September 11, 2001
Nine One One

 


 
The coffeemaker overflowed this morning.

I walked into the kitchen at 5:30 a.m. and the countertops were covered with an inch of freshly-brewed Fog Lifter Dark Roast.  Apparently I hadn't snapped the lid completely shut on the carafe last night while I was preparing the coffee for morning; when the auto-brew feature kicked in at 5:15 a.m., it sent liquid spilling everywhere.

Well, I said to myself in disgust. THIS day is certainly getting off to a marvelous start, isn't it? 

I mopped up the mess, started a new pot and went into the bathroom. Second unpleasant surprise of the morning: the bathtub was filled with ants. Thousands of ants. Ants everywhere. They weren't there last night when we went to bed ... but now, here they were. I took my shower with my eyes closed, figuring that the only thing worse than seeing a bathtub filled with ants would be seeing a bathtub filled with dead soggy ants. I've been awake for fifteen minutes and already this day sucks, I thought sourly. What's next?

And then I turned on the news.

They were already calling it "The 21st Century Pearl Harbor" by the time we tuned in. A nameless NBC news anchor pointed out that today's date -- 9/11 -- is eerily apt. "If ever there was a nine-one-one call going out to all mankind," he said, "this is it."

I sat on the edge of the bed, watching the news, and I wept into my cold cup of coffee.

Amazing, isn't it, how everything that seemed like such a huge "problem" last week or yesterday or ten minutes ago -- whether it's six extra pounds, or six hundred ants in the bathtub -- can suddenly become utterly and irrefutably inconsequential in the blink of an eye?

At first I didn't want to go to work. I didn't want to be anywhere near a major metropolitan area: this little primal voice within me said Hide! Gather your loved ones around you and find shelter! I wanted to stay home and hunker down in front of the TV all day. I wanted to stay next to the phone and call The Tots every five minutes. I wanted to plant myself in front of the computer until I could be absolutely sure our online friends/readers/fellow journalers were OK. But I went to work anyway, not only because the need to stay busy and distracted and connected to my fellow human beings in the face of disaster overshadows my need to "hide" ... but also because I don't want to be one of those *opportunity vultures* who seize any excuse to blow off work. (Engine trouble, earthquake, toothache, terrorist attack ... it's all one big Snow Day to people like that.) This is too terrible a situation to twist around to personal advantage, I felt.

David and I kissed each other with even more care than usual, when he let me out in front of my building. I imagine we're not alone in that.

The Totem Pole Company was virtually deserted at 8 a.m., when I got in. The tiny handful of co-workers who did show up were visibly rattled: they stood around in anxious clustered knots, talking quietly. I spoke to The Human Resources Director Person briefly. (Her sister, who lives and works on the East Coast, was on a conference call with her New York staff when The World Trade Center was hit. "She says that the phone suddenly went dead," said the HRDP. We looked at each other and both began to cry again.) After I checked in with my co-workers, I went into my little office, closed the door and turned on the radio. President Bush was speaking to the nation. "The resolve of our great nation is being tested," he said with deadly care. "Make no mistake: we'll show the world who will pass this test."

I turned off the radio and picked up the phone.

I got Jaymi on the phone right away. She sounded shocked, angry, sad, scared ... and young. She sounded incredibly, painfully young to me. It reminded me of the Challenger explosion, when she was just three years old and too little to fully understand what was going on. This is the biggest thing -- the biggest and worst thing -- that has happened in her young lifetime. Nothing else compares: not the Challenger, not Columbine, not Oklahoma City. We talked for a while until I was reassured that she was OK (and until my hand stopped shaking enough to hang up the phone). The other two Tots are going to be tougher to reach, unfortunately. Kyle has just started his sophomore year in high school, and has suddenly become allergic to phone calls from his mother, while Kacie is AWOL from the family once again. But I'll keep trying.

I need that little bit of connection if I'm going to sleep at all tonight.

The rest of the morning passed in a headachey caffeinated blur. I may have been at work, but that doesn't mean I got any actual work done. Again, I imagine I'm not alone in that. I shuffled papers back and forth. I listened to the radio. I answered the phone when it rang. Mid-morning we received word from our two Southern California offices: they were shutting down for the day. Here in the East Bay the decision was made to keep the office open, although any employee was "free to leave" if they had childcare emergencies or other problems related to the attacks. I sent out an all-company memo, encouraging my co-workers to donate blood. I thought about whether or not I should post a *FootNotes* entry today. (Adding my feeble voice to what will surely prove to be a cacaphony of voices, in the days/weeks/months to come, seems an exercise in almost unbelievable vanity ... but then again, not writing about the biggest news story of our time would seem even more self-involved.)

At 1:00 I called David at his office and asked him if he would mind giving me a ride home. So much for staying "busy" and "distracted" and "connected to my fellow human beings." Give me hunkered-down-and-hiding for the rest of the day, please. Plus a handful of Advil, while you're at it.

And over and over again today, all day long, I've found myself writing the date: on telephone message pads ... on all-company memorandums ... at the top of this journal entry.

Nine-one-one.

It raises the hair on the back of my neck every single time I look at it.



do you live in northern california? give blood

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