The life and times of an ethnically ambiguous little lady.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How Can You Ever Forget?

It's amazing to me how sad today is, even after six years. Ever year when September 11th rolls around, I go about my day, and when I first sign that date on something, I feel a little tightness in my chest. It’s strange—I didn't lose anyone when the Towers fell, but it took me a full year to be able to go visit where the towers once stood.

I had moved to New York City just three weeks before September 11, 2001. I had just started my job and was all bright eyed and bushy tailed. Or at least as much as one can be when they start a new job and then proceed to go out until all hours of the night. I had just gotten to my cubicle when my coworker mentioned something about a plane flying into one of the Trade Towers. And we realized from Sixth Avenue where our office was located, we had a clear view of the Towers. So we ran outside and saw the Towers on fire. The first one had collapsed and we watched as the second one seemed to disappear into the earth.

And I couldn't even fathom what was happening. Everyone at work was struggling to get in touch with their loved ones. I finally got in touch with my mom, only to find out that my brother happened to be visiting some friends at NYU that day. And she hadn't been able to get in touch with him. And I tried to calm her down as her voice became more and more worried.

With the whole city shutting down, I walked back to my cousin's apartment on the Upper West Side where I was staying. I brought my coworker who lived in Brooklyn back with me, as the trains weren't running. And she proceeded to get more and more anxious because the guy she was dating happened to work in one of the Trade Towers. For the rest of the day she tried to get in touch with him, and I sporadically talked to my mom, still having no word from my brother. I watched the smoke pour out of the Towers, which I could see from more than 80 blocks away.

Finally my coworker got in touch with her friend, nodding her as she listened to his account.

"He was in the second Tower," she said. "They weren't letting anyone out because of the fire but he got frustrated and ran down the emergency stairs with his friend. As they were running his friend was crushed by some falling concrete and killed. And he said he kept running until his was out of the building. And he just kept going until he had run over the Brooklyn Bridge and all the way home."

And the way she told me what happened it sounded like some kind of children's book. A horrible, sad children's book.

Hours went by. We sat numbly in front of the TV watching the chaos replay over and over again. And then we'd go out on the balcony and watch it all live.

My brother finally got in touch with my mom, but at this point she was beyond hysterical. For some unrelated reason, my parent's landline in Philadelphia had gone down so my mom was using her cell phone. But she wasn't really used to the cell phone so she was yelling into it. And crying.

"You can come home," she wailed. "You don't have to stay there. You don’t even have an apartment yet. You can move back here."

My dad came home right as we were having this conversation. Apparently my mother had gone outside because she got better reception with the cell phone. And she was sitting barefoot on our front lawn, yelling into the cell phone, drinking. And if I couldn't hear how upset she was and the fact that I was crying too, it would have all been very funny.

***

The next day, I went to work because I didn't know what else to do. But no one was at work, so my friend Allie and I met up and we walked. We walked from Midtown to the East Village and then up to the Upper West Side. We talked and tried to make sense of everything, and there were signs tacked up everywhere of missing people.

***

About a week passed and I went home to Philly for the Jewish New Year. And everyone was talking about how tragic it all was. And I could barely talk about it without getting choked up. And nothing bad even happened to me. But all that week everywhere I went there these signs of missing people and there was still smoke and dust. And some of that dust was the remains of some of the people who were pictured on those signs.

***

Nineteen Islamic extremists killed thousands of people they had never met to make a point. And every time something goes wrong in New York--when a pipe explodes, or the subway stops running, or a baseball player crashes a small plane into a residential building--I watch people tense up and question who's to blame and whether it's intentional.

Every so often, although less frequently these days, there is a warning that there might be a bomb somewhere in the subway. My friend who doesn't live in New York suggested that I refrain from taking the subway until the threat passes over. I asked if she was going to pay for all those cabs.

But we’re powerless. Things out of our control will continue to happen. And all you can do is live your life. It’s not much of a plan, but it’s the only plan I’ve got so far.

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