While having breakfast with colleagues, Hime noticed a low-flying plane headed toward the building where he sat. “I remember thinking that it looked like the pilot was struggling to get control over it,” Hime recalled in an email correspondence he wrote on Sept. 12, 2001.
Hime was halfway through his descent, on floor 35 or 36, when the building rocked violently. “Almost enough to knock you off your feet,” he remembers. Still, he kept walking, finally reaching the street.
Soon after, an explosion shook the Manhattan Dining Room, and the rest of 2WTC. Debris from the impact — papers, pieces of the building — rained down around the building.
“My mind refused to accept that the plane had flown into the building and that that was the source of the explosion we had heard,” he continued in the email.
Amid the shock of a subsequent explosion, Hime and his colleagues decided to vacate the building. They grabbed their belongings and began walking down the 66 floors.
Hime was halfway through his descent, on floor 35 or 36 he recalled, when the building rocked violently. “Almost enough to knock you off your feet,” he remembered. Still, he kept walking, finally reaching the street.
“That was the first time I saw the gaping hole in 1WTC [the North Tower of the World Trade Center] and the fire blazing out of 2WTC at just about the level we had been at maybe 30 minutes earlier.”
Hime returned to his New York City office that day, and with the rest of the nation, learned the nature of the plane crashes and subsequent explosions he had experienced firsthand.
The following day, he headed south to Houston by car. “Today I’m pretty sore from the 66 floor walk down the stairs but unbelievably grateful to be alive,” he wrote in his day-after email. “The what ifs are frightening and will be with me the rest of my life.”
Soon after returning to Texas, Hime was encouraged by a trusted family friend to journal about his experience overcoming the utter shock and fright resulting from Sept. 11th. “I tried and I failed at it miserably. It was too self-indulgent and pathetic. So I decided to deal with all that emotional upheaval through novelization,” he said.
Hime began wondering about his father, who hadn’t known he was in New York City at the time of the attack. “I was fascinated by the premise of what it would have been like to be a father whose son goes missing in New York City on that day. Suppose that no one knew why he was there to begin with, and you wake up on the morning of September 12th and know only that he was missing. What would you do?”
Ten years later, these questions come to life in James Hime’s Three Thousand Bridges, a new novel released just prior to the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 on this Sunday.
Three Thousand Bridges takes readers through one Texas man’s journey to find his son who disappeared after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Though not a memoir (Hime calls it a work of literary fiction), Hime’s personal experience of that day is reflected in the book. “There is a scene set in a jail in Virginia in which a minor character essentially relates the basics of my own story,” he said.
“Most of the rest of it is compiled from the stories of others who were in the World Trade Center.”
A voracious reader of the news accounts from 9/11, Hime uses Three Thousand Bridges to explore more than just a fictional journey.
“This premise compelled me to confront a lot of what I was feeling and the research that was necessary to write the novel helped better inform me about the cultural conflicts that lay at the bottom of those tragic events,” he said.
Releasing Three Thousand Bridges was essential to Hime’s own recovery, to his moving past the “what ifs” from that day. And he hopes it resonates with others, too.
For Hime the novel is about reaching “a better tolerance for and understanding of our fellow man … a desire to look for those things that we, as human beings, have in common as opposed to those things that separate us.”
You can read an exlusive CultureMap excerpt from the book here.