I couldn’t let the sun set on this day without paying tribute in some shape or form to that fateful day 13 years ago. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the number of years that have gone by. Perhaps I don’t want to come to terms with how much I’ve aged. Or think about how much I have or haven’t accomplished in all those years. It’s amazing how close to the surface that day is for me emotionally. One small scratch is all it takes to take me back.
I found myself in tears last night reading tributes and words of remembrance on social media – there are far fewer as the years go by – and ended up not sleeping a wink. Hearing people write of being in the 8th grade when they heard about it truly makes me feel ancient. And then I think of the babies who were born right before or after 9/11 who never got to know one of their parents. They’re 13 now. In the 8th grade.
It took me ten years to do it but I finally wrote about my experience on September 11, 2001 on the tenth year anniversary. That same year, I HAVE CAT reader Rebecca Slattery-Kavanagh wrote about 9/11 from her perspective in London England. The following year I shared with you my trip to the recently opened 9/11 Memorial.
But I haven’t written or posted about 9/11 since. Not in 2 years. Not until today.
Today’s post was written by a New Yorker I know who would like to remain anonymous, because in her words, “It isn’t about me, but about that day and its impact.”
As disturbing as it was to hear the first plane fly suspiciously low over my West Village apartment, and as shocking as it was to be on the phone with my mother as I watched the second plane fly into the South Tower on live TV, and as horrifying as it was to hear my friend’s shrill screams through the cell as she witnessed the collapse of the South Tower from her Brooklyn rooftop, it was the days immediately after 9/11 that had a profound impact on me.
Away from the crime scene that was the Twin Towers, so much else had changed. Empty gurneys stood ready outside of St. Vincent’s hospital for days, waiting for the injured that would never arrive. There was no private or commercial traffic anywhere – not a yellow cab to be seen for miles. The avenues were barren except for emergency service vehicles and military trucks. Camouflaged Army trucks drove down 5th Avenue, a sight no one could have fathomed merely two days earlier.
Two days after the attack I took a walk uptown. I was the only one on the street until suddenly from the east I heard the sound of pounding boots and an army officer marched to the middle of the sidewalk, held up her hand for me to stop, and an entire platoon in uniform bearing arms marched in formation down 49th Street along side the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and across Park Avenue.
This is New York City folks, but we were clearly in a new era.
And the people. The vibrant typically focused, rushed, determined New Yorkers were walking around like zombies. Most did not know where to go, what to do or how to react. Myself included. What we did know was that we were trapped on the Island of Manhattan as the tunnels and bridges were closed and all public transportation suspended.
Personally, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay in my beloved City but it was still a bit scary to know that we could not leave had we wanted to. I was due to leave for a vacation to Brazil on 9/11. Clearly my trip was delayed, but by the following Sunday they began to allow international travel so I decided to join my trip late. My parents insisted on taking me to the airport many hours too early and waited with me for as long as possible.
I wasn’t frightened, thinking I’d likely be far safer in Florianopolis, Brazil, and that a repeat attack was highly unlikely so soon after the planes were already hijacked. But the fact that the airport was swarming with officials and officers from every bureau imaginable all with guns drawn or close by did not make for a peaceful wait to board my flight.
Walkie-talkies blared constantly and occasionally sent men stampeding through JFK to investigate a suspicious bag or passenger. I watched a man get pulled from a neighboring gate and interrogated right there in the waiting area all the while the contents of his suitcase were dumped onto the floor with dogs sniffing out his belongings. I stopped a short, stocky FBI officer and asked him, “Is it safe to get on my plane?” To which he replied,“Of course ma’am, have a nice flight.”
Once on board, the flight attendants came over one-by-one to tell me that they thought I was the only American on the flight. I told each of them, “SHHH, let’s keep that a secret.”
My trip to Brazil went fine although I kept asking the English-speaking locals to please translate the Portuguese news, as I was distracted the whole time wondering what was happening at home. Clearly it seemed natural to focus on the World Trade Center site, but the impact of that terrible rippled throughout the city beyond those towers in very profound ways.
Tamar here. On every 9/11 I can remember the sky has been as blue as it was 13 years ago, and there has always been a rather unsettling wind. Today was overcast and still. I’d like to believe those poor souls have finally found peace. It may sound ridiculous, but hopefully it will help me sleep tonight.