September 11, 2006
I was a paralegal at a great Danish pharmaceutical company. My office was at the top of the Chrysler building and I had recently moved in to a new apartment on the upper east side. I was completely in love with politics and had spent that summer doing some work on Herman Badillo’s mayoral campaign–my first time working on a race.
It was after 8:30am when I finally left my apartment. In every mention of that day, people note the glorious weather, the beautiful blue sky. You expect a day that changes your whole world, that brings war to your doorstep, to be gray and grim. But the weather could not have been more perfect. When I think of it now, seeing the commotion in my lobby but tuning it out, buying my coffee at the bagel store next to my building, seeking out my new polling location and giving up when I couldn’t find it, it’s the sun on my face that I remember the clearest.
I tried to hail a cab but the driver told me there was too much traffic for him to take me to midtown. The second cab that pulled over said he would take me crosstown but there was just too much traffic anywhere else. I could feel myself losing my cool. I was late for work and cab drivers in Manhattan seemed to be surprised that there was traffic during rush hour. The third cab that pulled over didn’t get an option. I got in and closed the door behind me before he had a chance to say anything. I told him to take me to 42nd+Lex. He looked at me in the rearview mirror and said “Ok, I’ll take you there but there’s a lot of traffic….” I was just about to say “yeah, I know there’s traffic, there’s always traffic, welcome to New York” when he added “you know, because of the plane crashes.”
It was plural. I didn’t even get a chance to believe that it wasn’t evil. I missed those 17 minutes where I might’ve thought this was a tragic accident. As soon as he said it, everything around me took on new meaning. Suddenly I realized the sounds of the sirens and the bewildered looks on the faces of the people in the street.
By the time I got to midtown, my office had been evacuated. I ran into a girl from my office as I exited the cab, then we ran down the street and caught the same cab back uptown.
I called my grandmother from the cab. She hadn’t heard the news and I told her to turn on her television. (My father swears he had called her after the first plane hit but when I called it was all new information to her). Then I called my mother. She too didn’t know that anything had happened. I told her it might be a good idea for my brother to stay home from school that day as I was worried about the bridges and tunnels coming into Manhattan. She essentially said ‘no way, he’s not missing school for any reason’. It was a time of complete suspension of reality. There was no way for us to understand the magnitude of what had happened. Later on that night I would have my own moment of disengagement from reality. The newscaster announced that 23 were confirmed dead. I would imagine that the real number couldn’t be more than 2 or 3 times the confirmed amount. My friend, and neighbor, SMVP would shake his head and tell me the number will be in the thousands.
I didn’t have a television so we sat on my bedroom floor, watching the towers come down through my cable modem. When the first tower fell, I said “it’s going to be so strange having just one tower”. And then the second one fell too.
I was in a daze. Peter and I went to give blood but when we were turned away, I went to try and vote. I couldn’t believe it when they said the election was cancelled.
On September 12th, nobody had work so we tried to pretend things were normal. Four of us went to brunch. We mostly just sat there in stunned silence. Peter and I went to see a movie. It was “Rat Race”. It was too loud and every sound made me jump. It had a scene with an airplane that was just unwatchable.
I went home that afternoon and didn’t leave my house again until Saturday, three days later. I mostly couldn’t take the ‘missing’ signs on every lamppost. I couldn’t stand all that hope. It was so obvious that all those people were dead. I didn’t have work the rest of the week so I’d just stay home all day and wait for SMVP to come home, then go sit on his couch with our eyes glued to the TV.
Everything was different. Nothing would ever be the same. We were all going to live with that day for the rest of our lives. We were all in this together. We didn’t know then that nothing would really change, that we weren’t all united in the ways that matter. As James Lileks writes: “The good news? We returned to our norm: cheerful industrious self-directed Americans who think in terms of fiscal quarters, not ancient grievances, and trust in Coke and Mickey to spread our message of tolerance and prosperity. The bad news? Same as the good. Or perhaps it’s the other way around.”
Other New Yorkers reflect (I’ll update this as I find more posts):