Monthly Archives: September 2011

Wish You Were Here

CITYarts "Forever Tall" Mural 2001, NYC (detail)

It started out an ordinary day. I was living in lower Manhattan at the time, in an apartment with two roommates. The three of us were up, getting ready for work over coffee and the Today Show, and a little after 8:30, I headed out to catch the subway to the office. Like so many have said, the sky that morning was an amazing blue. It was a perfect late summer day—clear, cloudless, beautiful. I noticed it especially, because the night before, it had been pouring rain. I had no umbrella, so I stood in the lobby of the World Trade Center, waiting for it to calm. The World Trade Center towers stood on top of the subway station I took to work, so at the beginning and end of every day, I passed through the building. As sad as it is to admit, I was always a little suspicious of the briefcases that entered with the businessmen and women, thinking that one day, one would hold a bomb. Still, I went in an out like it was nothing. I loved the towers. They were a landmark of New York City that led the way for lost tourists. They were mighty and proud, as if given the task to preside over the neighborhood. Of course, I didn’t know that night would be the last time I stood inside them.

When I got down into the station that Tuesday morning, I swiped my metro card, only to find that my monthly pass had expired. So I went to the machine to buy a new one. While my transaction was processing, I heard that a train had already come and gone, so I knew I’d have to wait a while for the next one. Down on the platform, I worried about the fact that I was going to be late. Little did I know what was to come. Maybe a minute later, I heard a big boom that had come from somewhere– in the distance or nearby, I couldn’t tell. I had noticed it, but I remember thinking nothing much of it. I’d been living in the city for already six years by then; noises didn’t bother me. So I continued to wait, my feet planted. And then a man walked by me and said, “I would leave if I were you.” I listened.

There was an exit nearby, but the gate was down at the turnstiles, so it was one by one that the fifty or so of us there, moved through the single revolving door. We were being directed by a police officer on the other side who was telling us to stay calm. I had no idea what he meant.

When I got onto the street, I saw the burning building standing above me. Black smoke flooded the perfect blue sky. Paper rained down like confetti, with shattered glass and pieces of the building lined in fire. I had never seen anything like it. Except maybe in a movie. And I knew this was only the beginning of something very bad, and that I needed to get away. So I ran, in my leather, thong flip flops. In the commotion I heard something about a plane and a mention of terrorists. And I started to cry. It was the first time in my life that I thought I might die. I was twenty-four years old but I felt like a child. I wanted my mom and dad. I could feel that my mascara was in streams down my face as I gasped for air. A man running beside me put his arm around me and pushed me to keep going. So I continued to run. And then the second plane hit. And there was more smoke and more fire. And I kept running.

The first tower fell when I reached Washington Square Park and as the day played on, the news continued to get worse. Thankfully, I knew no one who was harmed and the worst of it for me was losing my apartment. I was one of the lucky ones.

So today marks ten years. I’ve cried a lot these past few weeks, seeing the photographs and videos. They bring me back like it was yesterday. I look at them so that I won’t forget. I think of those people who lost their lives that day. Compared to them my story is nothing. I hear the names read aloud and can’t imagine being a parent and losing your twenty-three year old daughter or son, or being a teenager losing your mother or father. So many there that day never had a chance to live their lives beyond that morning. I’m so grateful that I did.

There is a memorial now where the towers once stood, with two reflecting pools and the names of all who were lost inscribed in bronze. Though the story of September 11 will never be one of peace, I hope this can be a place of peace. Not that we ever forget the void left in our city or worse, the void left in so many hearts; but that we remember the ones that were lost, and continue to live with hope for brighter days.

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