We thought about rounding up some of the week’s better 9/11 anniversary coverage (including that viral thing about rescue dogs, because a great protagonist doesn’t have to be human), but decided to go with one piece as a Notable Narrative: one nod to human-spirit reporting and to stories memorably told. Erin Sullivan, who covers courts, cops and breaking news for the Tampa Bay Times, wrote about a Florida couple, Charlie and Catherine Caraher, who fled New York for Florida after the terrorist attack. Charlie, a Morgan Stanley computer programmer, was at work on the 68th floor of the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. He left the building, left New York, changed his career, sought sunshine. He still talks about 9/11 because it helps him to process it. And stories like Sullivan’s help the rest of us to process it. Her piece is elegant, restrained and brief, with a few sentences you won’t soon forget. An excerpt:
For the others, he speaks of what haunts him, how he and his colleagues went to the window after the first building was hit, a ring of fire and smoke, and watched people jump to their deaths. The first man, he said, was so calm. Even though Charlie was far up, he could see them hit the ground, terrible red blossoms. There was a woman who wore a beige dress that fluttered as she fell and her horrified, panicked, desperate eyes locked onto Charlie’s as she passed his window. The image of her will be with Charlie until he dies. At the window, Charlie kept thinking that minutes earlier, those people were just like him, settling in for a day of work, wondering what they wanted for lunch.
From his desk, he grabbed a set of pens Catherine had given him and one cigarette, a Nat Sherman, the last in the pack. He had quit smoking almost a year earlier and saved it. He left everything else and raced for the exit. The building wobbled. It was early so his office had been fairly empty. Charlie was alone in the stairwell for about 20 stories until he saw life, other people going down, rescuers headed up. There were piles of high heels in the stairway tossed aside by fleeing women. The path moved slowly. An announcement on the speaker system told everyone the building was safe and there was no need to panic. Charlie thought he was going to die.
Check back tomorrow for our chat with Sullivan about this story and other work.