I was running out the door of my condo in Studio City (California, the heart of the entertainment industry) when my phone rang.
I don't normally listen to TV or radio as I get ready for work in the morning. And up until that phone ringing, it was a morning just like any other. I woke up, went jogging, watered my plants, breathed in the fresh air of that beautiful day, of that beautiful morning. The skies were as clear and blue in Los Angeles as they had been in New York that day. Except for one thing - by that time the smoke was rising from the sides of the Twin Towers in New York, and from the side of the Pentagon in DC. But I didn't know it yet. Not until my phone rang as I began to walk out my door. I let my answering machine get it, and then I heard my boss's voice. I ran back in.
He said our business was closed for the day, not to come in. "Why?" I asked. And then he told me, and I was frozen as the words swept over me. "We've been attacked," he said, "the Twin Towers in New York have been hit. Turn on the TV." "What station?" I asked. "Any station." he replied.
I rushed back in and turned it on. And with the rest of the world, watched in horror as the towers burned. Watched in more horror as they also showed the Pentagon had been hit. In a panic I tried calling my fiancee's cell phone, whom I thought was in New York. He's a musician and his band was on tour back east. Then I remembered he'd left New York the day before and should now be in Pittsburgh. I felt safe. Then the station I was watching said that a plane had gone down in Pittsburgh. He was wrong about the city, but they were getting different and new information every minute at that time. However, that initial report freaked me out. I was already in shock, already my heart beating so fast, so fast, already in horror. Now I finally started weeping, frantically dialing my fiancee's number over and over, not getting through, getting his voicemail. I left two panicked messages.
Then the towers fell. First the one, then the other. To me, it seemed like it all happened so fast, like they fell one right after the other, boom boom. I know it didn't, yet it felt that way, it felt as if they both just were there one second, gone the other. I remember screaming as I watched it happen. I'd already been yelling at the TV, seeing the people falling like paper from the windows, telling them to hold on, not to jump. But when the towers fell, I screamed "No!" over and over. And then I got silent and just wept. And then I got numb, no more tears for awhile, in shock. I didn't want to watch anymore as they replayed it over and over, but I couldn't tear myself away from it. It was like I was hypnotized. Then a friend of mine called, and I, thinking it was Jeff my fiancee, jumped at the sound with relief soon followed by disappointment it wasnt' him. By then I knew the other plane hadn't gone down in Pittsburgh itself, but I still wasn't sure where he was, whether he was safe.
My friend and I spoke over the phone for awhile, just sharing the shock, taking some comfort in one another's voices for awhile, crying together. She reassured me that Jeff was OK, but of course what I needed was to hear his voice.
Finally, as she and I were talking, my call waiting beeped. It was Jeff. He was OK, of course he was. "Our gig is cancelled tonight and maybe the whole tour, we don't know." No shit.
However, as it turned out, they did play the following night in Pittsburgh - and the night after that, on Sept. 13th, they played at a bar only a few blocks from the Pentagon. And after that, they were in New York for two nights again. And at each of these gigs, the people came, and they cried together, and they drank together and yelled "Let's get the bastards!" and "God Bless America" and such things. And they thanked my boyfriend and his band, over and over, the owners of the clubs, the people who came to see them, thanked them for playing, for giving them a place to go and not hear the news for awhile, for giving them some mindless entertainment, for simply going on with their jobs as performers, for helping to keep the clubs open and bring in business by not cancelling their act as so many other bands had done - for saying with that action that no terrorists are going to stop our American way of life. There was something strong in doing that. The band finished the tour, and two weeks later they came home.
As for me, after talking to Jeff, I felt calmer that day, but still shocked. Not knowing what to do, I went to the store to stock up on supplies. I wasn't sure what was going to happen, and I decided to get some basic supplies in our home just in case. Just in case.
On the way to the store, it was so quiet. I live in LA, and there were almost no cars on the streets - in LA where rush hour lasts pretty much all day. Where nobody walks, everybody drives. There were maybe two cars on my way to the store.
At the store I wasn't the only one who'd decided to get supplies. But it was so quiet - everyone was quiet. A big supermarket, normally crowded, now nearly empty, and the few who were there so quiet you could hear us all breathing. And every so often, you'd see someone suddenly tearing up, and step aside to try and gather themselves together. The store put their bottled water on sale that day, and people like me were stocking up on it. They had also pulled out their 4th of July flags - small ones meant for you to hold in your hand and wave. I bought two - some of the last they had. They said they'd just put them out about an hour ago, and already they were almost gone. I put one in my car, in the back window. It is still there today, a year later.
I took home the supplies, packed it all away, then went up on my rooftop deck and listened to the silence around me. The silence in the streets. The silence in the homes. The silence in the skies above me. I was in the middle of a quiet city. Finally I went back in and joined the rest of America watching the news for updates - watching until I was sick of it, but terrified of turning it off for fear of missing some new thing that might happen, some new warning.
The next day I drove in to work - and as I did, I saw a flag on literally every car I passed. The freeways were full again, the traffic back - but it was decorated now with red, white, and blue stripes flying from windows and off bumpers and on grills. Some had full-sized flags stuck out their windows, flapping as they went down the freeway. I have never in my life seen anything like it, before or since. Here, in Los Angeles, home of Hollywood, where everyone is supposed to be so plastic and fake, there were flags flying from every single car on the freeways and streets. There were flags in windows, on balconies, in offices, on T-shirts, even on dogs. There were flags everwhere. And people were so polite to each other. For days afterwards, people were kind to one another. It was amazing.
That second night, as I stood on my roof deck looking up at the sky and missing the planes that usually flew overhead, I heard noise start coming from Ventura Boulevard, one of the main boulevards in the LA/Hollywood area. I walked over to it. There I found an impromptu parade - a memorial parade, and an "I love America" parade. I parade for people to simply come out of their homes and get out their emotions. The parade consisted of people in their cars with their flags waving - just people who lived around there, waving flags and yelling from their cars as they drove past - and people on the sidewalks also holding flags, waving and yelling back. Everyone was saying hello to one another, total strangers smiling at one another as they walked past, or putting an arm out to touch someone on the shoulder who had put their head down as tears came down their face. People, once again, simply being kind to one another. Making a parade to celebrate life, and mourn for those who'd just died.
In the city where people supposedly don't care about anyone except themselves, people were reaching out to those around them and comforting. We cared, here in LA, we all cared and grieved. We felt like we'd just lost a brother, a sister, even if we hadn't literally. As a city, we felt that our sister-city New York, our brother-city DC, had been hurt, and we mourned as brothers and sisters do. We mourned those in the four planes, we loved them as though we knew them. We were proud of those who we now knew had tried to stop that final plane from hitting whatever it's target had been - and had succeeded, at the cost of their lives.
The skies were quiet and empty for days, except for the occasional military helicopter. The irony in missing something you normally complain about (how many times have we had to stop production because a plane was getting onto the soundtrack?)
The day the planes took to the skies again, I was up on my roof watering the garden on my deck. I heard a noise, I looked up, and there it was. The first one out of Burbank Airport. I yelled and waved to it (not that they could see me), yelled and waved, and then started to feel stupid until I saw one of my neighbors doing the same thing. Waving and waving from her rooftop deck to the plane so high above us.
Now, on this day of days a year later, I sit here writing out my thoughts because I need some way to memorialize this day. Having once again started my morning watching TV - this time to see the memorial services in New York and at the Pentagon. This time my fiancee was here beside me, and kept kissing me as we prepared for work. Long, loving kisses. This morning, I kept having to pause in my preparations for work due to weeping as I watched the ceremonies and listened to those names being read, one after the other.
But then I'd wipe my eyes and continue on. Which is, I suppose, what we have done as a nation this past year, isn't it? And what we will continue to do. And really, it's the best thing we can do to honor the memory of those who died that day. Wipe our eyes and go on.
Because just like the people told my boyfriend as he played those gigs the days after it happened - if we give in to fear and hide, they've won. We have to get out, we have to live life fully - it's the best way to spit in the faces of those who did this. To not allow them to take away our American way of life.
And just one last thing I want to note here, as I think about what that means, to be an American. One of the times I had to stop and weep during the ceremonies today was when one of the men speaking out loud the names of the victims of that day paused between each name to say the word, "American." These names he read were so diverse - there were Hindu names, African American names, Asian names, Hispanic names, Anglo names, Catholic names, Protestant names, Muslim names. Names of every type and variety. And after each one, he'd simply said; "American." And all I could think was, yes, that is it. That is what we're trying to preserve here. That wonderful diversity - that freedom for ALL.
That ability for every one of those people to live they way they wanted, love they way they wanted, worship (or not) the way they wanted - and to come together on a daily basis and work together. All these people, all these diversities, they worked together in those towers. And at the end of the day, each went back to their very individual way of living.
That is the American way of life.
And these are my memories of that terrible day - and of this day, a year later, as we remember and weep once more. And then wipe our eyes, and go on.