How living 9/11 in New York prepared me for the pandemic

It was Tuesday, one of the least remarkable days of the week. Even my brain from before coffee had noticed that the sky was bright, crisp, a painful blue and almost cloudless. It was cold, even though it was early September. Still watery eyes, I got up and went out for a walk. As soon as I got back upstairs and entered the apartment, the phone was ringing frantically.

Back then, we had landlines, big, bulky pieces of plastic that sat next to a bedside while waiting for a call from a parent or lover. Many of these huge contraptions had ropes. There were no tiny pocket supercomputers. There were cell phones, but they were also pieces of metal and plastic the size of a brick. And you couldn’t read magazines on those phones; you could only talk about them.

My boyfriend at the time was a junior editor at Little Brown. He wore khaki pants and collared shirts and round glasses. He had already left for work. It was my father-in-law on the phone. “Turn on the TV, Moll. “

I turned on CNN. It was one of those really disorienting moments where I couldn’t follow what was going on. They kept saying that a small plane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers, and then they slowed down over and over again the video of what was obviously a large plane plunging into the first tower. I sat on the floor and watched the video. You could see the impact, you could almost feel it – the plane piercing the building. You could see shards of glass; you could see the real impact. They kept saying it was a small plane. Eighteen minutes later, when the second plane hit, everyone knew it was not a small plane deviating from its course; it was something out of our collective nightmares. It was the kind of thing that happened in the movies and not in real life.

On February 25, 2020, I heard the recorded words of Dr. Nancy Messonnier, then head of the CDC. She told people on the conference call, “We ask the American public to work with us to prepare for the expectation that this could be bad.” She went on to suggest that maybe we need to do home schooling and maybe we need to “modify, postpone or cancel mass gatherings”. And then she said, “Now is the time for businesses, hospitals, communities, schools and ordinary people to start preparing,”

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About Mariel Baker

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