Monday, September 11, 2006

it's funny, i am the kind of person who forget the details of most events, i remember the highlights, but not the sequence, and without much clarity.
but i do remember this day five years ago.

i was three weeks shy of celebrating my first anniversary of living in new york city. two weeks shy of my 23rd birthday. i had just returned from a month long trip to mali, west africa and had been working the past few days at an off-broadway theatre company on 46th street, building sets and working backstage. i had been recently cast in a production of "the two gentlemen of verona." kpr and i were at the beginning of our on-again relationship, he decided it would be a good idea to break up with me when i went away to africa (so i could be free to do whatever i wanted, or something like that- so stupid.) but he called me a few days after i returned and was like "why didn't you call me the minute you got back?" i was living in a 3 bedroom apartment on 207th street in manhattan, in a neighborhood called inwood, way up at the top of the island. i had 3 roommates at the time, but many people came and went from that flat.

that morning i woke up around 8:30 and took a shower. it was my routine to turn on the morning show of one of the pop radio stations when i returned to my room and started to get ready to go to work. i flipped the radio dial just as they were saying, "we are getting reports of..." in a very serious tone. this was not a serious station, so i knew something was up.
i immediately went into the living room and turned on the large television my roommate had gotten her boyfriend for christmas that year. i think i turned it to cnn, and i remember seeing that picture, fuzzy at first, of the tower on fire. my phone rang as they were reporting that they believed a small commuter plane had accidentally crashed into the tower. my mother was on the phone, concerned, wanting to know where i was. i told her i was at home, at my apartment uptown and she was relieved that i wasn't downtown at kpr's apartment. she then launched into a conversation about my little sister, but i was distracted, watching the television, wondering what the hell was going on just a few miles down the road. she was still talking about my sister when the second plane hit and i just remember screaming, "why did they do that?!" i know now that my mom was trying to distract me, and keep me calm, because she knew what was happening, but i had no idea. i told her that i would call her back later, i had to sit down and focus on what was going on.

i felt desperately alone- my roommate, liz, who had jumped into the shower after i had gotten out, was still in the bathroom, and i wanted to run in there and drag her to the living room and force her to sit there with me. instead, i waited until i heard the bathroom door open and i walked down the hall and told her, "there's something you should see in the living room." she told me later that she thought i was talking about a mouse, or a large cockroach on the hardwood floor.

we sat there and watched events unfold, dumbfounded, and a more than a little terrified. kpr called and i remember him telling me that this was no accident (i was hoping, hoping, hoping that it was some terrible accident.), that this was terrorism. it's funny, that word seemed so strange at the time- so unknown- but now it is commonplace and sounds phony to my ears.
kpr had no tv access from work and was getting his updates from online. we stayed tuned to cnn because the major channels were having difficulty, due to the fact that their large antennas were on top of tower 1. i described to him what i saw, disbelief cutting through every word. i was having trouble comprehending what was going on.

my roommate liz, asked if i knew where our other roommate, m (who happened to be my ex boyfriend) was. i didn't, and suddenly i became terribly concerned with knowing exactly where everyone i knew who lived in the city was located. what if they were downtown? i started calling m, leaving voicemail after voicemail, but never talking to him. after a while, our phones went dead- the lines were jammed up and cell signals were faulty, again due to all the antenna on tower 1. i couldn't get through, and immediately thought the worst, stupid and crazy i know. when he finally burst through the door later that morning i was furious, "where were you?! don't you know what is going on?!" he was oblivious, having spent the night at a friend's house in riverdale, not turning on the tv or radio, and taking the bus home. i quickly filled him in and we all sat in the living room, nervous.

at one point, liz said, "they have got to put those fires out or those buildings are going to melt." i told her there was no way for them to reach the fires with water, but i didn't believe they would collapse. about two minutes later, the picture on the screen went brown, like a sudden sandstorm had overtaken lower manhattan. when the dust cleared we were staring in disbelief where tower two had once been standing. the voices on tv, reporting what was happening, seemed like robots. i buried my head in the cushions of the couch and sobbed. when the second tower went down, i just remember wondering, "why?"

the rest of the day was spent on pins and needles. we didn't know what would happen in the city. we were essentially stuck on the island, as they were letting no one on or off (or so we were told, there were so many rumors going around). i briefly contemplated walking across the bridge to the bronx, but then what? i didn't like feeling trapped like that. we debated going to the store and buying tons of food, we did eventually go, but i don't think we bought anything, or if we did, it was a few lousy cans of green beans and ravioli. i remember there was no bottled water left on the shelves.

back in the apartment, we were glued to the television. our phones were not working at all, even the land line and that was creepy. occasionally a random call would come through and we would ask that person to please, please call our parents or our best friends, here's their number, let them know we're ok. liz would go out for frequent smoke breaks and i would join her on the stoop, wanting a cigarette desperately, even though i don't smoke. while she was puffing away, i would search the faces of the people walking down our street, wondering how they were dealing with things. wondering if they knew what had happened. wondering if they were jumping out of their skin like i was.

m and i eventually decided to go and give blood, since that was the only action it seemed like we could take, the only way we could help. they had started the subway again and we took the train down to presbyterian hospital and got in line. the corridor was filled with people with shocked faces, signs were posted giving information about donating. we were told to fill out a form and they would call us in a few days, they were simply overwhelmed by the outpouring of people wanting to help. we left, passing by the emergency room entrance where there were doctors and nurses ready willing and able to save with the people pulled out of the carnage, the people who never showed up.

that night i went to bed, my eyes strained from watching television all day. my nerves dissolved with the tension of knowing the city that i loved, my home, had been attacked brutally. my mind rolling through the pictures that will forever stay in my head and in our nations conscious. i don't know how i fell asleep that night, sheer exhaustion and grief, i guess. i remember feeling glad to be alive.

i woke up the next day terrified. for the first time in my life, i felt like everything might not be ok, and never would be again. we were so blessed in this country to wake up with the cushion of security every morning, and now that security was gone. m and i went for a walk with our dear friends sandra and andy, who lived down the block. we went hiking through the forest in inwood park and they took m and i out to a ridge where you can see past the george washington bridge, all the way downtown. we could see the plumes of smoke rising high into the air and where the towers were supposed to be. it was strange to finally be given physical evidence of what had happened. those buildings were no longer there. we walked back through the park, stopping when a fleet of black hawk helicopters zoomed past us, flying low in the air. it gave the atmosphere the feeling of a war zone.

kpr and i were eventually reunited, he had trouble getting to his apartment, which was below houston street and completely shut down. he had to show id to numerous police and national guard. he said when he got home, everything smelled like burning tires. he and our friend r drove up to my apartment and we decided to get out of the city. the bridges and tunnels were open now, and we drove down to kpr's parent's house outside of philadelphia, dropping r off at his folks along the way. we spent some time with kpr's parents, having drinks out on the back deck and watching the military planes from the local airforce base fly overhead. we decided to go to kpr's family beach house and try to relax there and get away from everything. i remember feeling so guilty, but relieved to be there.

we watched way too much tv and i cried during the interview with the president of cantor fitzgerald.

we drove back into the city that sunday and it was horrifying to see the hole in the skyline as we approached on the new jersey turnpike. kpr ended up spending a lot of time at my uptown apartment because things were still to dicey downtown. i went back to work and would silently cry everyday on the subway as i looked at all the signs of the people who were missing- i imagined their families agony and cursed my inability to do anything. those signs were everywhere you turned and each time i saw one my heart broke a little bit more.

eventually we ended up back at kpr's place and the next week my mom wanted to come visit- to see that i was really ok. i took her and her friend pam to union square, which had been set up as kindof a makeshift memorial, with candles burning in huge masses, people singing, chalked messages all over the sidewalk and on the statues. peace signs and american flags and flowers were everywhere. pictures of loved ones lost and murals dedicated to the people on the planes. the news media was milling around and people were standing silently in little groups. they had just reopened below 14th street, and now anyone could access parts of downtown.

my birthday passed almost unnoticed, it seemed to tragic to celebrate.

kpr's parents visited a few days later and we took them to a restaurant in tribeca, one of deniro's venues. we walked the few short blocks to where the crews were working 24 hours a day and stood at the barricade, gaping at the piece of the facade that was still standing (the piece that you see in all the pictures)- it was so large, so unreal.

the next week, i went to work at a firm on the 48th floor of a downtown trump building. they had a bird's eye view of ground zero and i was told stories of people evacuating down the stairs and women losing their high heeled shoes in the dash to get away. that first morning, when i stepped out of the subway station and onto the street, i was facing what i think must be the remains of building 7, which resembled the oklahoma city federal building after it had been bombed. my breath caught in my throat.

i think a lot about that day. i think a lot about how much we lost and how hard it was to live in the city afterwards. i think about the fear i felt and how that will never really go away completely. i think about how my eyes have been opened, and how i felt asleep before all of this. kpr and i have marched several times on the capitol since, marched before the war for peace and marched in new york after the war started for resolution. i think about how much i love where i live, cherish every street corner, can't imagine living anywhere else, but still feel a bit nervous on certain days, for no apparent reason. i think about the people who had no thoughts that morning other than saving as many lives as they could, and i think about those who never got to go to sleep that night in this strange new world.

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