The Maker Cried When it Collapsed

I worked from midnight until eight a.m. the day of September 11, 2001, at the Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center.

There were six of us on shift, plus one supervisor, that night. At 7:46 CST, when the plane struck 1 WTC, we were all standing around the administrative station, the way we did every morning, waiting for the first shifters to arrive. There were no televisions on anywhere around us, no radios.

We got off shift at exactly 8:00 a.m., as we did each day, and walked back to the break room, where we gathered our stuff, and then walked to the staff exit and waited to get buzzed out of the building.

At 8:03 CST, when the second plane struck 2 WTC, we were getting in our cars, or were just pulling out of the parking lot. I had the radio tuned to NPR, and listened as the report came on. I lived just a five-minute drive from the detention center, and so I arrived home around 9:10 or so, and turned on The Today Show, because trying to figure out what was going on by listening to the radio reports alone just wasn’t working. I needed the visuals to help it all make sense.

I sat rapt for the next hour or so, watched both buildings collapse. I hadn’t then and still never have been to New York City, but at the end of that hour my face was slathered in tears. I hadn’t bothered at any point to take a second to wipe them dry.

A little later, I carried a legal pad onto our little cement patio out back, as I did many mornings after I got off work, and I wrote three pages. That week, I had put restrictions on myself: no sentence could be longer than seven words.

I remember one sentence from those three pages, because I still think of it every time I see footage of that day. The maker cried when it collapsed. I remember the sentence but still don’t know what it was exactly I was getting at.
* * *
I worked that same job, that same shift, until June of the next year. Over the course of the next nine months, I heard several of my co-workers who also worked third-shift with me talk about their remembrances of 9/11.

Everyone else on shift but me seemed to have vivid memories of getting home that morning just as the second plane was crashing into 2 WTC. This was a profound and moving moment for them: walking in the door, turning on the television, and catching that glimpse of catastrophe.

Nobody I worked with lived closer to the detention center than I did. So, by the time I was watching replays of the second plane that morning, they were still driving home. They may have been listening to NPR, or they may have had some CD playing on their stereos. I’ll never know. But I do know that none of them arrived home just as the second plane struck 2 WTC. It was not possible. But I knew, too, that there was no way the facts of the matter could force them to re-interpret their memories, whether it was six months later, or five years. Their memories, even if they were shaped by the minor miracle of continuous replay, by the power of that terrifying and horrific image of a plane disappearing into a buiding, were theirs, and they would hold onto them for dear life. How could they be expected to do anything but.


Susan Flemming said...

I think that day had such an unreal feeling for many of us and our responses so purely emotional that we didn't stop to analyze whether what we were seeing was happening in real time.

Southern Writer said...

It happened the same way for me. I was five minutes away and got home just in time to see the second plane hit. My husband was deer hunting up in the mountains and I wondered how long it would take him to hear of it, and what he would find when he came home. If he came home. They were talking about war on the news. I loaded a shotgun and waited. The planes striking was shock enough, but when the buildings collapsed, it seemed even more unreal.