I was on a plane, third in the queue for take-off to the northeast from Laguardia Airport, when the second tower was hit. From my window seat on the right side, I had a straight line of sight view to downtown Manhattan, and the resulting explosion.
Just a moment later, our captain came on the PA and said simply and quietly, "It's a sad day for America, we're going back to the gate."
My wife Ellie had dropped me off about 45 minutes earlier, and was on her way to her parent's home on Long Island at the time, without a cell phone in those days. It took about an hour to reach her with reassurances that mine was not one of the planes involved in the tragedy.
We had spent the night of 9/10 in Manhattan, at our favorite hotel, and woke up on that terribly bright, cloudless Tuesday fully convinced that the most memorable thing about our visit would be having had drinks 6 feet away from Paul McCartney in Bemelman's Bar the prior evening.
Instead, my memories are of the experience related above, followed by several days of shocked numbness, TV running round the clock, with one thought surfacing again and again, "Our world has changed."
It had, but excepting for the victims, life would go on. A week after the events, Ellie and I were back on a plane, headed home to California. I've flown something close to ten million miles over the years, and it's been a long time since I've been a nervous flier (if I ever was). I'll admit however to having a start at each and every bump on that flight, and to looking at my fellow passengers with a different sort of curiosity than ever before.
We were there a month later too, when they were extinguished.
Two 9/11's ago I flew home from NY to Oakland on Jet Blue, and spent the majority of the time watching the readings of the victims names, broadcast from Ground Zero, on the seat back TV, unable to stop watching, or crying.
The most affecting moment for me however came not on a 9/11 anniversary, but in the summer of 2002, when we were looking for a home to purchase on Long Island. One of the nicest we saw was on the north shore of Nassau county. It was a large, old place, with tons of character and the kind of warmth that comes from being a home to a nice family. Swing set in the backyard. Family pictures arranged on tables throughout the living room. Bar set in the butler's pantry, ready at hand for an end-of-day drink…
A drink that would never be enjoyed, we learned however, because at that point in our tour the realtor answered one of our questions, gaze averted, by explaining that this house was being sold by a 9/11 widow. I can still picture the monogrammed glasses, the half full carafes of scotch and gin, the silver tray… and it all comes back.