I hate all of the 'Where were you?' September 11th posts.
'How did you feel? What were you doing?'
I suppose I was lucky that day, I was safely ensconsed in suburban Chicagoland. I knew nobody in New York or at the Pentagon. But today still riddles me with sorrow.... guilt.
'How did you feel? What were you doing?'
I rarely join in on the conversations. I listen, and smile sympathetically, but I don't contribute. I still feel so guilty about my response to those questions. I guess I should just go ahead and tell my story. Maybe my shoulders will lighten a little bit.
On September 11, 2001, I was working for a stockbroker.
I hated the job. It was a two man shop, me and him. He was hardly ever in the office, often out playing golf with clients. He was maybe two or three years older than me. I never asked him how old he was, I really didn't want to know. He talked constantly about how much money he was making, knowing that more than a few of his big ticket customers were there because I charmed them while he was out playing golf. I hated the job.
I mostly worked an 8 am - 4pm schedule, skipping lunch so I could leave early. The New York Stock Excahnge opened at 9:30 am which usually gave me an hour and a half to open the office and sort all the voice mail messages and faxes that had come through overnight.
Around 8:50 am a fax came through from headquarters. To my recollection, it said 'The Market will be delayed in opening. It has been reported that a small prop plane as struck a building in downtown NYC.'
And I laughed.
That is my guilt, my sorrow. I was glad for a delay to the start of my day. I laughed for a solid 5 minutes.
Until the next fax came through. And the one after that. And the one after that.
Details came through slowly, or so it felt. The handful of minutes between updates felt like hours. We didn't have a TV in the office and I don't know why it didn't dawn on me to turn on the radio. I just read the supply of faxes that started pouring in, each with an increasing about of information and horror. I started flinching every time I heard the machine kick on.
Per his normal schedule, my stockbroker flew into the parking lot a few minutes after 9:30.
'Have you heard what happened?' he asked, 'This will be bad for buisness. I need to think.' He shut himself in his office behind me. I sat in shock and read the flow of faxes.
I had laughed.
Around 10am he emerged with a pile of printouts. 'We have to do something. We have to tell people that their money is OK,' he announced. He handed me a stack of papers. It was a list of clients and phone numbers, A-M. 'People need to hear from us. We need to personally call everyone and reassure them their investments are safe.'
My stomach flip-flopped but I didn't say anything outside of saying that I wasn't comforatable with it. I should have screamed at him, told him what an asshole he was. People were dying and he was worried about money. I didn't say it though. I sat at my desk for 10 minutes and then picked up the phone.
A few numbers in, somebody answered. She answered with a shakey, tear filled voice. I followed my script. She screamed at me. Screamed the things that I should have screamed at my stockbroker. She knew people in those buildings. I deserved those words. The full impact of what was happending and what I had just done fully hit me. I wept uncontrolably.
That is the second fold of my sorrow, my guilt. I blindly followed instructions that I knew weren't right. That I knew were crass and careless.
After I told the stockbroker what happened, he sent me home for the day. And he changed his tactic. He narrowed this list to just his biggest clients and rang with concern about their families and connections on the East Coast.
That is my story, my remembering. It isn't as horrible as it could be, as many are. But, it could be so much easier to tell, if only my actions that day were more thought out, more careful. I made someone's life worse that day, their heart ache more.
And you know what? 10 years later, I don't feel a shred better for having written this.