I was in Japanese class when it happened. It’s funny how memories play tricks on you – for years afterwards, I thought I remembered it as if I were in my second or third year of Japanese, as if I was quite used to being there, knowing the professor, a very familiar place, and a place that of course I was there. But, in actuality, as I realized relatively recently thinking back on it, it was sophomore year, and I could not have been more than 2-3 weeks into my first semester of ever taking Japanese.
I was in Japanese class when it happened. And so, leaving class around 10am, right after the first tower collapsed (the first one to collapse; the second one to be struck), I passed through the Campus Center, and saw tons of people huddled around the television. I asked a friend what was going on, and she said planes had hit the World Trade Center. For a moment, I didn’t, couldn’t, understand. It sounded like something out of a TV show or a movie – for a moment, I thought that’s exactly what they were talking about, something fictional.
There were too many people there, and I couldn’t see or hear the TV at all, so I rushed back to my dorm, to see if I could watch the news about it streaming on my computer, or if I could otherwise read about the news as it happened. .. I don’t really remember, I guess maybe I must have been locked out, must have forgotten my keys inside the room, because I don’t remember getting into my room, or sitting at my computer, or reading/watching about it at that time. I do remember sitting in the hallway just outside my room, and crying.
I surely must have tried to call home, and it was when I couldn’t get through that I started thinking the worst horror scenarios, that my father, a schoolteacher in the Bronx (or was it Brooklyn or Queens at that time, 10 yrs ago?), might, just maybe, for whatever reason, have been in the Towers, even though he hardly ever has any reason whatsoever to be there. But, I couldn’t get through to anyone, because the telephone lines were all jammed. Yet here’s where memory tricks you again – today, I’m so used to having a cellphone, of course I must have had a cellphone, but no, I got my first cellphone in 2003, in Japan. I could go on a whole post about how much has changed in the last ten years – back then, I had no cellphone, no laptop; there was no Twitter, no Facebook, and how differently it might have all unfolded if we had these things, how differently other events, such as the 3/11 earthquake/tsunami this year did unfold because we do have these things, and just more generally how much life has changed even though in some respects it feels like it hasn’t, and in some respects it feels like just yesterday that it was 2001. But, I won’t go on and on about that. Moving on…
I don’t remember much else about that day, about 9/11. I remember being terribly upset thinking the absolute worst, what if what if, that million in one chance that, for whatever reason, my father was down there, and he was killed. For whatever reason, I had no doubt that everyone else was fine. … And, of course, like everyone else, I thought about sci-fi movies and Tom Clancy films; I thought about how surreal this all was, and how it changed everything.
I remember my friend Dana, in particular, being there to console me. It was a hard day to be an American, it was a particularly hard day to be a New Yorker in Boston, and I don’t know that I have ever felt closer to the city than that day. I grew up out in the suburbs, and at that time in my life knew the City less well than I do today; I had never yet worked in the City, never yet spent countless times walking around on my own or with friends, visiting restaurants and cafés and shops and museums… But on that day, I felt like a New Yorker. And it hurt not to know, and it hurt not to be there, and part of me still feels I wish I had been in New York when this happened. Obviously, I don’t wish that I were anywhere near Ground Zero, but I wish I had experienced this whole thing, and the following days and weeks, as a New Yorker, and not in the relative isolation of a suburban college campus outside of Boston.
I eventually got in touch with my family again, and everything was fine. So far as I know or remember, no one I knew was killed on that day. It was not until many years later that we would learn that my uncle, a City Hall reporter, whose office is literally no more than two or three blocks from the World Trade Center, tried to get out of City Hall and down to the “action,” to be there in the midst of it, to report. Well, I guess I feel bad for him that he had to miss out on such an experience, such an opportunity, but I am glad that they would not let him leave the building. And besides, I am sure there was plenty of reporting to be done within City Hall, as to how Mayor Giuliani and his staff and everyone responded.
On a side note, as it doesn’t feel that long ago, it feels weird to me to think about us having a different mayor, and a different president, at the time. Those things really make it feel like a different place and a different time, more so than anything else could. I spent a bit of time yesterday watching old footage, the original live footage of “breaking news” reporters reporting on the events of 9/11 as they happened, and for me it was really that element – that element of there being a different president, a different mayor – that made it feel like such a completely different time. That, and the fact that at that time, in those moments, as it was happening, we didn’t know what was going on, or what the ramifications were. It is easy to forget, with everything we know now, that at 9am on 9/11, at that moment, we didn’t know for sure if it was a plane, we didn’t know for sure if it was an act of terrorism; at that moment, Al Qaeda was not yet a household term, and we had no idea what else was coming, if there would be more attacks…
A few weeks later, I was on my way home for Yom Kippur. It seems reversed, that normally I would go home for Rosh Hashanah – the slightly lengthier holiday, and the one that involves a big family dinner – but somehow I remember it being Yom Kippur, and it being a few weeks later, not a mere 7 days later. I took Amtrak home, and the train was nearly empty, probably in large part due to the excessive cost of taking Amtrak. Even today, I do not understand for what godawful reason it should cost upwards of $200 to travel between Boston & NY or NY & DC via Amtrak when it only costs $20 on the bus, or somewhere around $75-100 for a shuttle flight. Some of the only other people in the train car with me were a group of Irish kids, roughly college age like myself, who were on their first trip to the US. They had spent some time in Boston, and were now visiting NYC for the first time. As the train approached the city and we got our first glimpse of the skyline, the giant plume of smoke, still smoking two weeks later, was quite perfectly visible. It was an image which would remain etched on my mind for years to come, though now it is pretty much faded, and replaced by false memories informed by media photos. At this point, who knows what I saw? Memory tricks us. But, I do remember thinking, and wondering, what it must have been like for these guys from Ireland, to have this be their first visit to the US, at this time…
We misremember air travel as having been shut down for weeks, but Wikipedia informs me that it resumed as of September 13. I remember being home, and hearing and seeing a commercial jet fly overhead, as they always have done over our home, and I remember it being scary for a moment, genuinely eerie to see and hear planes in the sky again. Could it have really been only two days?
I have only vague memories of the feeling we had in the days and weeks after 9/11, the feeling of coming together as a nation. Alas, if only that feeling could have lasted. Our country is so fractured today, so split. It is a completely different place from what it was ten years ago. We may not be less safe or less free; I won’t comment on that. But we are definitely less united, less well regarded at home and abroad, less strong economically, and less stable. I worry about us, I worry about where we are going and what is going to happen…
Right: A rendering of what the new World Trade Center will look like when it is completed.
But, I am glad to hear that things have finally gotten off the ground at the World Trade Center site. After years of bureaucratic bullshit, the Towers, and Memorial, and Museum, and whatever else, which we should have built by 2003 or so, in a show of strength, are now finally, finally, being completed. I have not been to the site in many years. I am eager to visit it and see our new Freedom Tower, standing tall and strong and beautiful, a symbol of renewal and rebirth, of the strength of the US and of NYC, to endure and to bounce back. Even as the rest of the country crumbles around us, in infantile, ignorant, bull-headed political horseshit, NYC stands tall, and continues to be one of the most vibrant, exciting, and cosmopolitan cities on the planet.
All images from Wikipedia / Wikimedia Commons, and used under the according free or copyleft licenses.