I've written and told hundreds of stories during my long career, but none this personal.
As a transplanted native New Yorker, I was physically disconnected from what was happening to my hometown but devastated beyond belief.
That was before I realized I had family and friends in or near the doomed towers of the World Trade Center. It was an election Tuesday here in metro Detroit.
I was scheduled to work an afternoon shift so I could report on results. I happened to be watching ABC's Good Morning America when the first plane, which looked small, hit the first tower. I, like the speculating anchor people and field reporters, assumed it was a terrible accident.
But although we had no confirmation, a sickening wave of reality overwhelmed us as soon as that second, seemingly much larger plane came into view. It's still hard to describe that moment of sheer horror, disbelief and powerlessness as collectively we held our breath and literally watched the impact.
A flood of other feelings mingled with tears as I, and surely countless others cried out to God. You know that saying "eyes glued to the TV set?" There was no way we could look away.
There was only hoping, praying and crying.
"Dear God, don't let the towers fall, they mustn't fall," I kept pleading.
Inevitably when they did I felt sick to my stomach and shell-shocked, or the closest thing to it a civilian can know. That was one time when I actually did not want to believe my own eyes. Eventually, I started making calls and found out my immediate family members, still living in New York, were doing as well as could be expected.
Of course they all had questions, they assumed and expected I could answer because after all, I'm "in the media." While continuing to watch the non-stop coverage and wondering if and who we're going to war with, I somehow managed to get dressed and go to work.
To an outside observer a newsroom can sound loud and look chaotic. That day, it was eerily quiet and somber. I remember thinking the only other mood that even came close - was the day the Challenger exploded, right before our eyes in the newsroom. And yes, I do realize how long ago that was!
I went into my boss's office. He was a Big Apple transplant too. When our eyes met I fell into his arms. The same way that too many grieving relatives have fallen into mine over the years when I show up during the worst time of their lives.
He asked if I was okay and if I thought I could work. I muttered something like "look what they've done to our city." I just stared into space until it was decided what I could manage to do. I was sent to Selfridge Air base and as you can see from the picture my cameraman Andrzej Milosz took... I was in pain. Still, I did report something or other about the base being on standby for the nation's security.
Looking back, I guess I was afraid to go to sleep that night so I watched all the coverage I could until I drifted off.
Before I did, I wondered aloud: If the attack on Pearl Harbor was called "A day that will live in infamy" what will we call today? It would be a week until I learned that two of my half-siblings from my dad's second marriage were caught up in the tragic events.
I had only known them for a few years and for whatever reason they didn't immediately spring to mind when I made my initial checks on family and friends.
Until then, I didn't realize they worked in or near the towers. It doesn't necessarily come up when you're getting to know long lost relatives. My sister worked at the WTC but hadn't made it to her office but knew some co-workers who had perished.
Later that night, she was found miles away wandering around with no shoes on. She didn't remember anything for days and now whatever details have come back to her are still unspoken. She not only moved out of the city but out of the state. My brother worked on the floor of the stock exchange. He didn't suffer any physical effects. That's all I've been told.
I'm wondering if he'll be any more talkative while I'm in town to mark this 10th anniversary. New Yorkers are tough, proud and brash.
We have to deal with subways, taxis and 12 million people. But 9/11 took some of the starch out of us. It may be true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but that doesn't mean our hearts aren't still broken.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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