Worst day of my life.
At the time, the wife (who was my girlfriend then) and I lived in Union Square, roughly a mile from Ground Zero. That morning, I was picked up by Richard Demak, an editor at Sports Illustrated. We were driving to Pennsylvania for a golf tournament held every year by Jack McCallum. Greg Kelly and Chris Stone, also editors, were in the car as well.
As we drove through Manhattan toward the Midtown Tunnel, Greg said, “What are all those people looking at?” Indeed, we saw a bunch of folks gathered at a street-corner, glancing into the sky. When we reached them … speechless. On the side of one of the towers of the World Trade Center was an enormous burning hole. Richard immediately turned on the radioâ€”supposedly a prop plane had accidentally hit the building. We kept driving, kept looking up, kept listening. Right before we were about to enter the tunnel, we all saw another plane heading toward the Towers.
We entered the tunnel.
We existed the tunnel.
Two commercial airliners … terrorism … people jumping …
By the time we reached Pennsylvania, there was nowhere to go, and nothing to do. We all gathered in a room and watched the horror unfold. There was very little noiseâ€”just a bunch of writers and editors soaked in disbelief. I wanted to get back to my city, but what was I going to do? The World Trade Center was gone. Thousands had died. My wife was fine, as were my family members. But this was bigger than personal worries.
The ensuing days and weeks were the worst I will ever experience. You could smell and taste the air. Thick. Metal-like. Nasty. There were leaflets everywhereâ€”pictures of the lost, words like IF YOU SEE HIM …Â and HER TWO LITTLE GIRLS MISS HIM …
New Yorkers were lost. We all wanted to help … to do something. But there was so little. My friend, Adrienne Lewin, and I went to the Armory, where family members were waiting to see if their loved ones were on a list. Most of the people were holding the leaflets, so Adrienne and I made an announcement: “If any of you want your fliers hung up, we’ll be honored to go around the city and do so!” We were handed dozens of them. Then we went to Kinko’s, explained to the manager what we were doing. “Make as many copies as you need,” he said. “Don’t worry about paying …” (My eyes just teared up typing that. If you weren’t in the city, you can’t understand how giving and open people were). We combed Manhattan, hanging those pieces of paper everywhere. Did we think it’d do any real good? Probably not. But it was a mission. We needed to do something.
I remember the vigils held in Unique Square Parkâ€”people writing in chalk on the sidewalk, people holding hands, playing music, debating. I remember two men walking the streets with cardboard signs reading NEED HUGS? I also remember the dreamsâ€”terrible dreams at night that I was falling … falling … falling. Sometimes I’d wake up coated in sweat. Other times, crying.
Human beings probably forget 90 percent of their lives.
I will never forget that.