There Are No Words
By Tommy Womack
In June 2001, Beth came to an agreement with NewsChannel 5 that she would step down as the morning news anchor. The deal was sweet: the rest of the year severance paid.
We figured up a plan we considered airtight. She would spend the first three months at home taking care of Nathan (who was just turning 3 then) and then at the beginning of September we’d go on a cruise with some college friends.
We’d get back from the cruise on Sunday the 9th, take Monday off, and then she’d hit the ground running the next day looking for a job. Tuesday, September 11th, 2001.
There was nothing to worry about. Three months to find a job? No problem; she’s Beth Tucker of NewsChannel 5. Something was going to come along.
I was in no rush that Tuesday morning to hop in the shower and get to work. My temp job started at 10:30, so I was sitting up in bed a little before 8 AM, Central Time, watching the ending of L.A. Law on one of the cable channels. Then I decided I wanted to catch the news headlines. I switched over to NBC, and that’s when I saw it for the first time.
“Holy shit!” I hollered across the house. There it was, one of the World Trade Center towers, with a huge gash in it’s outside wall, smoke billowing out, about 80% to the top of the tower. Katie Couric said something like “We are looking at the World Trade Center…”
“Sweetie! Come here! Now!”
Beth came in the room, in her bathrobe and a towel around her hair. We both sat on the bed, riveted.
The gash in the tower looked like a giant mouth, exhaling smoke. It was breathing at us. A reporter was on the phone, talking to the Today Show. Tom Brokaw was on now; they’d brought in the big gun early in the morning, as if to say “this is huge.”
I had tuned in just in time, and Beth had sat down with me just in time. We saw a jet airliner (looking so small) fly into the screen from the right. It went behind the stricken tower, and then… a billowing orange cloud of flame plumed out the left side of the other tower, the one behind in the camera shot. “Another just hit!” the reporter said, her voice betraying fright, “Another plane just hit.”
“Terrorism.” Beth and I both said that. At the same time. I’m sure we weren’t alone. I’m certain that all over the world that same light bulb went on over millions of heads right that very instant.
I don’t remember showering. Maybe I did, but I bet I just washed my face, brushed my teeth and put my clothes on with one eye on the television. We flipped between channels. All that changed were camera angles. On every station was the sense of incomprehension. Nobody knew what was up, but everybody now knew it was no accident. One plane, yeah, bad hop. Two planes, no, that doesn’t just happen.
Then there were reports of hijackings. Then there was a report that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. Then there was a report that a plane had crashed into the Sears Tower in Chicago.
Then there was word that a total of six planes were believed to have been hijacked. Or was it seven. Then someone said radar was tracking a plane headed for the White House. Then there was a report that explosions were heard in Los Angeles. In Seattle.
Then there was a report that a plane in Pennsylvania had disappeared from radar.
Then there was a report that as many as three other planes were headed directly for the Capitol, the U.N., your momma’s house. And on and on. Nobody knew what was true. All we knew was that nobody was safe right now. Nobody was safe.
I had to take Nathan by Day Care on my way to work. By now we were watching coverage in the living room. It was right around 9 AM, maybe a little before. They kept rerunning the shot of the second plane going in.
One of the networks started crawling news updates at the bottom of the screen, an endless train of words. Soon all the networks were doing it. And they never stopped. They do it to this day.
I took Nathan out to my GMC Jimmy and buckled him into his car seat. I cranked the engine and the sound coming out of the radio was one big rumble and roar. “It’s coming down.” Someone on the radio said that.
I left the truck running and dashed back into the house. There on the screen was a wide shot of lower Manhattan, the whole thing buried in a white cloud, and now only one of the towers was there. The other one was gone. And somebody, I think it was Peter Jennings on ABC, said…
“There are no words.”
Twelve years later, there still aren’t any words, though trillions have been offered up, and the words keep crawling along the bottom of our television screens.
For years we heard these words: “If blah-blah happens, then that will mean the terrorists have won!” Nobody could ever parse out an explanation how we’d ever know who won and who lost.
In that same vein we had four other words. The War On Terror. As if Terror was this one guy with one army. To an extent, this was true, and when we killed Osama Bin Laden there was some closure. But it was true only to an extent. Terror is not one guy, it’s a tactic. And you can’t wipe that out. You can minimize it, and we have to a degree (in our own country) but there will never be a day when we “win” and can toss ticker tape out of windows in Times Square, when some jubilant sailor can dip and kiss a nurse for the black and white camera. We’ll never have that day.
On this sacred day, I’m not going to get into the politics of the last 12 years. We all got hurt, red and blue and undeclared citizens alike.
And heck, for a short while after that day, we were all united. That didn’t last long though. And these days it feels like it would take something even worse than 9/11 to bring us together, if anything even can by this point.
What is true is that things have never been the same and never will be. My son will never know the world of September 10th, 2001, when his Mom was assured of finding a job in short order and the country was fixated on Gary Condit.
Or maybe he did know something. When I dropped him off at day care, all of the other kids were crying. Every single one. I swear to God.
I’d just finished the Circus Town record before the cruise. I sold it to Sideburn Records for $8000. When the Newschannel 5 checks stopped coming in the new year, we lived on that $8000.
It ran out in March. It could have lasted longer, but the Newschannel 5 money had been so good for so long that we hadn’t developed any austerity chops. Now, 12 years later, we have those chops by necessity.
The same week in March that the Circus Town money ran out, Beth found a job. It was like it was scripted. Since then, we’ve had good times and bad, but when it comes to the country, it’s been more bad than good.
Who knows what the future holds, though I am convinced that nothing will ever be the same again. It can be good. Maybe. But the same? No. Never again.