I walked into the lobby of the Ritz hotel looking for a good friend. We had arranged to meet there and enjoy the afternoon together before I moved to Germany the following day. As we left the building for his car he made some comment about a plane and the World Trade Centre. Across the road at an Arab airline there were people clustered round a television showing live pictures of a smoking building.
But I was young and I was in London and I had a busy day, so it wasn’t until the early evening, when I arrived back at the flat the Mothership lived in, that I realised the scale of the catastrophy. It was then, as it is now, incomprehensible.
The pictures were too absurd to be real, surely?
That building couldn’t possibly collapse, could it?
Everybody got out, didn’t they?
The television stayed on throughout the night. I slept on the sofa, waking periodically to repeated images of the plane going into the South Tower, of a patch of ground in Pennsylvania where the passengers of Flight 93 brought their plane down, of the Pentagon smouldering. In the morning, I went to Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world, to board a plane to Frankfurt. It was silent. Not that it was empty: there were plenty of people boarding flights, though thousands of people stayed away from airports that day. But there was a hush as we queued through the strictest of security checks, everyone happy to be searched to within an inch of their lives if it meant their safety in the air. There really weren’t the words, if I’m honest.
I’m not sure there are the words now, ten years on.
DH and I went to Ground Zero when we visited New York the year I turned 30. The scale of the site overwhelmed me: I found it impossible to picture the buildings over 100 storeys tall that once filled the empty space in the middle of such a busy city. Likewise it’s impossible to imagine choosing to jump to your death from a building in peril rather than stay and potentially burn. I cannot see what it would be like to spend days living with dark skies overhead knowing that the smog is caused by the ashen rubble of destroyed buildings. How do you come to terms with losing a loved one in those circumstances? Can you ever really recover?