Huddled in myUpper East Sideapartment those days immediately following 9/11, all I felt was fear — the terrifying sense that the worst was yet to come, that the terrorists would surely strike again.
It didn’t help thatManhattanfelt like a war zone, complete with the rumble of helicopters flying overhead day and night, while armies of cops patrolled the streets, even uptown where I lived.
The city where I had lived since coming to this country as a little girl in the 1960s had become unrecognizable – and unbearable.
Even a walk to the supermarket required an act of courage.
One month after 9/11, I decided to flee, aided and abetted by my husband. Together we got on theFDR Driveand headed toward theHamptons. We had no clear destination — only the memory of a lovely summer weekend when we’d ventured out to theEast Endfor the first time together, exploring in madcap fashionEast Hamptonand Bridgehampton andSouthampton, and at the end, enjoying a fleeting glimpse ofSag Harbor.
It had been such an exuberant couple of days, we had vowed to return, though at the time we thought it was going to be the following summer and only for fun.
We didn’t realize that getting back would seem a matter of survival – that we’d be filled with a sense of urgency propelling us to drive faster and faster away fromNew York.
As we drove past La Guardia we stared at the planes flying overhead. They seemed perilously close. We couldn’t look at planes then without being filled with dread.
When we freached Route 27, the planes had vanished. The sky was calm. My husband posed a question that seemed to have life and death import: “WhichHamptons?”
Our recollections of that August weekend had conflated and blurred – running up and down East Hampton’s Main Street, marveling at the mansions behind their hedges in Southampton, watching the elegant crowds walking up and down Bridgehampton, and, most magical of all, discovering the small windy streets of Sag Harbor with their serene “salt boxes” and the boats bobbing on the water. Our final act was to run into the Five-and-Dime and purchase a Monopoly set, which we put it in the trunk.
“Sag Harbor,” I answered after a pause.
When we turned onto the quiet street of the Sag Harbor Inn, my husband and I got out of the car and walked to a small cove across from the hotel where a handful of boats were moored.
I peered at an old-fashioned, careworn, wooden vessel, wondering d if it would be possible to escape in it – to use it to get to somewhere safe.
That is all I thought about then – how I would flee theU.S.when we were struck again.
On 10/11, I was sure only of this: That the terrorists were going to find us even here in this idyllic enclave so far removed from the charred city I had left behind.
I had no experience sailing; I couldn’t even swim. Yet I found myself wondering how I would operate the wooden boat to make my getaway.
* * * *
We checked into the Sag Harbor Inn, and settled into a blissfully quiet ground-floor room with a porch and a view of the water.
Room 119 became my new office. The Wall Street Journal, where I worked as a staff reporter, had been effectively destroyed on 9/11 and it was a miracle our entire staff survived. We were located across the street from theWorldTradeCenterand only some deft evacuations toNew Jerseyon the morning of the attack had kept us safe.
My husband and I were less lucky.
That morning, he was driving me to work when the first plane hit. “You should be in your newsroom ,” he said, fateful words I haven’t quite forgiven.
We parked the car in a garage near Battery Park City and began walking toLiberty Street, leaving the Monopoly set in the trunk.
As we approached the Dow Jones building, I saw a cop motioning furiously and screaming “Get back, Get back.”
Within a minute we felt the earth shaking. As we tried to enter a nearby building through a revolving door, I asked my husband: “Are we going to die?”