That morning, I woke up around 8:30 am and started getting dressed for work and for my regular walk about 20 blocks uptown to work at the Jewish Theological Seminary. I was already late, and although I didn’t punch a clock at JTS, I was eager to get out of the house. Listening to my regular morning radio show on Z100, I heard a shift in the DJ’s tone. “By the way,” he said, “if you don’t have your TV on, you might want to go ahead and turn it on – the World Trade Center is on fire.”
Back in those early moments of that clear September morning, we had no idea what we were witnessing – smoke billowing from one floor of the WTC, we assumed, was from an internal fire, perhaps an explosion of an undetermined origin. I called my mother in New Jersey to make sure she was watching. (Checking the official timeline reveals that this phone call might have happened shortly before 9am.) We watched CNN together for a few minutes, as the announcer shared a new theory, that a small plane had accidentally flown into the tower. It was surreal, and sad. But at that point, we didn’t even have the tragic imagination to begin to understand what was happening, that we were under attack, that two other planes were currently en route to additional targets in the DC Metro area. But it was while we were watching that tragedy – which we assumed to be tragic, but concluded - that we saw the second plane (9:02:59).
At first I thought that CNN had gone to an instant replay. But the tower in the “replay footage” was already smoking - we realized with horror that this was a second plane. My heart jumped, and I jumped off the couch, and said out loud, on the phone to my mother, “Osama fucking bin Laden.” I don’t know why, but that was my purest, most immediate response; perhaps it was some sort of flashback to the first World Trade Center bombing, which my college roommate’s boyfriend had escaped from. At that moment, I knew I couldn’t go to work. I was staying home, phone-tethered to my mother, until I knew what was going on.