Sunday, September 11, 2005
Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Brilliant blue skies without a cloud in sight. Indian summer in full swing so the temperature dictated all jackets be kept in storage for another day. Sunlight streaming over Manhattan. A simply gorgeous Tuesday morning in New York City. In the absence of time, you could close your eyes now and almost turn back the clock without any effort. Exactly four years ago today, the scenic surroundings were eerily identical.
In the context of my newly minted adult existence, I didn't yet have that defining moment that regardless of how many more autumns were to pass along on almanacs to come, I would remember. Little did I know, September 11, 2001 would turn out to be exactly one of those "Where were you when...?" days.
Back then I was working in Brooklyn, conveniently 20 minutes away from home. Oddly enough, it didn't take me a year and a day to choose the ensemble del giorno out of my scattered closet and I was strolling out the front door by a quarter to 9:00 a.m. The frenzied banter of the morning jocks up and down the FM dial had turned strangely cautious and deferred to news reports filtering in: "we have word that a commercial plane crashed into the World Trade Center 5 minutes ago..."
Come again? My ears must've been playing tricks on me because I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was well aware of the attack 8 years earlier, but this was just unfathomable. As I pulled up in front of my office building and unlocked the gates, I raced to put my desk stereo on for updates. By that time, my watch read 9:05. The headlines were now announcing that a second jetliner struck the south tower.
Reason had given way to disbelief. This just didn't make sense. With no TV's in house to see what was happening in real time, the radio and video feeds from online news feeds had to do. Not surprisingly, I wasn't the only one with that game plan and the clips were taking forever to buffer with bandwidth being stretched to the max. The change in the air above told the story that anchors couldn't deliver right then and there. Even though I worked quite a ways from downtown Brooklyn, the smoke was visible even where my station faced the storefront windows. Fumes billowed out like ominous clouds. Dark and foreboding. It was impossible to focus on work with chaos surrounding. Store owners on either side of our building joined us standing out on the street just watching as Lower Manhattan burned uncontrollably. And then the soaring towers folded into itself under molten beams and came tumbling down one after another. We were all frozen. Frightened. Fragile.
This wasn't a time to fret about taking calls and pacifying our client's needs, this was bigger than the frivolities of an everyday routine. We closed up shop at just after 12:30 to take a much needed breather within the confines of our homes. It was there in my living room that I witnessed for the first time the barbarity of the consecutive plane crashes from earlier that morning. The horror of people being caught by TV cameras jumping to their deaths. And then the workings of my semi-functioning brain stopped spinning wheels to realize that my cousin from Bergen County worked at Morgan Stanley. My homegirl from college had just gotten promoted over at Cantor Fitzgerald. I had friends who made their daily commute from the outer reaches of the tri-state through Port Authority into the World Financial Center.
Cell calls went unreturned. Phone service was completely knocked out citywide. I couldn't get through to anyone and my relatives from abroad and scattered across other states couldn't reach us. Everything was shut down in every corner of Gotham. Bridges, tunnels and the subways were all closed. No one could get out nor could anyone else enter. A state of total uneasiness echoed by the still smoking area which only in hours previous was the epicenter of sleek architecture, limitless financial resources and a defining image of the might and power of the city itself was now reduced to ash-lined streets and 3 billion pounds of rubble everywhere. This didn't feel like reality, but frames spliced from Apocalypse Now. I alternated between holding my breath for another disaster in waiting and sobbing until my eyelids swelled to the size of welts before willing myself to sleep that night.
I eventually got hold of my cousin Donnie and peeps from 7 WTC who all made it out thankfully unharmed. However my friend Mel wasn't so lucky. At only 23, she was gone before her daughter would even know the woman smiling in the pictures as Mommy.
An otherworldly pall was cast over the entire city and it seemed surreal. The cocksure attitude which crystallizes every stereotype you can think of was gone. Perfect strangers now talked. Eye contact wasn't avoided. The never ending crowds were emptied as the natives recoiled in a hermit existence. Times Square was a ghost town. Union Square turned into a makeshift healing ground of sorts.
Almost every attempt made to ease the heaviness I felt waking up every morning from 9/12 onwards didn't help much, but I still wanted an outlet to do something amid such devastation. St. Paul's Chapel became more than an aged church on the corner to a refuge for myself and countless others still reeling from the pain.
It was all too fitting that the rescue workers and volunteers making their way to the wreckage at Ground Zero for recovery and cleanup traveled up Broadway — the Canyon of Heroes.
The reverberations of unexplainable loss manifested itself in another ironic turn weeks later. Shortly prior to the attacks of 9/11, I had actively set out to look for a new job. My current gig had grown about as stale as curdled milk and the time was right to hit the employment circuit again. I had interviewed at so many places I was beginning to lose count. Included on my tour of "Where's my next paycheck coming from?" were stops located in the north tower. One in particular was just two weeks before on the 83rd floor. I passed on all three openings and kept the hunt going.
Less than a month later I got a call from my headhunter who was pushing to give the green light to a sit down with recruiters at a newly relocated firm in Midtown. By this point I was almost at the end of my rope in frustration. 2001 was almost completely in the books and I was stressed, depressed and miserable in my current situation — so I agreed. Only after I arrived did I realize the gravity of this opportunity that was presenting itself. The company was formerly situated in 2 WTC, occupying floors 98 to 104. Nearly 200 of their employees had perished in Tower 2 and they needed to fill slots immediately. While their loss had nothing to do with me, pangs of guilt haunted my conscience...especially after I accepted the position. I couldn't help but wonder in the back of my mind, if these people weren't taken in an act of viciousness, I wouldn't be reaping the benefits, so to speak.
So here we all are, 4 years after, many therapy sessions later in the shadow of yet another national debacle, a few years older and apparently not much the wiser for it. I mean, what have we really gleaned from such an experience? Feel good vibes and a sense of goodwill from all nationalities setting aside their differences for a common cause dissipated all too quickly. And as recent poll results reveal, the view of this country unearths deep divisions which – for a short time at least – were scotch taped together. The flag-purchasing renaissance of patriotism was nothing but a ruse for the many questions still lingering and unanswered.
The silver lining remains in keeping our friends, family and loved ones' memories alive and not just mourning the nature of their passing once a year, but honoring the very essence of how they lived for the other 364 days. The altered skyline framing the Financial District is an echo that although things have been irrevocably changed one thing remains the same. We're still here. We have not forgotten. We continue to grieve but we aren't broken. Truly cherishing freedom gets no purer than that.
- Will commented at 9/13/2005 07:48:00 AM~
It's always interesting to hear someone's take on that day, on that time period. Where they were, what they were thinking, what they went through... thank you for sharing your story.
- TriniPrincess commented at 9/13/2005 09:47:00 AM~
Thanks for always being part of the reading audience, Will. :o)
- TriniPrincess commented at 9/13/2005 11:03:00 AM~
And I'll pose the same question to everyone else (you too, Will)...what was your transition from then to now?
- Will commented at 9/13/2005 03:52:00 PM~
The events of that day have made me more aware. Of everything. My surroundings, my loved ones, my life goals, my interactions with people... I try not to take anything for granted any more, knowing that we're not promised tomorrow.
I still work downtown, so I get a little wary this time of year, still a little gunshy, like I'm waiting for something to happen. It took me a full year before I could actually walk over there. *smh*
All that to say it's still in the front of my mind. Which probably means I haven't transitioned all the way. Which isn't cool.
But I'm still standing... I'm still strong.
- Rell commented at 9/13/2005 10:12:00 PM~
amazing man -- I can only imagine what it was like being in New York City that day.
That was during my soph. year of college at UNC-Ch and I mean the fear I felt from here was absolutely amazing. So I guess you have to multiply that times 1,000,000 I hope that we've all learned from 9/11, how valuable the human spirit is and how much we can help each other.
- ghettogeisha commented at 9/14/2005 11:25:00 AM~
If nothing else I remember what a perfect day it was weather wise. My best friend left me that morning at 5:30 to catch an American airlines flight out of LGA back to Miami. So she was in the air at the time of the attack, they could have easily boarded her plane. Her flight was one of the flights escorted down in Illnois. She slept through the entire ordeal only to wake up in Chicago. As for me, I was running late to work as usual. I was doing my regular routine of dipping and dodging making my way to the 4 train only to get a page on my 2way from my girl G-- asking me if I was ok. I was totally oblivious to what was going on.
When I came out of GCT I saw hundreds of people surrounding the little tv monitors in Hudson news. I wasn't thinking attacks, my mind couldn't even register Terrorism at that point. I made it to work, where everyone was piled in my boss' office crowding around his tv. My boss was stuck in his car in the lincoln tunnel. The impact of what was happening wasn't registering with me until I watched the tower collaspe. Like something in a movie, only this was real. It was at that moment that we were allowed to leave work (we were not given permission before that). I went downstairs and stepped out on the 3rd avenue and it was again, like a movie scene, a mass exodus. It took me 3 hours to walk home to the BX- three hours on my cell phone reaching out to my loved ones making sure they were safe. Letting them know I was safe. I played operator for my best friend and her family so they knew she was safe and on the ground. I consoled people who didn't know where their friends and family were or if they were ok. I called people I had grudges against and made amends- in the grand scheme of things our little squabbles were insignificant. In those three hours I put the 30 years of my life in perspective. I was alive and I am blessed.
- Berry commented at 9/14/2005 06:11:00 PM~
It was an incredibly gorgeous day weather wise. I worked at night during the time so I slept through it. My phones were ringing off the hook. When my friend in VA told me what was happening I thought he was joking. It wasn't a joke. I walked to the Promenade in Brooklyn and watched the smoke rise. I snapped some pictures then walked back home. People were pouring across the bridges from Manhattan to Brooklyn covered in soot. It was horrible. I lived in intense fear for months afterwards.
Want to Post a Comment?