The morning felt bright and unreal, so far from Manhattan as to belong to another country — one you couldn’t even fly to anymore. The garbage men came by on their usual rounds. They knew what had happened, and they looked ordinarily cheerful. A neighbor stumbled out of his apartment, wanting to know what the fuck was going on. He’d flown into L.A. from Miami the day before, and his plane had been delayed after the police had brought in dogs to sniff everyone’s luggage. He looked shocked, frightened, appalled. But for the most part, everything was quiet.
I went back to the couch and NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, MSNBC — a day of acronyms and buildings a quarter-mile high toppling from the sky. One video, taken from near the bottom of the tower, showed the plane entering the building from the viewpoint of someone looking straight at its belly. Another, taken from several miles’ distance, showed it sailing almost leisurely across lower Manhattan toward its target. When it hit, Dan Rather gasped, “We’re going to re-cue that,” he said. It was staggeringly, horrifyingly beautiful. The president called it a “faceless, cowardly act,” but it was the boldness of it that stunned — a knife in the First World’s heart. “Holy shit!” someone cried on the video. “Jesus fucking Christ!” I’d never heard those words on the news before.
I used to work near the World Trade Center. I’ve passed through its underground concourse a hundred times. I knew that thousands of people were dead — that the place didn’t even exist anymore — but I couldn’t imagine what that much death was like. I kept thinking of the black-and-white photograph on the cover of Don De Lillo’s bomb-haunted novel, Underworld: One of the twin towers viewed from a distance, top wreathed in a brooding cloud, the cross on a church steeple rising starkly before it. The deep foreboding of both the novel and the photograph suddenly seemed prophetic. The underworld had risen. In the corner of the photo, you could see a single bird, flying away as from a disaster.