Having lived in New York City at the time, I always struggle with this one. It’s a dark day, a dark time, a dark feeling. I can’t help but drift back toward that day. Seeing the hole in the building. Wondering who was OK and who wasn’t. Seeing the flyers, smelling the rubble burn, trying to manage the conflicting feelings of anger and remorse.
I’ve written about this all before (if you’re at all interested, just go back to Sept. 11 entries from past years). One thing I’ve never written about, however, are the most awful words I’ve ever heard.
I figure it’s time.
September 11, 2001 was a weird day from the very beginning. I’m not a golfer. In fact, I hate golf. However, the lovely Jack McCallum—Sports Illustrated writer—hosted an annual golf tournament for SI staffers near his home in Pennsylvania. I decided to attend, mostly so I could hang with co-workers and shoot the shit. Hence, early that morning I found myself driving through Manhattan with three colleagues from the magazine. As we headed toward the Holland Tunnel, we spotted people standing on the street corners, looking up. When we reached a clearing, we could see a fire burning along one of the World Trade Center towers. Someone flipped on the radio, and news was of a plane crash. We assumed, I believe, that it was some sort of prop incident. Horrible, of course, but minor.
Once we crossed through the tunnel and reached New Jersey, the news became clear. Another plane had hit. This wasn’t just a bad accident. This was an attack.
Because there was no returning to New York, we proceeded to Pennsylvania. It was a sad, weird, awful, confusing ride. Silence in the car, the radio telling us what we needed to know. Upon reaching Jack’s house, everyone gathered around the television. Again, there was little chatter, mostly quiet.
Then, something happened that I’ll never forget. A reporter stated that one of the passengers on American Airlines flight 77 was Barbara Olson, an attorney and conservative television commentator. Olson, it turns out, had called her husband from the hijacked plane to tell her what was happening and she …
“Serves the bitch right.”
The words—four in total—were uttered by one of my Sports Illustrated colleagues. I have never forgotten them, and never will forget them. At the time, nobody responded. Maybe we should have, maybe we shouldn’t have. The awkwardness hung there, like a damp blanket. Eventually, people got up, used the bathroom, watched some more TV, tried returning home.
I, however, have never fully moved on.
On those rare occasions when I see the person, I shake his hand and smile and make small chatter. “Serves the bitch right,” though, is permanently tattooed to his head.
As it should be.