My job at Harvard started at 11am and it took nearly an hour on the subway so I left the house at 10. I never listen to the radio or turn on the Tv before work, I hate the noise. So I arrived at my building and stepped into the elevator. Halfway up a woman got on and said “Did you hear?” I was puzzled and said no. Planes crashed into the World Trade Center, both buildings came down, she said. Speechless, I left the elevator and went down the eerily quiet hallway into my office, switched on the computer, and saw an email with the subject GO HOME. It was from the HR administrator. In addition to it being a horrifically tragic day, she wrote, the Middle Eastern Studies department was in our building and they didn’t want to take any chances. I read a few news pieces about the disaster and then obeyed. As I was walking out a professor who was leaving shook his finger and said “You shouldn’t be here…” I said I was on my way out.
I walked to the subway and found the station completely empty–a rarity at Harvard Square–except for me and two painters sitting on a bench. They had thick irish accents, white overalls splotted with paint, and were discussing a bee sting one had just gotten on his forehead. He rubbed it as the other peered at it concernedly, both speaking their brogue in hushed tones. Surreal.
The train came and I got on, the only person in the car. Once I switched to the Green Line there were many more people. One woman was crying, most looked stone-faced and I wondered if any had not yet heard, as I hadn’t when I left for work. When I got home I switched on the Tv and watched the nonstop coverage, on every single channel, all day and night, with my roommates. We did other things of course, puttered around, made dinner, called friends and family, but the TV stayed on the disaster coverage for days. I felt a sense of doom and growing hopelessness as the anthrax scare seemed to get worse every day.
And then the anthrax letters stopped, and the hopeless feeling subsided, and a few weeks later we talked about how weird it was that things seemed essentially to be back to normal. How strange it was to at one point think the world may be coming to an end and then … business as usual, be a patriotic American and go shopping. Don’t mind those armed guards in the subway station rifling through people’s bags. Images such as the one above began to disappear from the media, which I only realized years later when I saw one again and it instantly brought tears to my eyes.
As I look at them again it is incredible to me that it’s been 9 years, it feels like yesterday.