I was driving to my job at the real estate company in central Connecticut that morning, windows down to dry my damp hair. The necklace that Rachel brought back from her trip with Tara to Wildwood, N.J. all those years ago swung from the rearview mirror: an azure marble encircled with silver dolphins, dangling from a black silk chord. Back and forth. Back and forth.
The radio, as it always was when I drove, was turned up to fill the space in the car, my guilty-pleasure pop radio station playing the hits of the day on an endless loop. I don't remember what was playing (J. Lo's "I'm Real"?) but I remember the DJ's voice. Deep and rolling. Velvety. He always seemed to be smiling when he talked, teasing his female counterpart. You could hear the grin through the speakers. But he wasn't grinning when his voice made the announcement, cutting through the song that I was undoubtedly singing at the top of my lungs.
A plane, he said. The World Trade Center.
I continued driving down Route 68, but I have no recollection of how I got to work. I remember only pulling the car around the back of the building, as I had countless times, and sitting as it idled.
A second plane, he said. Tower two.
Judean was working at the front desk with me back then. I yanked open the back door (had it always been this heavy?) and walked across the office. It seemed cavernous as I traversed the carpeting. Was it quiet that morning? Or were people huddled around, talking in panicked whispers?
I'm not sure. I know only that I walked in to Judean sitting in her chair, sipping her black coffee. She turned to me, her mouth open. She shook her head, tears welling in her bloodshot eyes.
I dropped my purse on the desk and shook the mouse to wake my computer. The phones rang but they seemed to be ringing from somewhere far away. The New York Times site would not load. CNN was just spooling. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.
My sister wasn't answering her phone. My brother-in-law worked in one of the towers at one time. Was it possible he had been heading to a meeting? (He would be safe, as it turned out. He had left Cantor Fitzgerald somewhere in the last year or so. His office at UBS was in midtown, and remained unscathed. In the aftermath of the destruction, we would all learn of the tragic devastation of the Cantor Fitzgerald offices.)
I couldn't get through to Ash. The phones lines were jammed.
My mother wasn't answering her cell.
"This is Amy, how may I help you?"
A woman's voice, high pitched, angry. ...and I'm paying good money for this house and I can't get an answer on my hardwood floors? She was supposed to call me back about the change order but no one is answering at their desks and if I don't hear back in the next hour I want to talk to the owner...
I didn't ask if she'd hold. I told her.
A T.V. was being rolled into the back conference room. The women at that end of the office were huddled around a desk, murmuring. Carol's son worked downtown. He wasn't answering his cell. They escorted her into the conference room, arms linked gently around her back. The door closed behind them.
We don't know if family members are dead, and you're worried about your fucking floors?
I pushed the hold button. "Hi. Thanks for holding. Can I take the best number to reach you? Someone will call you back, I promise. It's just been a disjointed morning, with the attacks..."
I didn't get to finish.
"It's 203..." she said.
Later, I went to my parents' house. The endless loop of the fireballs against that cloudless blue sky. I couldn't stop crying.
When I finally reached Pete in Boston, he told me the Coast Guard base was on lockdown. It's all hands on deck. He doesn't know if he will be able to sleep at home, a five minute drive across the bridge and up Bunker Hill Street. He's not sure when they'll be able to leave even to do that.
Boston was on high alert, too.
Was it a week? Two? When I do see him again, it's in Sturbridge. Sturbridge did not have road blocks and security and the red level threat. (Had the color code terror alert system even been implemented by that point?) Sturbridge seemed safe: terrorists probably wouldn't think to bomb a historic village off the Mass Pike.
When we saw each other in the parking lot, we kissed, and held each other. I don't think we said anything for a very long time.
We held each other in the Autumn sunshine, in the town built as an homage to how simple life used to be.