Manhattan skyline

Ten Years Ago Today

It was a rainy day in Majorca.

Terry and I were on our first ever holiday together: a late break we’d been saving up for all year, and which we’d been enjoying every second of. As the holiday drew to a close, however, the September weather started to set in, and we woke that morning to grey skies and drizzly rain: not the best weather for our planned boat trip that day.

Standing on the dockside, wearing Terry’s sweater, which came halfway down my thighs, I remember feeling sorry for myself, and thinking that a little bit of rain on my holiday was just about the worst thing ever. It was mid-morning, Spanish time. In New York, the dawn had just started to break.

The boat trip was a mistake: the seas were choppy, throwing up waves as big as the boat. We clung onto the back of the boat, making jokes about Titanic, but secretly wondering how the little catamaran could stay upright. We got back to shore feeling lucky to be alive.

The sky didn’t clear until later that evening. We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant near the shore, and walked down onto the beach to take pictures of the sunset. On the way back, walking along a tourist street I stopped at a newsstand to read the headlines and joke with Terry that while I, ace reporter that I was, was on holiday, the biggest story in my living memory would probably go down. I was working for a newspaper at the time, and it so happened that my colleague, who worked for our larger, sister title, was going on holiday at the same time as me. Ian was one of those fiercely ambitious young journalists: the ones who don’t even flinch at the idea of doing a “death knock” and who only take days off if they’re forced to, because they’re terrified they’ll miss something.

This was the first holiday Ian had taken in years, and he’d been strong-armed into it by his girlfriend. He was absolutely convinced that something big would happen while he was gone. “I’ll be wandering around Lake Como and the biggest news story in the world will happen somewhere else!” he kept saying. “I just know it!” I stopped at that newsstand, and I told Terry about Ian, and the biggest news story in the world. And then we walked around the corner, and there it was: the biggest news story in the world had been unfolding for the past few hours. We hadn’t even known.

Around that corner was a cafe, and in the back of that cafe was a TV. It was just a small screen, and yet people were crowding around it, jostling for position. At first I assumed it was a football match: there had been some kind of tournament on that week, and we’d seen lots of crowds around TV screens, all cheering for their teams and drinking beer. This seemed different, though. There was something about the still silence of this crowd that made the back of my neck prick with fear, so I walked over to see what they were looking at, while Terry, who had left his glasses in the hotel and couldn’t have seen anyway, strolled along looking in the nearby shops.

I found a place in the crowd and stood on my toes to see the screen.

CNN. Pictures of fire and smoke. A city street with people running, screaming, covered in what looked like ash. “What is this?” I asked the man standing next to me, who shrugged, and didn’t speak English. “What’s happening?” I honestly didn’t think it was real. I thought it was some kind of fake newsreel, or a scene from a movie. For some reason I thought of War of the Worlds, and people running out of their homes thinking it was real. This seemed real, but it couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be, because the more I watched, the more the city seemed to resemble New York, and things like this – whatever this was – just didn’t happen there.

On the screen, more clouds of smoke, more people running. “What IS this?” I asked again. Then a rolling headline appeared on the screen: “New York declares State of Emergency. Washington declares State of Emergency.”

“Terry!” I shouted. “You need to come over here: something really bad has happened…”

We stood and watched the pictures, me reading out the text as it flashed up. In the footage they were showing, the towers were still standing. When we found out that a plane had hit one (and at that point, we thought it was just one plane, one tower), I, with my fear of flying, thought that was bad enough. I will never forget the next line which flashed up on the screen:

“Both towers collapsed following the impact.”

I really didn’t believe it. I didn’t think it was possible. “That can’t be right, can it?” I asked Terry. “Even if a plane did hit them, they wouldn’t fall? Would they?” But Terry thought that yes, that could, theoretically be possible. “If it was a large enough plane,” he said, “Then yes, I guess it could happen.”

I ran for the phones. My cellphone, typically, was back at the hotel, but there was a bank of pay phones near the cafe, and I had this compulsion to speak to my parents – to have this thing that was happening confirmed by someone I knew. And, more than that, I think I had the same compulsion we all did on that day, to make contact with the people we loved, and know that they were OK. The payphones, however, were all coin or credit only, and I had only notes. So we jumped in a taxi and sped back to the hotel to call home. I remember the taxi driver was listening to a football match on the radio, and I wondered if I should tap him on the shoulder and say, “Look, you obviously haven’t heard…” but I still didn’t really believe it. Terry and I held hands in silence. “The thing is,” said Terry, “If this is true, then it isn’t just an act of terrorism- it’s an act of war.” My stomach didn’t stop churning all the way home.

Back at the hotel, we sat out on the balcony while I called my parents. As I listened to the phone ring out hundreds of miles away, I thought about how stupid I was going to sound, calling to ask if the World Trade Center had collapsed. Because it COULD NOT BE TRUE. I didn’t really think it was until my mum picked up the phone, and I could tell by the tone of her voice the instant she knew it was me. “Oh, sweetheart…” she said. And all of a sudden it was real.

I spoke to her for twenty minutes, relaying the information to Terry. We found out that there hadn’t been one plane, but four. That they had been commercial flights, not, as we had initially assumed, a light aircraft gone astray. That they had managed to hit the Pentagon. I will never forget the look on Terry’s face when I told him that – it was complete horror and disbelief. We found out that another plane had come down in Pennsylvania, that all flights in and out of the US had been grounded.

I thought the world was ending.

I mean that literally. It actually felt to me like the world was ending. I can still think back to it and remember that feeling: I don’t think I’ve ever felt so panicked in my life. And there we were, on our little, quiet Spanish island, looking at the sky and half expecting to see a plane come roaring out of it, heading straight at us. It was like that, in the aftermath. No one knew what would happen next, where the next attack would come from, or who it would hit. And the fact that this had happened in New York, in Washington, in Pennsylvania, seemed to open up the possibility of it happening anywhere. Nowhere felt safe. Anything could happen.

* * *

The next morning was cloudy, and we were glad of it. It would’ve felt wrong, somehow, to have enjoyed the sunshine on September 12th, 2001. Instead, we found a cafe which was showing CNN and we sat there all day, watching the planes slam into the towers over and over again, watching the towers fall. We didn’t want to see it, but we couldn’t look away. When we finished our cups of coffee, the waiters just let us sit there. It was the most surreal couple of days of my life, and when it was over, we got on a plane, and we flew home, and I cried in the darkness somewhere above Europe at the sheer terror of being in the sky at the end of the world.

* * *

Even now I can’t believe it happened. I can’t believe that the world ever managed to return to some semblance of normality. That night, and that week, it felt like it never would. I couldn’t imagine a future after what had happened. I just couldn’t imagine how the world would pick itself up and dust itself off and go on as before. And of course, it did, and it didn’t. Things continued as they always had, but everything was different.

I didn’t ever get to see the World Trade Center. But I’m thinking of it today, and every year on this day. I’m thinking of those who died there, and who died in Washington, and on United Airlines Flight 93. Of all of the men and women who’ve died in the ten years since September 11, 2001, because of what happened on that day. So I apologise for adding to what I’m sure will be a long list of posts like this today, but it just didn’t seem right to write about anything else.

P.S. I write a weekly diary which goes out every Friday to my subscribers. Sign up below to get on the list...

books by Amber Eve
  • It’s funny what you said about the weather, because it was actually beautiful, beautiful weather in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11 and I remember being almost physically confused by that…like it could not be right that the sky was so blue and the sun was shining. That it must be wrong and another trick to make us feel safe when no one was safe.

    September 11, 2011
  • I remember hearing it on the radio and I thought it was a joke, that it had to be, that it just couldn’t be true. And I was home in Prague while my parents were both in Washington DC, working at the NIH (Nation Institute of Health), I FELT SO scared for them. And so glad after that they were alright, and so guilty for feeling glad. All those other lives lost.. A tragedy.

    September 11, 2011
    • Moni


      I thought it was a joke, too.
      Some kids came into my shop, telling me and the others what they had just seen on TV, and of course they mixed things up. I remember calling them liars because the Pentagon wasn’t in New York City… I feel so stupid now, but I didn’t know the truth back then, and it simply seemed too impossible to be true.

      The most surreal thing was that it was our regular Square Dance evening that day. It felt SO awkward.

      September 11, 2011
  • I have been considering posting about this today – but what can I say?

    You’ve written so beautifully about such a terrible, terrible event. Even though I was only in my teens when it happened, so naive and (thinking about it now) quite sheltered I remember instantly feeling that the world would never be the same again.

    My heart is with America today, and everyone who was affected that day and since.

    September 11, 2011
  • Mhairi


    I remember that I had skived uni that day and was watching trashy tv when everything changed and the news reports began. I though at first that a movie had started or something but it was real. It was surreal watching the footage then and it is still just as surreal seeing it today 10 years on.

    September 11, 2011
  • The two worst things that I have ever seen reported – Lockerbie and 9/11.

    My husband reminded me that this is because we are lucky enough not to live in a war zone.

    It made me realise that there is no such thing as entirely safe. It also made me understand how refugees must feel.

    Nearly 30 years ago I flew to Sri Lanka on a family holiday with my parents. It was one of the last ‘big’ foreign holidays that we all travelled on together. We flew over the Lebanon. ‘You will see fireworks’ said the pilot laconically. “Nice subterfuge’ my mum muttered under her breath.

    Not long before 9/11 I was in a Sydney taxi. The driver asked me where I was from. I told him and asked him where *he* was from. “Beirut” he replied. “How do you like Australia?” I asked. “I love it” he said “There are no bombs”.

    September 11, 2011
  • i was only 19 when it happenend, but I still remember it very well. It was my sister’s birthday (she was 6 then) and from then on her birthday would never be the same. We watched the TV for hours, seeing those plains flying into the towers… It was so surreal, and my father gave us a big hug, saying ‘I hope this will never happen to you, it’s terrible’. We all felt like the world was coming to an end…

    September 11, 2011
  • Hayley


    I woke up that morning feeling like there was a rock in the pit of my stomach, and was slightly worried about finding out where all of my loved ones were. Then on my drive to high school, I heard people on the radio talking about it for the first time; they were cracking jokes, as everyone thought it was just some sort of freak accident that a plane ran into a building. Once I got to school, it all starting unfolding, and the second plane hit. The entire school day, in every class, was spent in silence, watching the tv (and did the same when we entered Iraq in 2003…we’ve been at war ever since). We were all horrified at the same time to realize that those were *people* falling. By the time school was out, the price of gas had gone sky-high, and there were lines miles long out from every gas station. We all thought it was the end of the world. My father had been on a plane from New York just the day before, bringing it home a bit more.

    September 11, 2011
  • Tii


    These people are insane(the terrorists) and they sully the name of all other Muslims.
    Ten years ago today I was seven, my family had just moved to the UK for my parents studies and at the time I didn’t quite understand what was going on because I was still learning English and also I was a child so I guess my parents tried to shield me from such horrifying news. Growing up these past ten years I’ve learned so much that it actually hurts to think about these issues.
    The only word that can describe these terrorist groups is RABID. Plain and simple.
    I mean not only do they destroy their so called “enemies”(or even worse “Islams enemies”), they destroy their own countries and their own people and their own cultures, all in the name of something called Islam.
    Well here’s a news flash: That’s NOT Islams message. AT ALL.
    To add to Europe and the States, nearly every country in the Middle East is cruelly treated by their government or/and terrorist groups(other than The Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia). Countries like Afghanistan were ruined by the Taliban(and governments before that). 50 years of war, both foreign and civil, followed by the madmen rule has led to what was once at least a peaceful country for it’s own people is now in rubble. Families torn apart, children dead, scholars and the learned(teachers etc.) have turned to street side beggars.
    It’s like this nearly everywhere in the middle east.
    Hence the taxi driver in Caveat Calcei’s comment.

    But what goes around… comes around and I hope that when it’s coming back around, it comes with full force so that these animals learn the repercussions of their actions.

    September 11, 2011
  • Beautifully written, Amber. I think it sums up how a lot of us are feeling. Your blog post gave me shivers. I agree, looking back it is hard to believe how we ever got back to normality after such a devastating event.

    September 11, 2011
  • Sammy


    Amber your writing is beautiful and always brings such strong emotions to me. Normally smiles but in this case tears. I think everyone will remember the moment they found out about this for the rest of their lives, I know I do.

    September 11, 2011
  • Holly


    Thank you for writing this. I live in the states and all anyone is talking about today is the attack- and yet it is with hope and determination. And pride in the place we live.
    Thanks, Amber

    September 11, 2011
  • Very well-written. Can hardly believe it was 10 years ago.

    September 11, 2011
  • I was baking a pie when it happened. Two pies, in fact. It was two weeks before I left home to start university and everyone was out apart from me and my dad. He was out in his office with a client, and I was baking, and they came rushing in and switched the television on. At first it seemed like a tragic accident, but we were watching as the second plane hit.

    Like you, and some of the commenters above, the first thing I wanted to do was reach out to my loved ones. I called my boyfriend, who was at his summer job and hadn’t heard, and my best friend who lived up the road and who had. She and I spent that night crying down the phone to one another. It seems almost unthinkable even now that it could have happened and I know it seems like a small thing to have thought at the time – but I was on the verge of starting a new life, and it seemed so impossible when the whole world was ending.

    Thank you for such a moving post, Amber x

    September 11, 2011
  • Nikki G


    I had the day off from work. I was just sitting around the house, reading, and for once I didn’t have the TV on. My best friend called me and told me that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. She was completely in shock, and I was too. It couldn’t be true. I thought that surely it was a terrible accident, and something must have been wrong with the plane in order for it to hit such a massive building in Manhattan. I turned on the TV, and was watching the news coverage as Flight 175 flew into the South Tower. I couldn’t even take in what had just happened. Finally, when reality hit, I couldn’t stop sobbing. The fear and horror I felt was indescribable. Then the Pentagon was hit. If they could attack the Pentagon, then who knows what else could happen. Then, as I watched, the South Tower fell. Then the North Tower. All I wanted to do was wake up from this nightmare and tell myself that we were all ok, and that this wasn’t happening. I got in touch with my family, and they were just as shocked and scared as I was. It’s hard to think that was ten years ago. My heart and thoughts go out to everyone on this day – all of the people that died on flights 11, 175, 77, and 93, all of the people who died as a result of the crashes and rescue efforts, and to all of the families of those who were lost.

    September 11, 2011
  • Georgia


    My uncle used to work in one of the two towers. The only reason he missed the collapse was because he stopped in his New Jersey office on the way to work to pick up some papers. His secretary and many of his close colleagues died in the attack, he ‘visits’ them every year on this day at Ground Zero.
    I’ll never forget the terror on my Auntie’s (his girlfriend at the time, now wife) face when she saw the news report. She was visiting home here in Wales at the time and she had no idea that he had stopped at his other office. She tried for ages just to get through to one of his phones to check he was okay, and cried for ages when she finally got through and realised he was.
    I was only seven at the time it happened, I didn’t fully understand. Her face has seared into my memory though, one of my only vivid recollections of the day.
    I visited Ground Zero myself a few years ago, on the 9th of September (or it could have been the 10th) and there were people there reading out a list of names of everyone who had died, or is still missing following the collapse. It was terribly sad then, and even now, ten years on from the beginning of it all. I’m still sad.
    I still stop and think of my uncle, visiting his lost friends. I still think of my auntie’s face. I still think of my visit there and how all of those people will never be forgotten.
    Thankyou for this post Amber, I may only be 17 but this is an issue that has unfortunately fought it’s was into the lives of so many people young and old, and we all need to read things like this on the anniversary.

    September 11, 2011
  • I remember ten years ago today, just a couple of hours before IT happened, my parents and I were on our flight from LA to Boston (and then on to Dubai). We landed in Dubai and got home, turn on the TV and chaos. It was so scary because we were on that exact flight just a month prior and on the day we had taken the trip back.
    I was still a kid back then and for a while every time an airplane would fly, what I thought as, too close to a building I thought it would hit it.
    I can’t even possibly imagine being directly affected by the tragedy, my thoughts are with the families who lost loved ones on that day.

    September 11, 2011
  • maz aka MallyMon


    A lovely tribute, Amber, thank you.

    September 11, 2011
  • I remember that day perfectly. I was playing with my mom in my room when my dad entered the house with a panicked look on his face and ask both me and my mom ‘Have you seen the news?’ My mom ask ‘Why? Has something happened?’ and then we ran into her room and turned on the tv. I don’t know how much time we spend starring at the tv in silence. By the time we turned the tv both towers had already collapsed. I asked my mom if it was true, and she could only nodded. We spend the next days in a panicked environment. If we felt like that, I can’t even imagine how the people who lost members of their family felt. I don’t remember ever seen my dad so touched by anything. You see, he almost died in the worst earthquake there’s been in my country when he was very little, so I do know how much a tragic event like this can scar a person for life. My heart goes with all the people who lost their love ones 10 years ago.

    September 12, 2011
  • Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to share your memories here… I wasn’t really sure whether to post this or not, because as Becky says above, what can you really say? For some reason, though, I always have this compulsion to hear people’s “where I was when I found out” stories, and to tell my own, and I can still remember so clearly how I felt, and how utterly, utterly terrified and sad I was. Anyway, thanks again for your comments: I still can’t believe it’s been ten years already…

    September 12, 2011
  • Jeannine


    I heard about it first on the bus stop going to school that morning (I was only 14 at the time). Someone turned to me and said, “Have you listened to the news this morning?” Which was an odd thing to ask, because the people I went to school with almost never listened to the morning news. And then I heard about the planes, and it was really surreal.

    Two years later, a new school opened in my town, and they named it after one of the heroes from the United Airlines flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. I really felt strongly about it, so I transferred to it, and was part of the first graduating class. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day.

    September 13, 2011
  • KON


    It’s quite interesting hearing someone elses point of view. I never felt like my life changed completely since I was so young and just started thinking about politics. Its more like my whole experience with world politics, war, etc. is based on this event.

    When I remember what I did while the towers where attacked:
    I did homework and listened to the radio, but I couldn’t grab the whole thing. But after I heard the grave tone of the moderator I went straight to the tv and remained there until evening news.
    What really is on my mind when I remember the days after 9/11 is that awkward feeling of foreshadowing war and I was relieved that Germany didn’t take part in any military attack (since we always feel like being guilty for everything…).

    September 13, 2011
  • Thank you for the post. I was only 9 in 2001, but I still remember it completely– I was in school when suddenly, everything got all panicked, and the teacher turned on the TV, and there were pictures of buildings on fire and people running and screaming. Everyone in my class was really too young to understand what was going on, and I think for some people that made it less scary, but for me, it made it scarier because I had no idea what was happening or if a plane was going to come crashing into the school at any moment.

    A few days later, we had to draw pictures in school to show how the tragedy made us feel. I started drawing a picture of the earth, basically trying to express in a hokey, little kid way that I wanted everyone on earth to stop hating each other so that things like this wouldn’t happen, and a teacher told me I wasn’t allowed to draw the earth because “9/11 didn’t happen to the earth. It happened to America.” I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but obviously, your post proves her wrong. 9/11 didn’t only happen to America.

    September 14, 2011