I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. We had been living in our new home for
just a year. Taking the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan each day was still
a relatively new experience for me. Prior to then, I spent years riding the
subway into work. I guess you can say I’m a seasoned New Yorker. September
11th, 2001. It was the most beautiful September day. Noticeably so. I know it
sounds like a cliche but it was the kind of day that made you feel alive.
People still talk about how beautiful the day was. Picture the perfect day.
That was it.
I was sitting at my desk working (or about to. God, it was early) when I
got a phone call from my husband Michael. He said a plane had just crashed into
the World Trade Center. My initial
assumption was that a pilot of a small aircraft lost his bearings, making a
grave miscalculation in altitude. This was no accident, Michael replied. Call
it a gut feeling. Leave work, he said. Leave now. I didn’t. My office is in
midtown Manhattan. A few of us opened a window and if you leaned ever so
slightly in the direction of downtown, you could see it. A big gaping hole in
the tower. I remember thinking, “How are they ever going to fix
that?” Crowds began to gather outside. We walked up to the corner where a
clear cut view offered a broader perspective on the damage. There was billowing
smoke emanating from the hole. By the time we got back to the office, a second
plane had hit the other tower. By this time we knew the horror of it. We were
under attack. The city shut down. There was no way in. No way out. It was then
I realized that Manhattan is actually an island – that I was trapped – cut off
from the rest of the world. And all I wanted to do was get home. If only for
the last time.
One by one the towers collapsed. One minute they were there. We saw them.
Then they were gone. It seemed inconceivable. How could this happen? This was
the United States of America. New York City. Dangerous as it may seem at times,
things like this just didn’t happen. Oddly enough, I had always felt safe and
secure nestled within the cluster of tall buildings. Like familiar friends. My
home away from home. On the whole, New Yorkers are a tough bunch. You
inevitably become so. It’s fast paced. You need to keep up. But that day was
different. What struck me most about that day was experiencing the city as
never before. The city emptied its people out of every building, spilling them
out into the street. People everywhere, just standing. Enveloped in a kind of
shell shock. We were not so much individual persons, but a single living
organism brought together in solidarity. Were we scared? Very much so. Yet not
a syllable was spoken. What was heard was only the sound of sirens; scores of
fire trucks and police cars racing down 7th Avenue toward doom. Racing to their
deaths. I was witnessing their final frantic moments.
I made my way out of the city that day; several of us piling into a
co-worker’s brand new car. How he B&M’d (bitched and moaned) about it until
we all threatened to buy dripping ice cream cones. Finding levity even in the
face of disaster. A kind of balm. An equilibrium on our sanity. His was our
Army Jeep. Our ticket out. Intent on leaving war torn Manhattan behind.
Seemingly, incredibly, ours was the first vehicle to enter and leave the
Midtown Tunnel. There was absolutely no one on the road. Just us. Like
Armageddon. I turned to look back at the skyline behind us. At the empty sky
where the towers stood. There was billowing black smoke. Smoke that used to be
people. In the foreground was a huge billboard. The word P E A C E
spelled out in big block letters. That, the word “peace”, and the
eerie aftermath of silence, is most prevalent in my mind. That, and the empty