trying to hold onto a coffee that was spilling. Maybe she had slammed into someone. I paused at every corner with a vista, gathering thought, wincing, holding my jaw. Each view offered more proof, more suspense, more outcome. By Park Row, I had overheard enough: there were planes driven deep into the towers. Cops were now everywhere, confused, even arguing, Run, Walk, one screamed, Don’t Look Back, and everyone near him did.

There was plane debris in the graveyard of the church that everyone thinks is Trinity. I stood there looking at both towers, it was the final sight, just beyond the spire of St James. They were fighting gravity, furious, ablaze, ripped. Workers fell from the North Tower, a person behind me had just come from there. She was repeating a story about a man she had watched trying to slide down the ribbed exterior, but after a few floors lost his footing. She was alone and no one could look at her. Someone else whispered she had walked by an arm.

Then a flood of conversation began, witnessing was being shared. I looked back and the South Tower was belching more and more smoke. They came in puffs now, other smoke species were appearing: a white mist was cascading down the floors above the pouring holes, hugging the exterior, a sign that extreme heat was baking the building. Shrieks followed every human plunge and only a few still looked. The sun disappeared behind the airborne carpet of smoke, then came back with a gust of north wind.

A minute passed, sirens and firetrucks joined each other on Church street. Out of the corner of south came an eerie, glowing drip. First thought: welding. Firemen? Terrorists? But my mind was already adapting to new century possibilities . A thick stream of molten office tower was dropping in five or six foot long drips. Thor-like. When they hit plaza level they exploded in fireworks. You could see people running around below, dodging small heaps. The dripping glow increased and then there was a vast, heavy crack.

I blinked automatically. Its noise echoed, reverb-ed, built from a rumble into something louder, horrible and the South Tower raced itself down, vacuuming the air fast, the thick smoke came down with it, revealing naked blue sky instantly. And when the top floors fell inside the roaring cloud, we ran.

We ran screaming, my head decided we were still in a radius erasable by the tower. Face after face blurred, cops were grabbing the slower, their radios blaring: It’s Falling.

We all timed a look back when we had a few feet in front and we saw the wall of vaporized concrete, and one by one we ran faster. Shoes! Slides, heels, slippers everywhere, and they were torn and beaten in the few seconds of escape. Those who knew how close the cloud was slammed into the slower uneducated. Cars! Cars were left behind, various stages of parking and idling. I found myself on the entrance ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge. People had ignored pedestrian/vehicle segregation and were jogging to Brooklyn in the passing lane. I jumped a retaining wall and joined the northern group.

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