My September 11th
On September ninth I celebrated my twenty-third birthday, which wasn’t much as I had just moved into my new one bedroom apartment the week before. My new place was in D.U.M.B.O., Brooklyn, a very unique and eclectic neighborhood located at the base of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, right down underneath the Manhattan bridge overpass (hence the acronym). One of the reasons that I loved this neighborhood so much (besides my fabulous new loft pad in an undercover community of amazing artists), was it’s prime location on the water front of the East River. A quick two block walk along the quiet cobble stone streets, then squeezing through the hole in the tattered fence that guards the empty lot over grown with weeds, and I was in heaven: my very own private spot on the water, where the most amazing pink, orange and blue sunsets occurred over the Brooklyn Bridge, the borough of Manhattan, and the Twin Towers. Little did I know that my semi-private sanctuary was about to become a constant visual reminder of the most dreadful day of my life. The events of September eleventh were about to unfold in front of everyone’s eyes, changing life as we knew it.
I woke up that morning thinking it would be like any other. It was a sunny and beautiful yet unusually warm September day. I was running late, as usual, straining to hear the morning news in the living room while in the bath room preparing myself for the day. Not only was this one of the first mornings spent in my new apartment, but this Tuesday in particular marked the first week I had spent on my new job managing the business affairs for a photo stylist. As I had spent the past few years in dot com land, I was quite enthusiastic about my new endeavor. Tuesday, the eleventh, we were scheduled to be shooting a print ad for David’s Bridal. Suddenly, in the other room, I heard the news anchor say that a plane had hit one of the towers. Curious to see what was going on, I casually walked into the living room, mascara wand in hand, and gawked at the billowing smoke. As New Yorkers are easily jaded, I blew it off thinking one of those tourist helicopter rides over the city had gone awry. They always seem to be flying so low, like awkward young birds just about to graze the tree tops. Staying home in the safety of my own apartment never even crossed my mind. Once I made my way outside and looked towards the water front, it all seemed a bit more serious, and I noticed people beginning to gather on their rooftops, struggling for a better view. I grabbed a copy of the Post and a coffee, and made my way to the subway.
The Manhattan bound F train was a bit more alert than usual. On most mornings the sporadic jerking and constant humming vibration of the subway cars seemed to put people into deep sleep. But today, people who typically chose to remain sleepy, silent and anonymous, were engaged in serious conversation with strangers. I overheard at least ten side bar conversations of passengers recounting, and often exaggerating the mornings events. I then heard someone say that a second plane had hit the other tower, and next came talk of it not being accidental. Reality was now lurking all around me, but I had no clue of the events to come. I was a bit concerned at that point, as being trapped underground on a subway car is not the best place to be during a catastrophe. Not really knowing what to be fearful of or why, I continued to read my paper, transferred to the uptown A, and got off in Chelsea on West 23rd Street.
Sweating profusely as I pounded the pavement on my way to the studio, I noticed people flocking on the corners of the Avenue’s, facing downtown towards the World Trade Center. Intrigued as I was, I sped up my pace since I was already twenty minutes late. As I walked into the quiet studio, I had no idea of the horror that had begun to unfold. The sun was reflecting off of the white washed walls, casting shadows of the window panes onto the white floor. A man whom I had never seen before came walking towards me, looking me dead in the eyes. His shirt was a faded olive color, his neatly trimmed hair was jet black, and his style screamed wardrobe guy. The look on his face seemed to be void of all emotion, except fear. This stranger placed his trembling hands on my shoulders and said with a tearful voice, “The tower fell. The tower collapsed. It’s terrible.” He placed his hand over his mouth and walked into another room. I later learned that his boyfriend worked in one of the towers, and I never did find out if he survived. Reflecting back upon that moment now, I’ve never had anyone speak to me with such emotion as he did, especially a stranger.
The studio we were shooting in, on the twenty-sixth floor, had floor to ceiling picture windows, with both southern and eastern exposure. On any given day this view of the skyscrapers, bridges and landscapes covering New York City was like a postcard, but today it was a birds eye view of mass destruction. Thinking the worst had passed, I pushed my way through the hypnotized crowd and toward the window. What felt like mere minutes was actually an hour, and I was still standing at the glass when the second tower fell. I’ve never felt so helpless, and have yet to experience a moment so surreal as that one. The great beasts that loomed over the southern tip of my city were now laid to rest.
The remainder of the day seemed a week long, even longer for those who could not immediately reach their loved ones. Communications were limited, as the main antennas for cell phone reception were located on top of one of the towers. The massive antennas now served as a road block somewhere down on Chambers Street. Being an only child, I knew my parents, at home in Michigan, were desperate to know I was safe. It took hours before I could get an outside line, and when I finally did, my mother was hysterical. She was in her office and made a conference call to include my father in the conversation. It was the first moment we’ve had as a family since their divorce four years prior. Funny how people forget their grievances amidst a tragedy. Next I was concerned about locating my best friend Amy who attended classes two blocks north of what was soon to be called ‘Ground Zero.’ She was a nursing student, and as I wouldn’t believe anything other than she was all right, I was concerned that she was possibly trapped while trying to assist others. To make matters worse, John, her husband of three months was a young police officer, one of New York’s finest, and I was sure that he had headed straight for disaster, trying to bring her and others to safety. After countless hours of trying to reach both of them, and their families in Long Island and Michigan, I finally got word from Amy’s brother that they were both fine. Amy was on the street, talking to her mother on the phone when the first plane struck. She immediately headed for safety, and followed the zombie-like masses, on foot, across the Williamsburg bridge to Brooklyn. John, after knowing Amy’s whereabouts, hopped in an emergency services van with other officers and headed straight for the scene. He helped with the rescue efforts well into the night, and continued to do so for weeks after, working many fourteen hour days. The unity and brotherhood of New York’s civil servants is something to be admired, and I am proud to call him my friend.
In today’s world of technology, it’s astounding to think that we didn’t have a television set in the studio, only radio. All day, although seeing things from my own up close and personal perspective, I had no clue of the gruesome and horrific images being broadcast nation wide. By five o’clock that evening, a few subway lines that were the major arteries of the city were opened up for scattered service. I was lucky enough to catch the train home, although it was a mental challenge to get on board – what if something else happened? What if we were stuck underground? An extra long and nerve wracking ride resulted in my returning home, safe and sound. My friends from the neighborhood had all gathered at our local watering hole, Between the Bridges. With all the news reports I watched that night, the scene that stands out the most was that of a massive cloud of smoke, rounding the corner and devouring the crowd which tried to escape it. I felt the pain of those who suffered, but was wrapped in the warmth of being surrounded by my friends. As they say, misery loves company.
That evening I walked down to my sanctuary by the water, where others like me who live for that spot had already gathered. At the time we couldn’t notice the absence of the towers, as a massive cloud of black smoke hovered in their place. Ashes, debris, and office documents covered the concrete blocks where we sat. The smoke, the constant wailing of the sirens, and the soot resting on our shoulders weren’t the worst of it though – what I remember most was the pungent stench that lingered for a week. My favorite place in the world was now a dismal reminder of the greatest tragedy known to my generation…right there, in my own backyard.
None. Personal, narrative descriptive essay.