Seventeen Years Later: Never Forget

Seventeen years ago today, I woke up at 6am, went for a quick run, and got to my office at 7:30 in the morning.  I was 23 years old, just a year out of college, working at Barbara Walter’s “The View” on ABC. A picture perfect day, not a cloud in the sky, and no humidity.

Back in 2001, everything was “on tape”;  as in beta tape. I was one of the two Tape Coordinator’s for the daily live show, and our responsibilities included getting all the tape needed for the show.  Sometimes this entailed “Electronic Press Kits (EPKs)” which were clips of upcoming movies or TV shows. Other times, it meant “broll” to promote a specific topic.  And even though “The View” was and is technically not a news program, the “Hot Topics” portion of the show meant that often- last minute- we were chasing tape from news that broke overnight….or during the morning hours.

It was Primary Tuesday; I was asked that morning to get broll of one of the candidates, Mark Green, who’s daughter had been a sorority sister of mine at Cornell.  I called back to my colleague who was editing the video in the back room.

“That’s odd,” he said.  “It looks like a plane just hit the World Trade Center."

I hung up the phone and went out of my office to the main area.  It was 8:46am, and while the front desk was scheduled to come in at 9am, the talent bookers came in at 8:30am and they were already sitting at their desks, eyes on the TV which was on the end of “Good Morning America”.  GMA had cut into ABC’s local news, where we saw the smoke surrounding the first tower.

Not exactly knowing what to make of it, I went back into my office, and continued to scour the library archives for the Mark Green broll.  

About 20 minutes later, I looked up at my own television set.  I froze.

“A second plane just hit the other tower!”

It was now just after 9am; I had managed to run out of my office, and I had about ten set of eyes staring at me.

The next several hours, in many ways, are a complete blur.  And, yet there are moments where I can remember exactly what I was doing, what I was feeling.  I remember that my brother was a senior in High School, in Riverdale, and already at school. My mother, who works in Riverdale, was already at work.  And my father.

Well, he worked right across the street from the towers.

I remember calling him.  Yes, he was okay. He was told to stay put.  

“But what if the towers fall? Shouldn’t you leave?” I remember asking him, thinking they would topple over.

“They are telling us to stay where we are,” he told me.

“Can you see anything?”

“Yes.  There are people jumping out of the windows.”

I have since learned the following; my father was supposed to have an 8am meeting in the World Financial Center, which was canceled the night before.  Before the towers collapsed, he saw the planes burning in the towers. After the towers collapsed he couldn’t see anything outside his window.

I am fortunate to know all of this because my father has been able to tell me.  What I could also tell you is, after we were told he was staying in the office, we lost touch with my father for several hours.  I remember we heard from him at some point after the first tower fell. I also vividly remember not hearing from him for what felt like days, but in reality was probably an hour or two, after the second tower fell.  

Around 2pm, he arrived at my office, seventy plus blocks north.  Knee up, he was dressed in an immaculately clean suit. It was business as usual.

Knees down; his suit and shoes were covered in smut.  

That dichotomy continued as he and I walked out of my office building on 66th and west end, to a picture perfect blue sky.  The air could not feel more clean; the streets could not feel more serene. It was surreal.

And yet, every now and then, we would hear sirens in the distance, heading south.

On days like today, the second day of the Jewish New Year, we are to be thankful.  It is a day to look forward to new beginnings, be grateful for what we have and reflect on what we have lost.  When I think back to the early days, right after 9/11, I remember thinking that there was a distinct pre-9/11 and post-9/11 mentality.  At that time, I remembered how it felt NOT to know of what I now know. I remembered what it was like not to have my heart sink when I looked up at the sky and saw a plane which looked a bit too low.  I remembered what it felt like not to think about what could happen when I was on a subway.

In the seventeen years that have passed, I have worked as a news producer; I studied Middle East Security Policy and Arabic, and worked in the Intelligence Division of the NYPD as an analyst.  I have learned to assume that, when I see a bag in a public place unattended that it is likely nefarius. I have learned to assume that, if a pipe bursts like it did in Chelsea over this past summer, it could be terrorism.  

And, I have learned to be grateful ever more to those who tirelessly work day in and day out to try and prevent the unthinkable- which is unfortunately now thinkable- from happening again.  While every day, I do try and take a moment to be thankful, today of all days, it is important to remember. And reflect.

Laura Kovall