I took the above photo from the Staten Island Ferry on September 3rd, 2001. A week later, the Twin Towers would be gone. My parents were in New York visiting me and the city for the first time. We were doing all the tourist attractions and a couple of days later we would be in the South Tower on the 107th floor observation deck. I took the photos below from there. It's incredible to think that I was one of the last people to see these views and to walk in that space.
The towers were an indelible part of the city. They were characters in movies. They were epic. When they were destroyed, they died along with the thousands of people that day. I mourn for those people especially. There were so many lives lost that day. I was lucky and didn't know anyone who died, but there were a number of friends that I was worried about for days. There is nothing like that feeling.
Everyone who was in NYC that day has their own story about 9/11, where they were when they heard the news, what they saw, how they helped. I was on a subway train that was heading to the World Trade Center. I was in New York City. To be there was astonishing. Today, when I dug out my binder of emails and album of photos, I felt uneasy looking at them. All those feelings came rushing back. It was such a strange time to be in the city.
I was at work in Times Square, sixty blocks from the World Trade Center, and I saw it all unfold on the TV like a lot of other people. I spent the day emailing people, calling people, tracking down my friends, telling my family I was safe. I went home that afternoon after the subways started running again, was inappropriately groped by a creepy man who was taking advantage of the crowds of people on the subways, met a friend at the bar and got embarrassingly drunk. It seemed like the only thing to do in the face of such unfathomable loss. I was 25 years old, my ex-boyfriend had moved out a few weeks before and I was already in a weird place.
I woke up in the morning on the couch with the TV still on. I had such a hangover and I was probably surprised that it hadn't all been some crazy dream. I stayed on the couch all day watching the news. I had been in front of a TV since the whole thing started, including when I was at the bar. In front of the TV seemed like the safest place to be in case anything else was going to happen. Eventually though, my need for some contact with people drew me back to the office, where I had my email and a working phone.
Heading to the office I passed my local firehouse. It was on 85th street, almost a hundred blocks away from the World Trade Center, but every firehouse in the city was affected that day, they all rushed there, no matter where they were. The firehouse had confirmed that they lost one firefighter, Martin McWilliams. Eight more were missing. Thomas Casoria was one of the missing. Thomas Hetzel was another. Those are just three sad stories from that day, there are 2,993 more.
When I got to work I had never seen so many emails in my life. I heard from literally everyone I knew, including my then 15 year old cousin who told me what had happened was "pritty savage." Those emails were my life line. I felt so connected. Even though I had friends in the city, I was isolated from them because I was in Manhattan and most of them were in Brooklyn.
My 26th birthday party was planned for Friday and I thought about cancelling it, but I heard from enough people who said they were looking forward to seeing everyone, I decided to downgrade it from a "party" to a "gathering." I made Sangria and we played New Order's album Get Ready over and over again. There was never a better time to see my friends. It was awesome to hug everyone, and tell our stories from the last four days. It was my best birthday party to date.
Once I had grounded myself with my wonderful friends I decided to venture out downtown and see what I could see. I was able to get about five blocks away from ground zero, there were TV crews and military all over the place. A saw a mangled police truck and pieces of the towers being trucked out.
I talked to as many people as I could. I took pictures. I said thank you. I cheered with the crowds when a truck would go by heading down there. I was lucky enough to fall into step with a fireman who was returning to his fire station after rescue efforts. He was dusty and tired but didn't mind talking to me. I showed him pictures of the fire station near my house and he was grateful to see them. Since his station was in the closed area, no one was there to say thanks and bring flowers. I said thank you to him and I hoped he knew how much everyone appreciated his hard work. I wanted to hug him but I just patted him on the back and when I did the dust that used to be the World Trade Center rose into the air.
I visited St Pat's Cathedral and stood outside for the service. There were people lining the streets for three blocks in every direction. They broadcast the service on loud speakers for everyone outside. Cheers and applause erupted every time they mentioned firemen, fire department, police or EMT. At one point a fire truck drove past and the crowd enthusiastically cheered their support.
Finally I made it to Union Square Park. It was amazing there, the place was covered in candles and messages of love and support. There were thousands of people just hanging out. Singing, leaving notes, talking, lighting candles. It was like a giant open air cathedral. Everyone in the city was just drawn to each other. We needed each other. I had never felt more like a New Yorker.
Monday brought a return to work for me. The city became covered in American flags. Each day that passed brought more calm and assurance that the threat was over. I had written a number of emails to my family and friends describing in detail what I was going through and one friend, who was a teacher, read them to her class. I got a note from an eight year old boy asking how I was doing. It was so sweet and this is some of what I wrote to him,
"I have been very lucky. I talk to people all the time who had experiences that were more frightening than mine, but everyone that I meet is very strong and they are doing everything they can to continue living thier lives and to not be scared and sad anymore. A tragedy like this reminds us about the important things in life, like family and friends and enjoying the beautiful fall weather."
I guess it's that simple. I met my husband just weeks after 9/11. I had just left a long serious relationship and without the experience of 9/11 I might not have let the relationship with him develop. After something like this though, life is sharper and you try to live it a little more fiercely and not waste any time. You let the love in. While 9/11 took away so much from so many, it also gave us a little something too. It gave us a reminder to cherish every single moment of every single day.
My thoughts and best wishes are with all the families who lost a loved one 10 years ago or who lived through this event in a more traumatic way. As difficult as it is to relive these days, I wish to honor them with these words and by listening to their stories. I see the pictures and I hear the voices of those who have been lost and I will never forget.