It was supposed to be my first full night's sleep in a couple of weeks. After hosting some visitors a couple weeks before, I'd spent the previous week in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York for a friend's wedding. Two nights before I'd flown back to California, worked the next day, then spent much of the evening unpacking from my long trip. I needed a full night's sleep. It did not happen.
It was about 6:30 or so Pacific Time that Tuesday morning when I woke up to a buzzing sound. It was my cell phone, left on vibrate alert, sitting on its charger across the room. I couldn't imagine who would be calling me so early or why. "If it's important," I told myself, "they'll call back or call my home phone." I rolled back over and tried to get back to sleep. Just as I started to doze off again a few minutes later, my home phone on the nightstand next to me rang. I reached over and picked up the receiver with a sleepy "Hello?"
"Kevin?" It was my sister Kelly calling from Ohio.
"Are you at home?"
"OK. I just wanted to make sure," she said. Then came the news that made no sense at the time, and in some ways still does not. "They just flew two planes into the World Trade Center and one in the Pentagon. They were all heading to California, and I knew you'd been in New York for that wedding, and I just wanted to make sure you weren't on one of the planes."
"Uh, no," I replied groggy and confused why my sister would think I would be on a little private plane that had accidentally flown into a big building. At least that's what I thought she was saying.
"OK," she said. "Well, go back to sleep and don't get on any planes today." With that, she hung up. With that, the innocent, peaceful world I had lived in for the first 23-plus years of my life was over. I turned on the TV and saw the indelible images we all know so well. The phone rang again. It was a call for my roommate. I woke her up to a new world.
In the hours to come, I watched as the towers crumbled, the Pentagon burned, a smoldering scar formed in a Pennsylvania field. I used phone calls, e-mails, instant messages to track down friends to make sure they were OK. Then came a particularly frightening phone call. It was my friend Stephanie in LA. She was the one who had made that call I did not answer that woke me up. When I answered, she didn't say hello. She just asked a question: "Where does Peter Morgan work?" I quickly searched my computer's address book for an entry for our friend back on the east coast. My heart sank as I read the address over the phone: "2 World Trade Center. 39th Floor."
Peter Morgan was one of those incredible stories of chance from that day. By his own account, he probably should have been at the office by the time the attacks began. But through a series of circumstances, he was running late. His subway train never even made it to the World Trade Center, keeping him well away from physical danger. For me, among the haunting images of September 11, 2001, is one he shared with me and other friends several months later. It was a photo of the bag he carried to work each day, but which he'd left in his World Trade Center office the night of September 10, 2001, found months later among the millions of tons of wreckage and returned to him, still covered in dust and debris.
The events of that horrible day had a profound effect on me. By the end of the next week, I made the decision to move back to the East Coast. With air travel cut off for several days after the attacks, I decided it was not worth being so far away from the majority of my family and friends. Two months after the attacks I traveled to Ground Zero for the first time. I was there when crews cut down the last piece of the Twin Towers' facade still standing. Seeing it happen was a sad realization of the totality of the loss, both human and property.
Five years later, the events of that day are still hard to comprehend. And it is strange to me to think about what it was like viewing it in real time with so much uncertainty about what was going on and what might happen next and the lack of a complete context to help explain what was happening. Today it is somehow hard to believe five years have passed. In some ways it seems like it was only yesterday. In others it seems like surely more time must have passed for all of our lives to have changed so much.