From my humble writing space I stare out at the night sky; the twinkling lights, the glow of Downtown Toronto, the CN Tower lit up against the dark of Lake Ontario. It’s comforting to know it’s there, the CN Tower, standing on the same ground it was on built 33 years ago. It’s a symbol of Toronto, Canada even, and although we Torontonians are sick of the thing, familiarity breeding contempt and all, deep down we are proud of it. We are proud of the men who built her; proud to know she was once the tallest free-standing structure in the world; proud to know she was built to last 300 years (plus one) and that we took offence when 16 terrorists threatened to blow her up, along with breaking into parliament and beheading our Prime Minister. These things we can’t abide; not in OUR house.
And so we come to September 11th. That damn ugly day we wish never happened.
I don’t wish to go into the details, we all know them. God, how can we not? Thanks to CNN and YouTube this thing will live forever. Remember Pearl Harbor? I suppose you don’t. 9/11 was our generation’s awakening, the destruction of our innocence, a defining moment; just like Pearl Harbor was for the WWII generation. I never knew such evil existed before that day. I still can’t believe it.
I was working as an assistant manager at a retail discount store that day. The night before I had been with my girlfriend and she told me she’d had a vision; she’d dreamt about a plane hitting a building, and how the people in the building were burning, jumping out windows, trying to escape being scorched to death. She was crying as she told me this, this I do solemnly swear is the truth. I, of course, paid no attention; it was only a dream. I don’t take much stock in these things. Matters, especially grey matters, tend to be subjective, but I was creeped out nonetheless.
Where was I? I was listening to Howard Stern broadcasting out of New York. I had my little ear buds on, radio tucked in my pocket. Howard was a new thing to us here; recently our local rock station Q107 had picked him up for their morning show, so I listened because I was curious. I think he was talking about his ass or something, giving some crass advice on how to wipe after you do a number two. He abruptly stopped, and then, in a serious tone not associated with Howard, said: “we’re getting reports that a plane has hit the World Trade tower…”
What followed was a rant about how stupid a pilot would have to be to hit an object as large and conspicuous as the Twin Towers. I was inclined to agree with him.
Then the second one hit. The pilot jokes stopped, and he announced almost immediately, “New York is under attack!”
Cue the terrorist’s rants. Howard then lamented the fact that he was talking about his balls a few moments before, apologetic, humbled, he proceeded to tell us that his act was entertainment, a shtick. You knew it was serious if Howard Stern was waxing philosophical.
And so I stood there at the front of the store, the employees gathered around me waiting for updates. After a few moments, we drifted off to try and get on with our day, somehow.
Then Howard started screaming that the South Tower had collapsed. Robin, his on-air side-kick, left immediately to go find her children, but found that her driver had abandoned her.
I stood there, my mouth agape. It’s difficult to describe; it was like someone punched me in the gut and told me my father died all at the same time. Some old lady was asking me something, something about shower curtains. I don’t remember. I told her that the World Trade Tower had been destroyed by terrorists, and how could she ask about something so stupid. She didn’t appear to understand.
When that North Tower fell, I was a nervous wreck. I could hardly finish the day. Our lovely boss saw no need in closing the store, or sending us home. I thought Toronto was next. I thought we were all doomed. Watching the images later on CNN, I was struck the unity of those New Yorkers. I fell in love with New York and its people that day. I wished I could have been there to help, or lend support, or something. I felt useless.
Band practice was cancelled that night. We all showed up at the rehearsal space, took one look at each other, and said forget it. We went to get coffee, and drove to the airport. We heard that all air traffic had been suspended, and we were not only incredulous, but curious. We sat there that night, talking quietly, looking up at the night sky over Pearson International Airport, where not a single plane flew that evening. That’s how we knew it was real, and not some abstract thing.
Putting these things into words is difficult; how you feel about something, sometimes, is not quantifiable. But those buildings; arrow straight, masculine rockets of glass and concrete shooting above the New York skyline; these things become indelible. The many people who died are an abstraction, not rightly I might add, because it’s those towers that get eulogized. They were so damn PRESENT, so THERE. I cried for the people of New York, for those who lost loved ones, for the guys who put their blood and sweat and life on the line to build those things. I cried for America.
Tonight the CN Tower stands; I’ve been glancing at her through the balcony door. It’s a small comfort. For the 3000 people who died on September 11th, 2001, a small consolation. I need some way to deal with it, and that’s the only way I know how.
Rest in Peace.
David Hunter, Toronto, September 11th, 2009