September 23, 2001

Cough Drops

Rachel woke me at 3:00 AM last night to tell me her throat hurt. We decided she should go to the kitchen to see if there were any cough drops in the utility drawer. When she returned she reported that the cough drops were stale. I asked what a stale cough drop tastes like, and she said it’s soft and chewy, which makes it difficult to suck on. Then she mentioned all the dead people, saying how sad she felt about them.

We spent the next hour imagining the last moments of the people in the stairwells. How long, we wondered, did it take for the buildings to collapse? Ten seconds? This means that if you were in a stairwell near the bottom of the building, say the fifth floor, you had ten seconds, at most, to contemplate your fate – assuming you realized what your fate was.

What exactly did you know? And what exactly was happening around you?

I said there must have been a tremendous rumble, and screaming, as the walls and floor began to buckle. Actually the rumble and screaming probably came first, followed by the buckling.

Then we realized that the screams probably didn’t intensify over time but diminished as less and less people were alive to scream. However, the rumble, we agreed, grew louder. How loud? What does a 110-story building sound like, from the inside, as it collapses on top of you? Really fucking loud. So loud you can’t hear the screams, not even your own.

We realized too that the walls and floors must have distorted the way one’s body distorts in a Funhouse mirror, if only for a fraction of a second. However it’s possible that no one saw this happen since the lights probably went out the moment the rumbling started. Or did the rumbling start first, followed by the lights going out? To answer this, one would probably need to be an electrician and know exactly how the towers were wired – and even then I’m not so sure one could know.

But then, really, what difference does it make? Either the lights went out immediately or they didn’t. Either the walls and floors distorted or they didn’t. Either you could hear the screams or you couldn’t. Whichever way it happened, people were killed in a few short, unimaginably horrific seconds, crushed to death in a collapsing mass of concrete and steel and other people.

At around 4:00 AM it seemed that we had considered all the possibilities and impossibilities and that we could now give it a rest. We considered returning to sleep then, only we soon recognized that this was impossible. How can you sleep after imagining such things? You can’t. So then we started in on the people on the planes.