It was September 11th and President Bush would be here in Sarasota that day. I was in bed, staring at the ceiling, and wondering how soon I would die.
Breast cancer had hit me hard but didn’t kill me, and suddenly I was told that it may be back again. I had an appointment for a biopsy on the 12th – they had to wait for a replacement part for the new biopsy machine, en route to Sarasota by airplane.
The phone rang in the dark room, and my husband’s voice sounded strained. He was a pilot for US Airways, and left early that morning for his regular flight from Tampa. “I’m OK, we never took off, so I’m still on the ground in Tampa,” he says.
“OK,” I say, “but why are you telling me this?”
“Turn on the TV.”
Like so many others, I watched the screen in rising horror. Instead of wondering when I would die, I watched live video of people hurling themselves from windows at impossible heights.
It’s 20 years later, and I still wonder how I would make that jump. Would I leap feet first, arms and legs flailing? Or would I perform a swan dive, pushing off the ledge like a swimmer heading for the water below, arms outstretched?
Maybe I would miraculously fly parallel to the ground, swooping and sailing until I smashed into the ground with enough force to form a small crater. I imagine that my eyes would be closed because of the wind but my ears wide open and my skin prickling with life and the pain of so much air hitting it all at once.
I’m sure they knew there was no hope. Although at certain moments hope is all we have. And relief to have escaped the flames and destruction inside. Better to flutter down with the thousands of pieces of paper that carpeted the streets. Better to have a few seconds of flight as they fled.
It took a few extra days for the part to arrive, since all flights were cancelled. I had the biopsy early Tuesday morning, then went to Rosh Hashanah services.
A book lay on my lap. I was silent, unmoving. Because I knew. Through the fog in my mind I heard the words of the Untane Tokef – who will live and who will die, who by drowning, who by wild beast. And I fled into the street.
No one at the hospital had said a word to me, but I knew. I knew that my fall from the top of a crumbling tower was still happening, in slow motion, like the specks on the TV screen that were people, seeming to fall forever, tumbling through the sky like birds interrupted in flight, wings now useless, until they disappeared from sight in the growing mountains of debris with the sound of a small explosion.
I knew. But a slow motion fall can last a very long time. It has been 20 years.
Twenty years later, I still wonder. Would I have fallen gracefully, at least for a moment?
I won’t show a photo of people falling on 9/11 but there is a beautiful article about them from Esquire magazine at https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a48031/the-falling-man-tom-junod/