I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was twenty-two and recently graduated. I drove a six-cylinder 1986 Taurus, but it was beaten up and drove like a two-cylinder. Everyday I drove to work, where people would pretend not to notice just how loud the muffler was. I worked for pennies, but the job had good benefits and paid the rent. I had recently broken up with my boyfriend, and my life was a sequence of solitary events, sleeping, working, eating, and driving.
I remember the drive back and forth vividly. Usually, I was running late. If I turned right out of my apartment complex I could hop on the freeway, and drive 90 mph. However, I always hit every light when I took that route. If I went the other direction, I couldn’t drive as fast, but there was very little traffic and fewer lights. Sometimes, I would take that route solely because it was less stressful.
That particular day, I decided to go the less stressful route. I turned left. Luckily, I wasn’t going too quickly because two baby squirrels darted right into my path. I slammed on the brakes, and barely missed them. Breathing a sigh of relief, I moved my foot back to the gas pedal. And one squirrel doubled back at the exact same time…
Traumatized, but running late, I drove to work.
It was completely surreal, and I felt horrible. How could I have killed something, especially when I had tried so hard to avoid it? Once parked, I checked the car carefully. My car didn’t have a single speck of blood on it, but the squirrel plagued me. It disturbed me how easy it was to kill something, even accidentally. I couldn’t stop thinking about that damn baby squirrel.
During that period of my life, all it took was a sad song on the radio for me to tear up. Open wounds have a way of making everything more salient, even rodents.
Two days later, I was back in my car, and rushing off to work. At the last possible minute, I remembered I had a training that day, and headed to the training center instead of the office. I got there just before 8:30. There were four of us, but the instructor never showed up that day. We waited until 8:50, when Linda from personnel told us we were free to leave. I climbed into my car, and began to drive back to the office.
I flipped on the radio, but there was no music on any of my usual stations. The announcer was saying that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Completely shocked, I pictured the WTC as I had last seen it and the busy street below the observation deck. All I could picture was the sheer amount of shrapnel that must have been falling on people. When I arrived at the office, the receptionist had the radio on as well. “Can you believe it?” she said. Stunned, I shook my head, muttered something about the impact of falling objects, and headed to my cubicle.
Ten minutes later, the receptionist poked her head in to tell us that a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. By then, I had an internet browser open, and was reading an article about terrorism. Several supervisors were gathered near her desk. My supervisor came in to tell us that we might be sent home for the day.
Although very little was said, the feeling of unease was palpable throughout the office. I called a friend who lived in NY, whose uncle was often at the WTC for business, and asked her if she and her family were okay. She said they were. I continued to browse the internet, and ignored the piles of work sitting on my desk. No one else in the office appeared to be working either. All flights had been cancelled, and all sorts of rumors were swirling about other flights and other threats, including warnings to avoid shopping malls and other large public places.
At 9:45 the receptionist came in to tell us that a third plane had crashed, this time into the Pentagon. At 10, my boss received a call from her supervisor, and sent us all home. I considered driving to my parent’s house, but instead headed home to my empty apartment where luckily I had no cable or internet. I spent most of the day absent-mindedly reading Virginia Woolf, whom I don’t even like. My mother called several times and I assured her that I was perfectly fine, even though the whole world had just shifted. Suddenly, the squirrel seemed tiny, like a single drop of blood on a battlefield of cruel and unfair.
This piece is for Trifecta’s 333-3333 word challenge.
I later found out from a friend that he spent the morning avoiding looking out his window. He worked in midtown Manhattan, and could see the towers from his office.
Where were you?