Originally published August 5-8th 2003, here.
Strange, how even now, just seeing the silhouette can still feel like a punch to the heart.
Someone had sent me an IM from Olive, the "sandbox" simulator where you can build and experiment with pretty much any object, cost free-- even collapsible structures.
"Come to Olive," the instant message read, "We're about to knock over two buildings that look like the World Trade Center."
I paraphrase from memory, because what was about to happen was so object-intense, it would end up crashing the entire sim (and consequently, the chat log of everything leading up to it.)
My God, I thought, as I came flying up. Are they really going to do this? I wasn't sure I wanted to write about this. I wasn't even sure I even wanted to watch.
I had been to Ground Zero only three weeks after 9/11, when the surrounding buildings were still filmy with ash, and smoke was still spewing out of the charnel pit. So now, on the occasions when they once again air the news footage of the WTC's collapse, I still have to turn away.
But here were several Lifers, chatting away on the outside viewing platform between twin towers, eagerly waiting for the whole thing to come down.
Later on, Derek Jones insists he didn't have the World Trade Center in mind at all, when he began building them. He just built one, and then he started building another one beside it, and willy nilly, there it was. He does say that 9/11 might have had a subconscious influence. Derek lives near Chicago, and for some time after the original event, he worried about the safety of all the big-shouldered skyscrapers of his own city. "It made me feel pretty insecure," he says. "I couldn't stop thinking about it for a few weeks."
Once he's ready, all Derek has to do is toggle the physics properties of the buildings, and his unstable creation will succumb to the laws of gravity. In-world, Derek Jones' avatar is usually a monkey in a sci-fi uniform, as he is now, putting the final touches on a project that everyone gathered there agrees looks eerily like the towers that once anchored downtown Manhattan.
"Just without the crashing planes," Hikaru Yamamoto observes from the platform. In-world, Hikaru is a tiny girl, the kind of big-eyed anime tyke you'd see in a Miyazaki movie.
The young man who sent me the IM is right there beside me, too, raring for the crash to start; we'll call him Michael Mason. He's waiting to ride it out, largely because it'll be "fun", as he puts it later. But he's got another motivation for doing this.
On September 11th, 2001, a relative of Michael's was working as a manager for a financial services company in the World Trade Center's South tower. After the planes came plowing in, he did his best to evacuate his employees.
"From what I understand," says Michael, "many people saw him stay behind. And never saw him alive again."
Just two things belonging to his relative were left behind, and found: his billfold, lying a few blocks away from Ground Zero, and a small identifiable scrap of his body.
"They actually found [his wallet] the next day," Michael says. "But his DNA wasn't discovered until many months later."
I ask him if he remembered who found the billfold, which was recovered inexplicably intact. "I'm not sure, to be honest," he says. "But I do know that the wallet was in perfect condition."
When he saw Derek Jones constructing the two towers, he immediately identified them in his mind as the World Trade Center. "I wasn't upset that he was building it," says Michael. "I viewed it as a memorial of sorts. Even if it was a re-enactment."
Meanwhile, we're still waiting for Derek to sound the signal. I position myself on the top floor, where I still have a sweeping view of the ground below.
Not unlike the view from a corner office, I suppose.