Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001

I was wearing khaki pants, a blue & white striped polo shirt, and brown leather sandals. I was a little chilly when I stepped outside, but in the good way - it was early, it was a fresh day. Everyone always says that it was the most beautiful morning, & it really was - bright, sunny, cool, crisp.  Everyone tells you this because it was true.  The bus driver, my fellow students, my professor - everyone commented that morning.

I remember that my new roommate, Amy, that her birthday was Sept. 11.  I had registered to take an 8:00am econ class, & she was asleep when I left the dorm.  I left her a card on her desk.

I lived downtown at 2 Water Street, about 4 blocks from the World Trade Center complex.  In order to get up to campus, we took a shuttle bus up through the Financial District, Chinatown, and the West Village before getting off the bus outside 721 Broadway.  I think it was the second week of school, & I'd already decided that this econ class (& the 8:00am class time) weren't a good fit for me at this time, & I'd secured a drop form from one of the Directors of the Tisch School of the Arts, David Stark.  He was the Director of the Tisch Scholars program, of which I was fortunate to be a part.  I needed to attend my class one last time to secure my professor's signature.  I sat through class, then got the necessary signature, rode the elevator downstairs, and walked across the street to the NYU bookstore to return my econ book & pick up something else, I cannot remember what.  It was probably a theater book - that was my major & I was scheduled to take a theatrical review class that semester, where we would attend shows weekly & write reviews.  After I stood in the short line, I approached the checkout counter.  It was the first station on the right (or the last, depending on which way you count).  As the woman working checked me out, she asked what I thought about the plane accident.  I didn't know what she was talking about, & she told me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  She said the news was saying that they thought it was maybe a small, independent plane that had flown too low & accidentally hit the tower.  I expressed my surprise to her, we finished the transaction, & I left the bookstore.  Back then the bookstore was located on Washington Place.

As I walked out, for some reason I turned to my left.  My bus was to the right, the gym was to the right, my boyfriend's apartment was to the right, Tisch was to my right, breakfast was to my right. Why I turned left, I do not know.  After a few steps, I found myself on the corner of Greene Street & Washington Place.  As I looked up, I realized I could see the two towers.  They seemed so close, their 110 stories.  I later calcuated that they were a mile & a half away.  In New York though,  you can walk everywhere, & a mile is only about 40 short blocks.  Even at that distance, the towers were so tall that you were almost looking directly straight up.  I craned my neck to look up & I saw that the towers were spewing smoke.  There were about 8 people around me, & everyone was quietly talking in disbelief.  We stood & stared for about 30 seconds.  Then as if in slow motion, the tower seemed to gracefully sink.  The first few seconds were in slow motion, like I was watching a movie.  I was stuck, utterly glued to the ground, transfixed by this horrible vision happening before my eyes.  Once the sensation of slow motion left, then everything sped up.  That tower fell in about 2 seconds.  It looked like it was going to swallow up everything in its wake, including me & these people I was standing with.   Looking back, there was no way that it could fall on us, suck us up into the debris cloud, but at the moment, it absolutely felt that way.  Our little group started to scream & scattered up the street, running for our lives. 

I ran over to Broadway & stood in the doorway of 721, the Tisch building.  As I stood there, David Stark, my beloved director, ran out of the building.  I screamed his name, & he ran over.  He asked if I was ok, & I told him I had seen one of the towers fall down.  He took my shoulders & shook me, asking if I was sure.  I said, yes I'm sure, I saw it fall.  Then, stupidly, I told him that my professor had signed the paper & I would send it up to his office to file the schedule change.  He must have thought I was such an idiot in that moment.  He asked if I had somewhere safe to go.  I said yes, I was going to my boyfriend's apartment, who he knew.  He asked which building it was, & told me get there as fast as possible.  He hugged me & then we took off running in opposite directions. 

I tried to make some phone calls from my cell phone, but nothing would go through.  I called my mom, dad, boyfriend, over & over & over.  Nothing would go through.  The cell towers had been at the top of the towers, & of course by this time were both destroyed.

I ran to Broadway, on 8th Street, & then I ran up to 11th Street.  There were so many people walking up the streets, & that was when I started to hear the sirens.  So, so, so many sirens.  When I made it into the Third North building lobby, I recognized the lady security guard.  I spent a lot of time in this building & had lived there the year before.  I said I couldn't get my boyfriend on the phone to clear me to go up to his apartment, but could I please go up anyway?  She looked at me like I was speaking in a foreign language.  I don't know if I was screaming, or whispering, or even talking out loud at all.  After a few moments, she told me to go up.  He lived on the second floor & I ran up the stairs as fast as possible, ran to his door, & started screaming & pounding on the door.  After a moment of this, the door opened.  It was his roommate, Joe.  Joe gave me a huge hug & pulled me into the living room.  I don't know what time it was at this point, maybe 10?  10:30?  He said that my boyfriend had tried to call me, couldn't get through, & had gone to look for me.  I have no idea where he had gone - did he know my schedule & had he gone to the main campus?  He didn't like going to my dorm because it was so far downtown, but had he gone there to look?  I still don't know.  My phone still wasn't working, & I couldn't get through to anyone.  We didn't have any landline phones & didn't think about using a pay phone. 

After some time had passed, mostly in silence & shock, Joe said he wanted to go out to look for my boyfriend (& his best friend).  I didn't want to leave, I said it didn't make sense for us all to be looking for each other, & that I should stay here, but he wouldn't let me stay in the dorm by myself.  I think at this point it was about 11:30 or 12 noon.  Joe suggested walking downtown to see what had happened - because we still had no idea.  We didn't even know that the 2nd tower had fallen.  I remember walking down West Broadway, past the big Anthropologie, & past all the shops I loved to walk by.  There were lots of people walking up the streets, & we were walking down.  Multiple people told us to turn around but Joe wanted to keep going.  While I am now very familiar with the streets downtown, at this time, I had no idea where we were.  I think that we walked down West Broadway to maybe Broome Street, then somehow got over on Canal Street.  We walked down Greenwich Street for a while, past an empty school playground.  We finally made it over to the West Side Highway, which was filled with people.  As we looked down the expanse of the highway, we could see the billowing piles of smoke spewing from the ground ahead of us.  I finally convinced Joe that we didn't need to go any further, that we could sit & watch from here.  We sat on the side of the highway for a long time.  The people around us were standing, sitting, talking.  Everyone was saying that the cell phones weren't working, but I kept trying anyway.  Joe was taking pictures of the smoke & asked me to take his picture with the smoke in the background, which I thought was the most stupid thing - who would want a picture of that?? - but I did it anyway.  We must have sat there for hours, & we were starting to get sunburned, so I convinced Joe that we needed to go back.  I said that eventually my boyfriend would come home, & we should be there when he got back.  We slowly picked our way back the way we had come, with rubble blowing in the streets, & people walking slowly all around us.  We finally made it back to the dorm about 3:30.  No one was there.  I sat at the kitchen table & Joe turned on the news.  They kept showing the planes hitting the towers & the towers collapsing over & over & over.  It was sickening.  At 3:45 the door flew open & my boyfriend ran into the room & we crashed into each other, hugging so hard that we almost fell over.  He cried that he hadn't been able to find me, & I cried, & Joe cried.  We knew that our families still had no idea where we were or if we were safe.  None of the phones would work.  For some reason, our NYU emails weren't working.  We all set up new email accounts on hotmail & sent emails to our families. 

Later that night, the news started saying that a group named Al-Qaeda was taking responsibility.  The boys were totally transfixed by the news, but I wanted none of the information.  I don't really remember much else from that evening.  The next day, I woke up to find out that a blockade had been set up at 14th Street.  My boyfriend had crossed the blockade to go to Walgreens to buy me a contact case & a toothbrush.  Our NYU emails started working again, & we were told classes were cancelled, my dorm was closed until further notice, etc.  My mom, aunt, & grandma were all in California because my grandpa was having surgery on 9/12.  I was supposed to fly out on 9/12.  From NYC to LA.  What if my flight had been one day earlier?  I can't even think about it. 

That day, rumors started that the gas leaking was toxic, & we needed to find gas masks.  All the bigger stores were uptown but we weren't allowed to cross the blockade.  We finally found some masks at an arts store in the East Village.  We slept in the masks that night.  The next few days passed in a haze, the blockade was eventually lifted because we went to Bloomingdales to purchase some clothes for me.  Luckily, my aunt had set me up with an emergency credit card, & I am so grateful for that.  My boyfriend, Joe, & I didn't leave each other's sight for at least 5 days, we went everywhere, & did everything together.  None of us wanted to be alone. 

Eventually, because all the airplanes were grounded, my mom ended up taking an Amtrak train from Palm Spring, CA back to Columbus, OH.  I think by day 6 planes were flying again, & my mom was on one of the first planes to come back to the city.  She came, cooked for us, did my 6 pieces of laundry, & comforted all of us.  She, Joe, & my boyfriend went down to the newly-named Ground Zero.  I would not go. 

For years, I would not, could not look at pictures, watch the coverage, read the newspaper articles.  I didn't have any capability of dealing with it.  I would get furiously angry at anyone who asked me about it, & didn't react well in those situations.  I wouldn't talk about it, & forbid anyone around me from talking about it. 

But what good did that do?  Our world changed that day.  We all lost our innocence & the world became a big, scary place.  Even though I wasn't scared to fly, or scared of my cab drivers, or my muslim friends, & I wasn't even scared to by in New York, things changed.  I lost some of my emotional freedom that day.  I lost some of my confidence.  I started to waver & falter.  I lost some enthusiasm, which was replaced with grit & determination.  I gained some hardness, a shell that continued to grow around me.  Don't get me wrong, grit & determination are important.  But so is confidence, enthusiasm, & a personal sense of ease.  The last ten years have been very hard for me, not just because of September 11, but for many reasons.  Over the last few weeks, I've realized that I've never let any of this out, never let any of it go.  There were so many people affected by this terrible day, I never wanted to make it about me.  So many people lost loved ones.  I didn't personally know anyone.  I know many people who did.  I felt like I didn't quite have the right to have my own feelings about what had happened. 

Today is the very first day I have ever watched the memorial coverage.  It is incredibly surreal to see those images again.  The shock of watching the towers fall is the same as it was 10 years ago.  I can still feel the rushing air around me, & hear the screams & the sirens.  But I saw today I also saw the beautiful memorial in Shanksville, PA.  I saw the beautiful fountains at Ground Zero.  I cried.  I have unzipped my heart & let these things fall out.  I will never be the same.  No one will ever be the same. 

Remember, remember, that day in September.  But live your life, don't let your life pass you by.  Live with zest, gusto, & freedom.  That is what we need to do. 

1 comment:

Mari said...

This post is amazing. Amazingly beautiful and sad. Tears are streaming down my face. I am so grateful for your insight into your heart and the world.
God bless you.
God bless the U.S.A.