September Twelfth

“What to do?” I ask myself. I am in survival mode. I call my friend, special agent Glenn Mann, my secret agent Mann. Glenn Mann has been part of the FBI anti-terrorism team since 1993. He’ll know what to do. It’s September 12th, 2001.

Last night, after a day filled with terror, I found myself frozen in fear, unable to walk through the dark to just go to the bathroom. I sit in the dark planning to get away, far away. It’s not safe here. I know this feeling all too well. I’ve already asked Tom if we should get out of Manhattan.

September 11th started out like any other day, until my father called at just before 9am. He knows I live in Manhattan. He wants to make sure I am ok. He informs me a plane has flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center. My father always calls when there is a disaster. I turn on the TV.

I call my assistant Sai Ming. He’s just arrived in the studio. I tell him about what we all still think is an accident. I tell him to call his mom in Hong Kong. “Let her know you are all right,” I say, still thinking we are all right. Then I call Tom.

View of the North Tower, World Trade Center, morning September 11, 2001. photo by Thomas Hudson Reeve

He is working at the Chelsea Piers, on the Hudson River, and standing on a rooftop with a clear view of the World Trade Center just 2.7 miles downriver. The whole world is tuned-in by now. I tell Sai Ming to come up to my apartment, to watch the news. It is then we hear that another plane has hit the south tower. It’s 9:03am. We are not all right. We can’t work today.

What’s going on? Is this an accident? We watch, stunned, as we’re told that the Pentagon has been hit by a third plane. Then it hits me. We are being attacked. I am on the phone with Tom as he watches the south tower collapse. What? This can’t be happening.

At 10:10am a fourth plane goes down in Pennsylvania. President Bush addresses an anxious America. His words still ring terror in my heart. What he said was, “The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts.” What I heard was, “we will hunt them down.”

The north tower crumbles at 10:28am. It’s been less than two hours since the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Time stops. I keep trying to catch my breath.

New York City is a war zone. The war against terror begins and that frightens me more than the attack. Sai Ming and I watch as the media replays the footage, over and over again. I close my eyes and I see it play again and again in my mind.

Tom helps FEMA set up an emergency field hospital at the Pier to treat the wounded. But they never come. He comes home at 7pm, exhausted. I am a wreck. My world has literally been blown apart. How can I ever feel safe again?

Here I am sitting in the dark, filled with a terror I haven’t felt since childhood. You see, I had suffered abuses as a child that I spent years overcoming. Suddenly the fear came rushing back, triggering full-blown post-traumatic stress. This terror reveals I am not really safe.

I remember that denial worked back then so I conjure it up to have the courage to go to the bathroom. I am able to sleep again. I’ve always been able to sleep surrounded by the terror of knowing I am not safe.

In the morning I tell Tom we have to move away from Manhattan. We are in the middle of a prime target. He does his best to calm me down, suggesting that I call Glenn Mann. I think, “Yes Glenn will know what to do.”

Tom was right. Secret Agent Mann gave me this advice, “You’re safer here today than you were yesterday.” So with this trusted assurance, I disappear into the safety of denial. “I am safe,” I tell myself, “I will survive this too.”


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