Monday, September 11, 2006

5 years ago this hour (4:30-ish am PST) I was sitting at my computer and I was happy.

We had spent several months getting Y ready to go; sketches, character designs, plotting and an ad campaign that would include a poster of Yorick standing on a veritable mountain of dead men. Early buzz was starting to generate and we were so damn excited. On Monday, September 10th I had finally gotten the okay to get started. I spent the whole day scouring books and magazines and googling all over the internet for reference images: Brooklyn apartments, streets, cars, a straight jacket, capuchin monkeys, Australian landscapes, a satellite cell phone, cages, guns, ambulances, cop cars and uniforms.

A few hours earlier I was on the phone with Brian going over some notes. I remember mentioning that I was having trouble finding reference for NYPD police uniforms and I wasn't sure which ones to go with; light blue short sleeve shirts or the dark navy ones. He said he'd do some digging since he had done some work as an auxiliary officer.

At around 5am (nowish, I'm a slow typist), I was wrapping up. I took all my printed refs and script and set it by my drawing table. I was listening to the new Bif Naked CD and digging it. I should have turned in earlier but I was too awake. I went online to the Bronze message board to see what the Buffy fans were chatting about. A few friends were on so I posted about the CD I was enjoying, that I was feeling pretty darn good and not wanting to turn away, I shut it all down and went to bed.

Later, when I went back to the board to check on east coast Bronzers I noted that just as I was putting in my ear plugs and turning out the light a post reading "Something's going on at the World Trade Center" directed everyone to check the news.

The earplugs were to cover up the noise of the Mountain Equipment Co-Op's very busy parking lot right outside my window. In recent weeks the racket had become unbearable, lots of SUVS and car alarms and I was losing a lot of sleep. The plugs were working nicely.

That morning my sleep was restless with dreams of urgency and noise. I awoke at around 10:30am to the cats jumping on my legs. I was used to Charlie being a spaz but there was something weird about this. I looked down to see both cats at my feet staring at me wide-eyed and pacing in agitation and there was a faint ringing going on.

I pulled out my ear plugs to hear the phone ringing by my bed. I answered to the sound of my mom sobbing on the phone. My first thought was that someone died.

"Mom, what happened?"

"The Twin Towers are gone. They hit them with planes and thousands of people are dead, they said twenty-five thousand people were in there."


"The US is going to war Pia and I can't get through to the family there"

"Slow down, I don't understand-"

"Are you watching this? I've been trying to call you for hours."

"I've been asleep, I had earplugs in. What do you mean there's a war?"

"They hit the towers with planes and now they're gone and they're saying we're at war and I can't call Helen from here. Her husband is a cop remember?"

"Holy shit. I'll go and see."

"Call Helen, my long distance is out and I can't call them."

"Okay, give me their number and I'll call from here. I'll call you right back."

I wrote down the number and hung up. I just sat there in bed stunned. I looked out the window and was struck by what I saw. The Co-Op parking lot was empty. It was totally quiet. The sun shone on the city and the north shore mountains and it was absolutely spectacular. I considered turning on the TV but felt a powerful urge instead to find Ian. I threw on a sweater and sandals and ran out the door.

It was a short run to the neighbouring apartment building. The weather was beautiful, cool and warm at the same time the thick trees casting perfect shadows. And no one was on the street. Totally quiet. My mind was in a panic like I hadn't been since I was a kid when things like war and nuclear annihilation were very real fears. Holy crap, who could have done this? Not the Chinese? Does that mean missiles are going to be flying? No, wait, that's nuts, it has to be that guy, the terrorist who blew up the Cole and that embassy. What was his name?

A part of me was hoping mom was just exaggerating like she did when Seattle was hit by an earthquake a few months earlier. She had called me then to tell me buildings had collapsed downtown and she was so glad I wasn't living there anymore. It turned out to be only some minor damage, a few facades shaken loose but far from the major disaster she made it sound to be. Maybe it's not that bad. I started worrying about the relatives, my cousin who got me into comics and of course his sister's husband, the cop.

I leaned on the buzzer knowing Ian usually ignored it in the mornings. When he answered I yelled for him to open the door.

I ran up the stairs and hurried into Ian's apartment, telling him to turn on the TV because something terrible had happened. When he picked up the remote I remember feeling a rush of panic over what we might see so I asked Ian to put it on the CBC instead of CNN because the American networks would probably be crazy and we wouldn't get a clear idea of what was going on.

CBC had live feeds of the Canadian ambassador and several other representatives at a press conference announcing they will be sending whatever support required. I told Ian what my mom had told me while we waited for images. When the press conference started focusing on military action we had gotten really frustrated not knowing the facts so we braced ourselves for the CNN feed.

The first sight was that of the towers, still standing with gaping holes in their sides, smoke billowing out. Our shock spiked sharply as the images cut from that to the giant blooms of pulverized concrete falling to the street below. The jagged spire of the North Tower tilting in the smoke was a like a knife in the heart. We both burst into tears.

I remembered that I had to call Helen and grabbed the phone. All I got was a busy signal and would continue to get it for several hours when I finally got through to Queens. Helen's husband actually answered. It turned out he was home sick with pneumonia. I chatted with Helen who I hadn't spoken with in a few years. She told me that everyone was okay. Cousin Pat worked in midtown and walked over to her house when the city cleared out. One of our other cousins who worked around the corner from the towers was out of the country on vacation so she was okay. The grand aunts who lived uptown were also out of the country. Uncle Lou had a friend from work who was missing though. I passed all the information on to mom.

We spent the day in front of the TV, in shock. At one point we decided to quit the carnage and went to Future Shop to pick up a digital cable box so we could watch something other than the endless coverage. The employees were making a point, kindly, to keep their channels off the news and it was a welcome break.

Later that night I visited a friend's place nearby and talked over everything we saw. At one point I recalled the last time we were in New York and visited the towers. It was late, just before closing, the city lights were beautiful and the observation area was empty. I bought some goofy souvenirs from the gift shop. An old guy was polishing the floor with a buffer machine, singing as he worked. He laughed about how the outside deck was closed because of wind and if we went out there we'd be blown clear off. And then he continued singing. At the tall windows there was a bar you could stand on for an amazing view straight down. I remember standing there and thinking how terrible it would be to fall from such a height. And then I remembered the brass grout on the floor tiles in the lobby, this little detail, and I just lost it. All of sudden it had become real and I was a big puddly mess.

It would be a few days until I heard from Brian who had been called in to direct traffic in the auxiliary. He watched the towers go from his rooftop in Brooklyn. I talked to Heidi who lived in the medical district of Manhattan. She told me how she saw all the hospitals prepare for casualties, gurneys on the sidewalk, staff prepped at the docks only no one was really coming in.

When it was clear that the Taliban was involved we had to take the first issue into re-writes because of a scene set in Afghanistan involving a shoot out at a Taliban roadblock. No one was sure if the firefighter scenes would work or even if the book would still go ahead because it was just so dark a subject for so sad a time.

We've come a long way since then and man does it seem like so much longer sometimes.

Right now there's live coverage on CNN of the NYC memorial services and Marsallis is playing on a trumpet. When he stood up to play I thought it would be yet another round of taps or some patriotic bullshit but instead this wonderful jazz. Down By the Riverside.

As it should be.

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