I don't have a debilitating fear at the tops of skyscrapers, as I still enjoy the views very much, but I have always had misgivings about placing my body so high up in the air. Every time I peer downward I get a feeling in my gut that the floor is just about to lift up behind me--some supernatural force will tip the building forward and send me falling downward. Riding the elevator to the top of a skyscraper is nodding to Icarus; being that high in the air is to tempt the Gods that rightfully keep my fleshy little body on the ground.
The steely confidence of the skyscraper, however, always outweighed these uneasy feelings. But now I will never be convinced. No skyscrapers were as powerful, elegant, even parent-like, as the Twin Towers, and since they have been destroyed, all other skyscrapers have lost their confidence. They stand frozen, mortified, as fearful as I am of being in them.
I am lucky enough to be able to avoid being in tall buildings, but others I've spoken to regret having even the nicest offices at high elevations. One lawyer who works high up in downtown's Washington Mutual Tower (both the lawyer and the floor she works on wish to remain anonymous) told me that the attacks are an ongoing, ghostly presence in her work environment. "I got to work [on September 11] and they had TVs on in the lobby--that's when I found out about it. That day all I could do was imagine it happening to this building; even now I look out for the planes going by. It's creepy." After September 11, this fear of being in skyscrapers, previously managed as a simple "fear of heights," has been greatly elaborated into a fear of planes, buildings, even the workplace itself.
Even though the Space Needle is a high-rise of leisure--one goes up its elevator to eat an expensive dinner or admire our city's landscape--one employee (who also prefers to remain anonymous) told me, "Business is dead. People just don't want to go up there, especially not to eat." Since the Space Needle was allegedly a terrorist target on the eve of Y2K, the psyche of the structure and of those who work in it feels deeply threatened. The employee I spoke with had the candor to tell me that she is "scared as hell" to be at the top of the Space Needle. She quickly added, "With all the new security I feel a little better," but still, "the planes that go to Laske Union come really close, and I always want to head for the door."
On September 11, in my mind's scramble to process the messages from the television, I pulled myself as close to the event as possible. After calling friends and family in New York, I remembered my own trip to the top of one of the World Trade Center towers. That afternoon of typical New York tourism was equally marvelous and unnerving--to feel myself so far away from the earth and so close to death, gazing at the miles of dense construction that Ayn Rand once called "the will of man made visible."
But the Gods will not be the ones to tip the floor below me; this is irrational. It is the will of man that will end my life because of my audacity to stand in a skyscraper. It was not the will of the Gods that killed thousands in New York, but the ambitious "will of man" that flew planes into the Twin Towers.
Heights, memories, and lurid fantasies can inspire fear, but it is the will of man that is truly terrifying in the eyes of those looking at the world from the tops of tall buildings.