I was playing hooky from work in order to finish a home improvement project. Our 1970's tract house has really high ceilings in the living room and a big wooden beam runs across the apex from wall to wall. The original builders had stained it a deep chocolate brown (Padre Brown around here), which we thought was butt-ugly. I decided to sand it down with a belt sander and then stain it a much lighter color.
We had to rent scaffolding because the beam was way too high for a ladder, even for the 14 foot collapsible aluminum one. So I was up there on my scaffold like Leonardo in the Sistine Chapel except I was standing and not lying down. Layers of stain and wood dust were coming off quickly enough and I was protecting my eyes with a pair of safety goggles, the kind that fit like a diving mask. I also wore a dust mask over my mouth. Debris and filth rained down on me, but it was good enough to brush it off from time to time. The entire floor in the living room was covered in drop cloth to aid the clean up. It was hot and sweaty work but I'd been at it a day or two and had gotten the hang of it.
I was just getting started that morning when the phone rang and my wife (who was watching our two kids) interrupted me and said it was my mother. I put down the sander and climbed down the scaffold. I walked outside to brush myself off, taking the phone with me. My mother broke the news:
Mom: Have you got your TV on?
Me: No, why?
Mom: It's terrible -- they're saying it's an attack.
She explained about the towers and how the second had already been hit, obviating any chance that it was accidental. Now here's where my memory gets fuzzy because what I did next was to remove my safety goggles and then somehow a piece of debris got into my eye. A mild irritation turned into a feeling of going blind in one eye. I do recall seeing the towers burning on TV before they fell (through one eye). But then things got worse for me and I had to go to urgent care to remove what I thought was a splinter lodged somewhere in my eye.
The urgent care clinic was fully staffed and saw me quickly. My wife watched the kids in the waiting room. The nurses were staring at their own TVs while checking me in. I think the towers must have been collapsing about then. A young Indian doctor saw me and told me that there was nothing residual in and around my eye but that I had scratched my cornea. He told me to give it a rest and that it would heal on its own after a few days.
I went back home and caught up with the devastating news on the car radio and TV news. I really didn't dwell on the visual images recorded that day because it really hurt to look at anything. I tried to stay in the dark for a couple days. Plus I was still obsessed with the overhead beam and finishing it before the rental contract expired for the scaffolding.
There must be a lesson about specks, beams, eyes, vision and hypocrisy somewhere in this story, but I still can't see it. I do know that 9/11 was the beginning of something that has not even begun to end.