They came in one by one -- either breathlessly dashing in the side door, or shuffling into the room through the back. We were all in various positions on the couches or on the floor, bunched into every conceivable position facing the television. The horrifying images on the screen held us so captivated that we only looked up to identify the new visitor into our shocked grouping, then turned back to what was occurring in front of us.
There was a banner scrolling across the bottom of the picture, informing us, over and over, the chaotic events happening several states to our south. "TWIN TOWERS STRUCK BY HIJACKED JETLINERS ... PENTAGON AFIRE AFTER THIRD COLLISION ... NEW YORK CITY AND CAPITAL IN CHAOS," it screamed at us. The rest of the screen was displaying endless video feeds of the smoking, skeletal remains of the Big Apple's pride and joy.
The newcomers to the room quite frequently entered with a desperate look on their face, as if wordlessly begging any one of us to deny the morning's rumored events. Then their wide eyes focused upon the remains of downtown Manhattan on CNN, and they sunk, ashen-faced, to the floor, or the couch, or a chair, depending on where there was space.
The TV room was silent, save for the running commentary of the stuttering, scrambling reporters. They contradicted themselves constantly, as they attempted to accurately and coherently convey massive amounts of information to their possibly millions of stunned viewers. Initial facts were changed and changed again; speculations were jockeyed back and forth. Mighty Washington officials and bureaucrats were on the phone, on video, offering their opinions and educated guesses on what had happened, but never did they answer, "Why, why?"
It did not take long for the tears to begin to flow. One by one, as our Tuesday morning brains began to grasp the concept of the staggering loss of human life, we started to cry. Some girls sniffled, their eyes glossed. Others wept bitterly into the shoulder of a nearby friend.
I sat, unblinking, for quite a long time. I could not cry. I could not move. I merely stared. It was unbelievable.
My dad used to work in the World Trade Center, buying and selling stocks. He used to tell my sister and I, when we were little, that he should take us to work sometime. Our extraordinarily loud voices would help him in getting other people's attention for his purchases or sales. (This was invariably mentioned after a humongous screaming, kicking fight that only two young girls that are too close in age can pull off.)
He died from the brain damage caused by a Chevrolet Suburban plowing into the driver's side of his Honda Civic. I was six; it was only midway through the school year of first grade. From that day onward, my life was radically altered. The joyous, outgoing, rambunctious little girl I had been before that day in January died forever.
I remember our first dinner without him. The mental images I have are blurry and unclear, probably because everything I saw that night was reflected through a haze of tears. The silence of our meal was profound. There was nothing to say; nothing that could be said. What was, was. And what wasn't, was gone for good.
I lost more than my father in that car accident. In that tragic moment when his light was snuffed out, any chance I had at a normal life was snatched cruelly from me. No more was the future a bright, exciting prospect. The dull, gray bleakness, which characterized that first dinner with only my sister, my mother, and I present, spread all over my life. Now, I feared the dawn of every day. Now, I wept at the thought of having to continue living.
In retrospect, I don't know how I have dragged myself onwards all these years. Often, my despair nearly overcame my will to live. And to this day, I am still alarmed at what the future may have in store for me.
Because of one person's careless driving, my spirit was broken into a million shards, and my heart sealed closed for good. I am still picking up the pieces.
As I gazed numbly into the destruction on the television screen, the thought occurred to me that if Daddy had somehow been spared his life in that accident twelve years ago, he would most surely have been taken away from me in this terrorist attack. Dwelling on this was almost too painful for my wounded heart to bear. But then, another, more profoundly heartbreaking thought followed the first. Somewhere, a little girl, perhaps a little girl like I once was, was going to find out that her daddy wouldn't be coming home tonight. And that little girl's spirit would shatter like the glass windows of the Twin Towers, leaving a hollow, empty shell of a person. I could almost hear, around the nation and around the world, the destruction of the hopes, dreams, and happiness of untold numbers of children. Children who would turn their tear-stained eyes to the pained existence lying before them.
I thought of this, and I cried.