I know, I do something like this every year. If you don’t like it, skip it. It’s something I feel I have to do.
On 9/11/01, I was living alone in NJ, going to college. I woke up that morning, went in to brush my teeth, and came back to my room to get dressed for class. As I did every morning, I turned the radio on to listen to Howard Stern. Only… it wasn’t his show. It was some bizarre news cast, and I couldn’t understand what I was hearing. At first, I thought it was a really tasteless joke by Howard Stern, but I quickly realized it was the audio of a TV news cast when the guy said something about the left side of your screen.
My house was situated about two blocks up from the closed military ocean terminal that was soon to become a triage center for the wounded. I spent the morning sitting on my front steps – all my neighbors were doing the same – looking up. Jets buzzed the houses. Smoke billowed down our street, sometimes so thick we couldn’t see each other only feet away. And we watched in real time as the buildings came down.
I grew up taking the train into NYC with friends. I had passed through the marble lobby of the WTC regularly, and to this day I can still see it in my mind and describe it in great detail. We used to eat at the pizza shop in the underground shops, where people were now trapped and would eventually slowly die.
Now I was frantically trying to get my telephone to work. All the phones were out or busy because of the day’s events. But my parents were in NC, having had a conversation with me the night before where I had told them I was going to be meeting friends in the city for an evening out and, if it got too late, we’d stay at the one friend’s apartment and I’d get to my first class the next day that wasn’t until noon. We had actually planned to stay in the city all night and were going to visit the WTC because my one friend had never been and I hadn’t been since I was a little kid, not to the top, anyway.
So I knew my parents were currently frantic because they thought I’d gone into the city. I had actually canceled out last minute because I got real sick to my stomach and didn’t think I’d have much fun. But it took me a very long time before I finally got a ring tone and was able to call my mother’s office phone, where she answered, sounding desperate. When I said hello I could hear her drop the phone.
We spent weeks after that burying dust. We’d been told there was a possibility that people in the towers had been “vaporized” by the planes and the fire, and that smoke hung around for a good long time. It brought tons of dust into our homes, and with no air conditioning, the windows were open. So every day we all dusted carefully and buried it, just in case.
I ventured into the city for the first time two weeks after the attacks. What still stays with me to this day are two things:
- The fact that everyone was saying hello to each other and looking them in the eye.
- The city was wallpapered in missing posters.
Those missing posters were so painfully sad. But people kept them up, taking care of them, repairing them, reprinting and rehanging them as needed. But what was sadder was when the they stopped doing that. Because that was the most hopeless feeling you could ever feel. It was a long time before they stopped, but eventually, the posters began to come down and were not replaced. People were no longer holding out hope for their missing loved ones.
I remember watching the hordes of people walking across the bridges. I remember desperately wanting to get over the bridges into NYC to see it for myself, to see if it was real. I remember donating my respirator I used for art so that a first responder could use it to look for survivors. I remember cursing because they wouldn’t take my blood due to a tattoo that was less than a month old.
A lot of that day was a blur. There was a lot of sadness, panic, desperation, fear… but there was no politics. There were friends in strangers, people helping people, no race or religion or sexual preference. People went on in the streets and had block parties every night, just to say screw you to the people who did this.
9/11 deeply effects me to this day. I can look at the pictures… all but the pictures of the falling people or the people hanging out of the windows. I still can’t look at those without crying my eyes dry. I’ve told my story a thousand times. It’s been fifteen years, but it feels like it was yesterday.
I remember coming to NC to visit my parents for the first time after the attacks. I took a plane out of Newark Airport, where one of the planes originated from. The airport was full of military personnel with M4s and dogs. I landed in NC, only to find out hours later that a guy had had a bomb in his shoe on another plane leaving that airport around the same time as me. The next plane ride would require me to take my shoes off at the security gate.
I left that area that following May and moved to NC.
Songs have been written. Stories have been told. And as I said, I feel the need to tell mine every year. I don’t know why. It’s therapeutic, I guess. But it also helps remind people that this happened.
I had friends who went off to war after all of this. By the grace of God, they all came home alive and with all their body parts. Most of them were not the same after. One friend was so greatly affected by what happened overseas that he came to see us all when he came home and then we never saw him again. I think about him often and hope he is OK. He was an officer in the US Army, one of many who was out of the military and recalled.
But I tell my story because we need to remember why these men and women are leaving. Why the cops aren’t the enemy. Why the cops, firemen, and EMTs deserve more respect than they are getting. That this could happen again. Political correctness won’t save us.
Sorry to drone on.