My brain said it over and over, " but it's so beautiful."
I was in a twilight sleep, you know, half awake but not unaware. I was aware that my phone was ringing around 9am and there was only one person who ever called me before 10. It was my best friend Linda. She sounded so upset that I woke up the rest of the way so I could understand what she was trying to tell me. " Can't you see your TV?, a plane flew into one of the World Trade Center Towers." My TV was all snow because the TV station transmitters were all knocked out. I told Lin to hang on and that'd I'd be there in a minute but by the time I got to her house a second plane had crashed into the other Tower. What had seemed like an unbelievable accident had turned into a day the world would never forget.
Lin was really upset because one of her family members worked in one of the World Trade Center buildings and no one in her family had heard from him yet. It's terribly hard not to think the worst. I think I made some lame comment along the lines of, " it's probably just the cell towers." Linda was a friend from the first day I met her a good 15 years before this day. She is a very passionate person. The kind that is hard to comfort physically but that's my exact way to try. She wasn't having it. I understood. She just wanted to focus.
We continued to watch as the TV's had finally come back on. They were showing flames pouring out of the towers into such a beautiful blue sky. There wasn't a single cloud. I kept thinking," this can't be happening on such a beautiful day." It was happening and it was happening fast. It had been probably about 35 to 45 minutes after the initial strike to tower one when it just began to crumble. It seemed so surreal. That tower seemed to just crumple like a clay statue. The very top tilted , as if by design, toward the television camera's to get the best dramatic effect. How could it be dropping into that beautiful sky. It was too blue. It was too perfect.
I heard the gasp next to me. I couldn't imagine what Lin was thinking. I just stood as close to her as I could so she knew I was there. The lives. Holy Shit. We both knew that people were trying to get the hell out of those buildings. We also knew that our Brothers and Sisters in EMS , Fire and Police would be running into those buildings to do their jobs. It was devastating to watch as the clouds of dust from the fallen tower billowed up against that beautiful blue creating a snapshot of beautiful sky against pure horror. It couldn't be bit it was. We didn't even have time to fully process the fact that building one had just fallen down when building two started to fall but this one seemed to break in half another huge cloud of clay dust jutted up into the blue sky The bottom part seemed to just give up and fell into a dusty mess, it didn't take time, there was no pause , it just fell as if someone had kicked it hard enough to just drop it. There was no longer deniability to this act. The entire world was just going to have to accept that the United States had been hit by terrorists who wanted to make a huge impression. We had also been told that the Pentagon building had been partially struck by another plane. These were large passenger planes. Who? What? WHY?! That wasn't the end of the bad news either. There were allegedly two or three more planes in the air with unknown targets. I couldn't stop thinking about all the lives this was going to change forever. I believe that even though the sky was so beautiful that day I wouldn't look at another beautiful blue sky the same way ever again.
Linda wanted to get down to our squad building. The North Brunswick First Aid and Rescue squad was in the middle of a pretty suburban neighborhood. My brain again looked to the sky on our drive to the building and said, " how could this happen on such a pretty day." I don't remember if I said it out loud or not and it doesn't really matter. I just couldn't stop that thought from playing like a broken record in my mind.
We took one of the ambulances to go and pick up kids from schools and drop them at their homes or with babysitters. I think that the entire country was wondering where the next plane would land. There were reports that there were other planes in the air but the targets were unknown. We all knew it was unlikely that terrorists would strike schools in our town but it was best to have them where the parents knew they were safe. The questions the kids had were hard to answer but I did my best not to scare them and gave them only the information they needed to know. The whole truth was going to be told over and over as soon as it was all known. It didn't need to start with me since I really didn't have all the information. I just told them that it seemed as if bad people had done some bad things to something bad.
We went back to the squad building where the anyone who was home from work was waiting for instructions. We were then told that all ambulances and support vehicles from all over New Jersey would be staged at the Meadowlands Sports Complex. The three ambulances and rescue truck were loaded up and we were on our way on this beautiful day to a tragedy. Yes, a tragedy. There aren't enough adjectives that can describe this tragedy so let's just leave it alone. We all know in our own minds, hearts and souls what that day meant to all of us.
I want to say this. I loved most of the people that I worked with at the North Brunswick First Aid and Rescue Squad. These are my Brothers and Sisters now just as they were that very day. I don't want anyone to believe for one minute that anyone meant any less to me as the folks I worked with in any other project.
My brain wanted to stay on the beautiful blue sky and it did for some reason. I couldn't let that go completely but I also knew what the World Trade Center disaster would mean to my Brothers and Sisters from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and even more, because of proximity to New York, what it meant for my Brothers and Sisters of University Hospital EMS-Newark division. I knew that even as we made our way up the parkway that my Newark family was probably already deployed to a command staging area in New York. I knew with the certainty of my beating heart that each and every one was ready to do what had to be done just as my North Brunswick family would do their duty when they were called upon.
When we arrived at the staging area. My heart swelled with such pride as I had never felt before in my life. There were ambulances, firetrucks, support vehicles everywhere. There were hundreds of EMT's, Paramedics, Firefighters, Police Officers all standing together waiting for instructions and ready to show the bastards that had ruined the beautiful blue sky, that we were not going down that easy. We were ready to take care of the people that made it out of the buildings. I couldn't have been more proud.
We were all formed into units of five ambulances, which is known as a strike team. While we waited to be told where we would be going we couldn't help but look across the river and see what wasn't there. There was still clearly dust all around. I found out later that other buildings had fallen while we were en-route to the staging area and that there would likely be others. It didn't take long before that prophecy came true. We all stopped any conversations we were having just to watch as two more buildings fell. They were much smaller and must surely have been evacuated before this happened but it was still such a waste, but dammit if the day didn't still aesthetically look beautifully crafted. The blue was that rich, cornflower blue that isn't always available due to all kinds of boring things. There wasn't one cloud to ruin it. It stayed that way all day. I felt so guilty for noticing the sky so much. I knew how bad the news was going to be. I knew there was going to be heavy loss of life. I knew it and I hated it but couldn't I love the beauty of the sky at the same time? I felt like I shouldn't.
We started to get casualty reports about an hour and a half into our twelve hour stay. There were different counts at different intervals. We were told there would be buses full of injured people coming in an hour. The next report was one bus in forty-five minutes, six buses in fifteen minutes. It went on like that all day We didn't get one patient, not one. I think all of us wanted to keep thinking that sooner or later we would get patients and use our talents to help them during this horrible tragedy that they had been through but the truth is we all knew why no one was coming. We all knew they were dead. We knew thousands and thousands of people had died . There were still strike teams being sent out to either Liberty State Park in Jersey City where some of the critical patients were being taken for triage or they were being sent to what was now called ground zero to do what they could to help find survivors. New York hospitals were inundated, to say the least, and they were also cut off from some areas because of the sheer volume of concrete. When our strike team was to be sent to ground zero one of our members was using a bathroom. When she got back we were actually sent to a different location. We were sent to one of the highways that were completely packed, of course, with cars that couldn't go forward or back until the entire area was deemed safe. We were to find a car with a pregnant lady who thought she was in labor. Once we found her and were able to talk with her we were all pretty sure that she was having a panic attack but we loaded her up. We were on our way to the Meadowlands Hospital when a NJ State Trooper stopped us. He explained to Linda, who was driving that we couldn't proceed to the hospital because they thought that a van parked across from the overpass we were on was full of explosives and hadn't been cleared yet. He told us that there was possibly enough explosives in that van to blow the overpass and the hospital we were going to up. Well, if that didn't just suck. We weren't from Northern NJ. so we really only had one choice here. We had to take this lady to that hospital or we would have to try to find a different one. We didn't want to put her life in jeopardy in either situation or ours for that matter. Linda yelled back to me, " how's she doing back there T? " " She's doing okay for now but she's in pain. We really should get going." I'm not sure if we should be ashamed of ourselves or not but to be honest. I'm not. This lady was having a hard time whether she was in labor or not. It was hard enough not having family with her but then to have her taken somewhere other than where her family thought she was going was upsetting her more. She had heard what the Trooper said as well which did create a noise that no one wanted to hear in a pregnant lady. He let us go on our way. We gave her over to the hospital staff and went home.
The beautiful blue sky had now been replaced by the clear starlit night. It always takes me a couple of days to process things. I'm one of those people who want to make sure, as best as I can, that the people I love are as good as they can be. I wanted to hold the kids as close as I could. I wanted to hear about my friends in the field. I wanted to know how the hell the world was ever going to be the same. That's what happened that starlit night.
It's 19 years now since that beautiful day that turned into a starlit night changed the world. I have several friends who were at ground zero who have cancer.One has died. I'm grateful to say that some who had cancer are now cancer free. I have had a couple of friends commit suicide. What does all of this mean for the broken record in my head? It means that the world can beautiful even when it's not.