My September 11, 2001 Timeline
Friday at 2:32 am
It was early on a Tuesday morning, and my routine was to get up early on Tuesday mornings to put the finishing touches on my weekly column in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin before emailing it to my editor. He needed time to look it over before it was time to print and deliver the paper to lawyers’ offices and courthouses all over the Chicago area that afternoon.
The difference on the Tuesday morning of September 11, 20 years ago, was that my good friend Wendy was staying with me. I’d separated from my husband, and she from her long-time boyfriend several weeks before and I invited Wendy to move in until she found a place of her own in the neighborhood—which she did, and we’ve been neighbors ever since.
Wendy liked getting up really early and watching The Today Show while relaxing and drinking coffee in my family room recliner. And that’s where she was that morning. As I sat across the room working on my column.
And then it happened. “Look, a plane hit a building in New York,” she said. I walked over to get a better look at the TV. I figured it was a private plane with a pilot who was sick, maybe having a stroke or a dizzy spell or a stomach ache or some such. And I said something very prescient: “Life will never be the same.”
I figured a wayward private pilot making a mistake like this and hitting the World Trade Center sure would change private aviation in the country and we’d never be the same because of it.
Little did I know.
And then the rest happened.
And life was never the same.
We watched all the horror. I called my editor and I asked if the paper was going to come out that afternoon. “Are you sure you want to run the column, after what’s just happened?” I asked. My column was known to be rather wry; I reported on social events that lawyers and judges went to and I made light fun of it all. And I got into a little trouble now and then.
He said the paper would come out, and my column would run. And to send it over. And it might even come out early because everyone was leaving downtown as we spoke.
And boy, were they leaving downtown. CTA and Metra were packed to the gills. With very nervous people, they explained on the news. People were scurrying away and heading home in every direction. Heading back to where they’d started that morning, so crowded that it would all go down in history.
Wendy sat in the recliner and called a close friend in New York who lived not too far from the Word Trade Center and I got on the phone, too, and we grilled her about what it was like—like the air, was it filled with dust? (Yes, and so was her house.) Were people scurrying home like they were in downtown Chicago? (Yes, and they were covered in dust, too.)
And then I said another weird thing: “I bet the Iraqis did it.”
Why did I say that? Why did that slip out so easily? My mother said later that day that she read in the paper about a month before that this was going to happen and that it had been in an intelligence report.
She was right. A big newspaper saver, I went though some old ones and found the small article buried in the news section.
And at some point I figured out that warmonger Dick Cheney knew this would likely happen, and he’d have a great excuse to turn it into an opportunity to get at the greatest oil reserve left in the world. And I figured he was probably sending subliminal messages via his news conferences and newspaper interviews about the Iraqis being terrorists. And I must have picked up on it subliminally. I satisfied myself with that explanation when we went to Iraq two years later to avenge what happened that day.
Then Wendy got a call from her bank. They had been wanting her to come in and straighten out a signature related to a safe deposit box. Something minor, and she’d been putting it off. Did she want to come in now?
I told her to go. “There’s no traffic, no one will be at the bank, you’ll get this whole errand off your mind real quick,” I said. “Just go.”
“But,” she said….
But she went. And she was glad when she got back in no time. No cars on the street, no people at the bank. The errand was off her mind just as I’d predicted.
Then my soon to be ex-husband came by to visit our daughter. He was mesmerized by the course of the day. When he left, he was as pale as when he arrived.
One of his jobs was photographer for the CDLB (sometimes he was assigned to take pictures to accompany my column) and he’d had to get his work over there earlier that day, too. And we talked about how creepy it was that the everyday fruits of our labor would be appearing momentarily on the street just like nothing ever happened.
When he left, my neighbor from down the street, my good friend Susan, a psychiatrist came over.
Susan was often invited to what we called “drug dinners” that her husband didn’t like to go to with her—so she would always invite me. These were very fancy dinners in very fancy places paid for by drug companies that wanted psychiatrists to be prescribing their psychotropic drugs for their patients. Over a lot of great food, they would give a talk about some technical subject regarding mental illnesses and their treatments, which I, the possessor of two degrees in public health, always enjoyed very much.
We had one scheduled that night and she’d heard from the drug company and they were going through with it. And because many people couldn’t get to town or back to town in time to attend due to all the the transportation problems caused by grounded planes, they told her to bring any other guests she wanted. So she invited Wendy to go with us.
And off we went.
It was at a downtown hotel and there was a much smaller crowd than usual—but that gave everyone a chance to talk a bit more intimately with others while eating dinner. We heard a lot of stories about how people they knew were stranded all over the country and they felt so lucky that they weren’t.
The compulsory lecture was brief as it was apparent no one was able to concentrate. Or care.
There was so much extra food that they gave us a lot to take home, which was very fortunate under the circumstances. We were glad to take provisions because who knew what would be available in the stores? Or if they’d be open.
The three of us had walked to the dinner and we also walked back, a couple of miles each way. And we all agreed we’d never seen the city or the sky so dark. And quiet.
There was no one on the street except us. We were shocked at the complete lack of sound downtown, exclaiming that we never realized how much light and noise was provided by regular air traffic across the sky. We’d taken it for granted and gotten used to it all these years.
As we carried our food home–steaks, salads, vegetables, desserts–in our bags, we made small talk about how dead, and how ethereal the streets were, wondering how long this darkness would last.
We had no idea.
And we still don’t.