Ninety Days
December 11, 2001 8:46am
World Trade Center

There will be more about the World Trade Center. It will take a few posts to capture it.

The thing you are most aware of at the WTC, day or night, is the roar of generators, the high pitched staccato of heavy machinery in reverse, the grinding of gears, the buzz and sizzle of blow torches, and the horrible shrieks and crunches of rubble being yanked out of a massive pile of debris.

The workers, the cops, the firefighters you see along the edge of the site range from stone-faced to relaxed. They have been here for three months. Every day. Twelve to sixteen hour shifts.

As one officer put it as he sipped coffee along the barricade, “You get a little numb… but when you think you’ve got it all shut down something happens that brings it all up again. It gets a little better every day.”

8:46am marked the three month anniversary, to the minute, of the first plane crashing into the first tower.

At 8:45am the noise died, like someone threw a switch. The generators still hummed but the other sounds of the site, the blow torches, the trucks, the cranes, the pounding, the voices, all of it…stopped dead.

Prior to that, the Mayor and Governor held a memorial service. The noise abated a bit. But by 8:46am all you could hear were construction workers, cops, firemen, and an untold number of civilians singing the national anthem. Hats off. Hands over heart.

I’m sure there was an accompaniment playing. It only makes sense. I can’t remember it. What I remember are the voices. What I remember are the strong, solid, achingly tired faces on the hulking bodies of the workers…large men, strong men, tough men. Numbed men.

What I remember, more than anything, is one man, in his 50’s, some kind of crew leader. I saw him laughing and joking and barking orders earlier. A man in charge. A man who was working at a construction site, any construction site.

What I remember are the tears streaming down his face as he tried to sing. What I remember is him breaking down, riddled with sobs and convulsions as he fell to his knees. What I remember are other strong, hard men reaching for him, lifting him up, holding him, consoling him. What I remember are the other faces painted with tears.

What I will carry with me forever is the look on his face as the song ended, a mixture of bewilderment, pain, fear, and a sadness so deep he will never find the bottom of that dark well. What I remember are his words as he shook his head, the arm of a friend draped protectively over his shoulders…

“Snuck up on me, again.”

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