9/11: I Have Cat Remembers
On the T.V. screen, two black towers rising up between the broadcasters’ heads against an impossibly hopeful bright blue sky. A gash in the side of one from which a torrent of black smoke gushed forth. I called my friend Steven and told him to turn on the T.V. For him I will always be that person who gave him that news that changed the world.
I noticed something enter frame from the corner of my eye. It wasn’t until they announced the second tower had been hit that I realized what had occurred. Before my eyes, along with Matt, Katie, and the rest of the conscious world we watched the first tower disintegrate. My brain didn’t have the ability to compute what my eyes were registering. I had to get out of the apartment.
My legs took me towards the Flatiron to an intersection I knew well. The corner of 23rd Street and 5thAvenue was a special place for me. It provided a vantage point from which to see both the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers with a mere turn of my head. I had to go there now in order to prove to myself that what I had seen on TV could not be reality.
The city had come to a stop. Not a car on the street. People walked like zombies in a trance. The only sounds were those of sirens wailing relentlessly in our stead, never once stopping to take a breath. It was a glorious crisp sunny fall day. The world didn’t end on days like this.
The closer I got to 5th Avenue the more I became aware off an odd smell in the air. Like burning, but not quite. Upon reaching the Flatiron building I made a left and found myself in the middle of the street filled with fellow New Yorkers frozen in place.
Businessmen, nannies with prams, Hasidic men in full garb, bike messengers all staring south at a single tower and next to it, its crippled twin consisting only of black smoke. It was unclear to me if the second tower was really gone. I had to see empty space with my own eyes before I could believe it. Perhaps it was merely hidden behind a smoke curtain.
New York City, 9/10/2011
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my first thought was not of the thousands of lives lost – that didn’t even enter my mind. I wondered how odd it would be to have only one Twin Tower and if they would rebuild a second one? Before I could truly contemplate anything, the top of the second tower wobbled much in the way a mirage might in the desert.
Believing my eyes were playing tricks on me I squinted and tried harder to focus. Reality hit us all simultaneously. A collective primal wall of sound rose from our guts directed at the crumbling tower falling layer-by-layer before our very eyes like dominos. The sound was continuous and didn’t stop even when the inevitable was obvious.
Businessmen in pristine suits dropped their briefcases, fell to their knees and pulled their hair. Nannies and hipsters clung to one another sobbing. Strangers offered each other working cell phones.
After that moment my memory fails me, I remember things in disconnected flashes. Lot of watching television from my couch. I felt lost but had no desire to leave the city. It wasn’t a choice, I couldn’t abandon it.
I wished there was something I could do to be of use and cursed not having an expertise of some sort that would be useful at Ground Zero. My roommate and I went to the Javitt Center to donate blood but were turned away. They had lots of blood, but no one to give it to.
That night I met friends for dinner at Les Halles, a French bistro in my neighborhood. It was packed. No one wanted to be alone. We drank, smoked, and ate in a desire to feel alive.
At night the city was enveloped in an eerie quiet–pierced intermittently with the sound of fighter jets patrolling the five boroughs. The next morning I woke up, showered (?), dressed, and walked to Union Square – the southernmost point we were able to go – to be alone with others.
I bemoaned never having gone to Windows on the World or battled the crowds to the top of the towers to take in the view. A few days ago my Mom reminded me that I had in fact been to the top of those Towers. She had the t-shirt to prove it.
We would go on, lick our wounds, learn how to defend the city, and prove to the rest of the world that no one can push around a New Yorker. I would do anything to make sure that others would come to admire and enjoy the Freedom Tower the way my sister and I did The Twin Towers when we were little girls full of dreams.