Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001, Mayoral Primaries New York City.
As a 7th grader, I was already voting, going with my Dad yearly into the booth, and pulling the levers as instructed to, at 6:30AM before heading off to school and work.
And then, sitting in class at around 9:30, I heard the news from a friend who had a radio in his pocket, and had been listening to it in his sleeve at his desk (come on, we all remember those days, with one earbud up your sleeve, listening to sports talk radio), that something had hit the twin towers.
Not one of them, but both of them.
Of course, none of us believed him, until one student went out to the hallway, and through the North-West facing windows, saw smoke coming from that direction.
I can’t remember the time that the school told us, but I do remember bits and pieces of the school day.
Standing there on the third floor, at the windows overlooking the yard, which suddenly had a clear view of New York City that we had never noticed before.
Up there with another student whose mother worked in the twin towers, wondering if she had gotten out (she did), and hearing of a student in a parallel class who left to go home, because they hadn’t heard from his father, who unfortunately didn’t make it out.
We did have secular studies that day, and our social studies teacher told us what he had heard about the day. We learned everything, from the news of 4 separate attacks, to first hearing about Osama bin Laden, the man we would later get confirmed to us was the leader of the terrorist group that had attacked us.
Getting out of school that day around an hour early, with no school buses, everyone trying to find whomever was picking them up.
It was raining when we got out. But not liquid, instead little papers fluttering through the air. Burnt pieces of….paper…building…ash. The ash that would coat the entire Metro New York City area for days after.
I got home, and found my Dad there, tired after a long, long day. A day he could never forget.
He had a store, a mere three blocks from the World Trade Center site.
At around 9AM my Mother had called him, to ask if he heard fire trucks. He hadn’t, until then.
A short time later, a family friend showed up at his store, and together they put sand bags blocking the door, keeping the air inside the store clean, relying on a water-based air conditioner to bring in fresh air.
He won’t talk much about the day, but he did see people all staring up at the buildings outside, and slowly, in horror, turn and run, as a giant smoke cloud moved down the street after them, rolling past his windows and door, covering everything in a ghostly grey.
He left the store a few hours later, walking across downtown Manhattan, and found one of the last subway cars out to Brooklyn, even if it was to the wrong neighborhood, and somehow found his way home.
Fast forward 10 years. 9-11-11. The opening of the 9/11 memorial.
The next day, September 12th, I was there. 10 years older, trying to remember all I knew, and seeing the two ginormous holes in the ground, with the names etched around them, of all the victims of the day, from the Towers. From the Pentagon. From Shanksville, Pennsylvania. As well as the 6 from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The memorial was done correctly.
For those that haven’t been there, it’s literally, two holes in the ground, in the footprints where the two buildings stood. Here is a picture from last year, 9-11-13, of the site.
Around these holes are the etchings of the names of the victims. And in the footprints of the buildings is just a flow of water, falling into a hole in the center, an emptiness.
I’ve been back there a few times, just taking in the serenity of the site, in the midst of a bustling city. Hearing the rush of the water, sitting beneath one of the hundreds of trees planted there.
Seeing the “survivor tree”, the one that was found under rubble, still alive, with just one branch. Replanted elsewhere, and uprooted again by storm. Replanted over and over, now in its final space at the 9-11 Memorial, for a symbol of hope amongst chaos.
I bought that day a wrist band, one that didn’t leave my wrist for over two years, that simply said “9/11 Memorial” – “United By Hope”.
One of my memories from the World Trade Center, was as a kid, going up to the top, and seeing a stream of cars go into a building, and not come out the other side. But it was a two way street, and just as many cars were going the opposite direction, with no apparent way of getting there either. It turned out to be the entrance to the (then named) Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.
I have yet to be to the top of the other tall buildings in New York City (such as the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center), but one day I plan to go up the new freedom tower and view our great city from 100 stories up again.
I will never forget that day, and I hope that no one else does either.
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