Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years Ago Today

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up and called in sick to work. I was desperate for a day off and had volunteered to flyer for a woman I knew who was running for City Council for the Lower East Side. It was election day.

I took the bus to East 9th Street and did an early shift of flyering. After an hour or so, I decided that I had done my part and I headed back to my apartment in Chelsea. As the bus went across 14th Street, I looked up and saw that there was smoke coming out of one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I got off the bus at Union Square and, along with a lot of other people, I stood and watched the smoke pour out. We talked about what had happened. Someone said that a plane had flown into the tower. "On purpose?" Someone asked. "No. I heard it was an accident," someone said. We were all thinking that it was a private plane.

After a few minute of standing there, I looked up and saw a huge ball fire come out of the second tower. "This is no accident," I said. And then we waited for something else to happen. All around us, people were moving through Union Square, stopping, pointing and talking. Traffic moved along 14th Street and the towers burned.

I didn't stand there for long before I realized that there would be a better view and more news on the television, so I walked home. The next hour or so was all about watching the extended version of the Today Show and calling everyone I could think to call.

I knew my family, in particular, would be wondering where I was. If you look on a map, the World Trade Center was about an inch and a half away from 15th Street, where I lived. I was a safe distance away - and I was supposed to be at work in Brooklyn - but they didn't know that. I called my boyfriend at the time and Patty and I called work. And I watched tv. It was one of those times when I just couldn't get enough information. I wanted to know more more more, like everyone that day.

My friend, Chris, was on top of our building watching from there with some of our neighbors. He was up there when the towers fell. He said they all screamed. I watched it on television with my cat on my lap. It's become one of those memories that's like a story your parents tell you. Do I really remember that or did I just put together a conglomeration of bits and pieces that's serving as my memory?

When the news became just a bunch of repetition and speculation, I walked back to Union Square. It was, as you might guess, confusion and hysteria-hangover. One very vivid memory I have is seeing a dazed guy walking uptown into Union Square who was completely covered in white ash and powder. Only his face was washed clean. A lot of people were covered in ash.

I knew a woman who had been on her way to work when she emerged from the subway station and saw people on their cellphones looking up at the burning towers. Suddenly, the towers started to fall and all those people were running for their lives through that ash and debris. She said a group of them ran towards a building whose entrance was packed with people. They'd locked the doors. The people outside pounded on the doors and the people inside just shook their heads. They ran on. It was a while before I heard stories of people jumping out of the towers - or maybe I've blocked it out, but I'm really glad I missed that.

It was an exhausting day. There was so much to see and so much information to take in and, of course, there were more calls from people curious if I was okay or telling me that they were okay.

That evening, we walked back to Union Square which was a mess of candles and posters and flowers. The whole park was covered, and people were singing sad songs and sitting looking at candles. We saw Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins who lived a couple of blocks away. People like that just walked around and did their thing as confused and bewildered as the rest of us.

The next evening, I had school and I counted 133 American flags on my twenty minute walk. Our class was on the 16th floor of a new building. Everyone was emotionally drained, but we were there being good students. Suddenly, the fire alarm rang and we were all out of the room and walking down the stairs as fast as possible. After a few minutes of standing in front of the building, the security guard said that it had just been a glitch in the new alarm system. The professor said, "It's okay. We can go back up and have class."

We just looked at her and said, "No. Not tonight. We're going home."

Over the next few days, New York City became covered with fliers put up by the friends and family of people who were missing. They had a photo and a bit of text like "Marsha worked in Tower Two on the 92nd floor. She has a husband two children who miss her desperately. If you know where she is, please call..."

To me, that was the saddest part of the whole thing. People just hoping beyond hope that their person would be one of the few people who were found. For a couple of weeks, New York City was like a graveyard. Candles and posters and flowers everywhere.

It was all anyone talked about for weeks, which I'm sure was the case in a lot of places. But I'd see people and realize that I hadn't seen them since it had happened, and I had to tell them where I'd been, and they'd tell me. And we'd talk about it some more. Everyone needed to talk about it and then talk about it again. It took a long time for normalcy to return.

That was such a strange time. Oddly, I feel fortunate to have been there and to have lived through that. It was a big, cataclysmic event and I had a really good seat. It feels strange that it was seven years ago. It feels like a lifetime ago in a far away place.


Elemmaciltur said...

It's been seven years already? Time does fly.

Here's to remembering.

Anonymous said...

hugs -- Andy S

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. Beautifully writen, as always, and very moving. I think everyone above +/- 20 knows what they did that day. Doris

Anonymous said...

Hi, Andy,

I knew you had move from NYC through word of mouth, but I didn't realize it was all the way to Amsterdam. We visited there for 2 days in 2003 as part of a larger trip.

It's a gloomy day here in Albuquerque, weather-wise. Fitting for September 11.

Anonymous said...

We were neighbors of sorts. I lived on 11th and had worked on 19th for a while, although by this point I was working on 7th Ave around 28th St. That day, as I left work, and headed home, I got to 6th Ave and looked south. One tower had fallen already, but the second was still standing. It too had fallen by the time I walked down to 11th. I remember walking down Park Ave. South and realizing I was walking against the flow, but also noticing that the area was much busier than I'd ever seen it, yet also so incredibly quiet.