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September 11, 2004


i had thrown my back out the day before, playing squash with a new york state supreme court judge. i had looked his name up on the internet when i met him and found article sin the voice condemning him as an inept conservative that had grossly screwed up a minority shooting case against the NYPD. He was friendly though, and quite generous in teaching me the game.

When my back goes into spasm its nearly impossible to do anything except lie still; perfectly still. It happened to me once in Seattle this summer, in the middle of the night. I had a mild panic attack as i realized i couldn't even get to a phone that was four feet away on the bedside table. and i had to pee...really bad.

at home, finally after howling like a little girl in the gym (they knew me there - i was the guy who had fallen off the treadmill), i took vicoden and ate a medium pizza until the orange haze overtook me.

at 10:30 AM i was woken up by my answering machine and my sister's voice.

"Hey, ze...we're under attack, i mean the country...the US...they bombed the capital, where are you?"

I rolled sideways to my knees, then stood up and went to the television. All stations were dead. My clock radio was working and I heard about the towers. Outside my window I noticed the thick cloud of smoke and ash rising from behind the houses across the garden.

I lived about three blocks from the east river, on the brooklyn side, overlooking downtown manhattan. It took me about twenty minutes to walk those three blocks, my back locking up every few steps. The cars on my street were covered with fine powder and small scraps of paper.

i started crying when i saw the island engulfed in smoke. uncontrollably. the release of emotion startled me and for a moment I was two people, one watching myself cry and the other staring at where the towers had been.

a woman, a nurse from the Long Island College Hospital, came over to me and hugged me, and told me that she was sorry, and held on to me for a moment.

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Comments (11)

The sky was so blue that day. Unbelievably blue. Not a cloud in it. It was the perfect wind-down-from-summer kind of day.

I was awoken by my friend in Chicago frantic to find out if I was there. I work nights so groggily I switched on CNN. I actually dropped the phone. Hers was the last phone call to get through to me that day and for the rest of the week. Funny though, Internet was still working and I managed to send off an email to my folks to say I was ok.

I was living in Astoria at the time and jumped in my car and drove down to the 59th Street bridge. Even flashing my credentials, cops wouldn't let me through. I was desperate to get INTO the city -- spent the next six hours trying to get in -- only to finally get on a 7 train going back into Manhattan at about 2 pm. Me and three other people.

I got off in Times Square. Not a single person around. No cars, no cabs, no people. Not a soul. Everything was so still. I walked the next 10 blocks to work with my sweater over my mouth -- we had heard there was asbestos in the WTC buildings. I can only imagine the spike in cancer patients New York will endure in the coming decades. I saw three people on my way in. Each of them had this same numb expression on their faces -- as I'm sure I did, too. We worked until 5 am. And we continued that pace until mid-November. I put in 3 weeks of overtime that I never saw compensated.

But the worst part was the smell. It was unbearable. Burnt metal, burnt bodies, just this permeating cloud that hung over the city for the next month or so as NYC's bravest tried to extinguish a fire that just didn't want to be put out. Even with your windows shut, you could still smell it.

I remember the euphoria as they dragged that one firefighter out of the debris -- how it raised everyone's hopes that more would be found. And in the week after we prayed that they'd find more alive.

But there weren't any more.

And all the images. All those people who flocked down to the site in droves, doing anything they possibly could to help find people. Pulling buckets of body parts and earth and metal all twisted together, out of that pile of smouldering rubble. Chain gangs of people from all walks of life passing bucket to hand to bucket to hand.

And the stories. There were so many heartbreaking stories. Of loss of life. Of women pregnant with their first child, now widowed. Of children suddenly left without parents.

The worst part was the youth of so many of these young men and women who died. They were the best and brightest and now they're gone.

The couple who clasped hands and held them all the way down as they jumped -- choosing their "freedom" over being consumed by flames.

The crazy woman, who two days after it happened claimed she got a call from her husband on her cellphone and that he was still alive -- sending mass groups of rescue workers to one area of the site, only to find out that she was crazy and had no husband and wasted valuable time digging in the wrong area.

And stories about how, after the planes struck, they all ran to the roof to try to flee, only to come up against a bolted door that they couldn't get through because WTC security had deemed it necessary to lock and bolt the roof door because of potential suicides with stock market drops. Three hundred people trapped in the stairwell, hoping to get onto the roof and freedom.

And then the towers fell.

I'm crying now as I'm typing this. It was three years ago tomorrow, but it's still as fresh and as real to me as if it happened yesterday. I have a WTC security pass card for when I went in to do my drug testing for my job. It's just about the most valuable thing I own.

March 2001. That's when I moved to New York. Six months later the sky caved in.

And they are going to rebuild down there. I understand in a way, you cannot give in to terrorism, you have to be strong -- but I defer to Giuliani who said the whole area should be made into greenspace -- a park for people to reflect and heal.

I've been kind of bummed out the past couple of days. Now I realize why.

I woke up this morning and haven't been able to stop crying. It's taken me three years to cry over this. And now I can't stop.

Posted by: Peg at September 11, 2004 2:08 PM

it was lunch time here, the radio was on in the back ground, no one was really listening to it. i heard a few words about planes crashing into the WTC & said to my step dad "what's this you're listening too? bit of a depressing storyline for a radio play isn't it?". That was it, i really thought it was a fiction. Then came the news jingle & the headlines repeated, by this time my mum, step dad & partner had all turned out attention to the radio. we just stood there, mouths wide open, not being able to take the news in. i started to shake & looked at my mum who was doing the same thing at the same time, we were thinking exactly the same thing, where was her sister & husband right now? my uncle is a pilot for Continental airlines & my aunt is an air hostesse, they are based at JFK. Someone turned the TV on & saw some of the most shocking pictures any of us had ever seen. We tried calling my aunt but obviously with no luck as all the phone lines were down. We did however manage to get through to my grandmother who lives in the UK & she was able to reassure us that neither of them were working today, but that wa were still worried for other freinds. The rest of the day was spent in a daze, watching the news, not undersanding it, crying in anguish for the innocent people involved & in anger at the twisted bastards who did this. In all religons, in all races there are innocent people just as there are evil people.

Posted by: ally at September 11, 2004 2:26 PM

I had been working the night shift, and had woken up rather late. My stepfather was saying that T. had called, and that the world trade center buildings had blown up, and that this was the beginning of world war three. I couldn’t believe it. When I left the ranch, every newspaper in town was sold out. People must have been grabbing bundles of them as souvenirs. At the student library, I looked at the images on the internet of the towers burning. They were not sure what the death toll was yet. They were not sure who was responsible. It seemed like the beginning of the end of the world. That night, I dreamt that I held a huge black book with black pages. On each page was the glowing, ghostly face of one of the dead. They looked at me with anger and deep, deep sadness.

Posted by: rob at September 11, 2004 5:58 PM

three years and we still hear and feel the echo.

what about ten years from now? twenty-three? how to remember this freshness?

Posted by: josue at September 11, 2004 6:00 PM

I was in the break room @ the American Cancer Society, getting coffee w/my friend Denise. As we were leaving the breakroom, she said something about a plane crash in NY. I said, "What plane crash?" She told me a plane had crashed into the WTC & I laughed. I honestly thought it was a John Denver/JFK experimental aircraft kind of thing. Never once did I think someone had done it on purpose. At this point we were at Judy's cubicle & she had CNN.com up & there was a picture of the plane crashing into the tower. I looked in disbelief. I didn't know what to think.

We went to our cubicles & began working. The woman in the cubicle next to me turned her radio onto WTMJ so we could hear news as it happened. About 10:30am they sent us home. I went straight to my mother & stepfather's (he is in the Air Force), grabbed the dog, sat on the couch & flipped on Peter Jennings.

About an hour into the newscast I gasped involuntarily. Today is my best friend's birthday. "Awwwww, happy birthday, man" I thought as I fought tears.

The next day I went to work only to be told to go home. A colleague & I went to the County Fairgrounds to donate blood. We stood in line for 4-6 hours. I learned early on in the day I would not be able to donate (ear infection, on antibiotics), but I knew that if I had told my colleague that, he would've left. So I kept my silence and didn't leave until he was next in line to donate. :)

6 days after 9-11 we lost my Grammy to cancer. She was like a mother to me growing up. I had a hard time sleeping that fall.

Posted by: Aimee at September 11, 2004 6:58 PM

I was living in Idaho at the time going to a strict religious college. I was the model student of obedience, an RA and previous to that I was a sister missionary. No one drank, smoke, had sex, swore. These were students that wanted to live up to those rules.

My roommate came into my room, "Heather! Wake up! The U.S. is under attacked!"

"Huh, don't joke like that."
She then said, "No seriously, a plane just flew into the World Trade Center!"
"Carly, tell me your joking!"
"I'm not, come look on the TV!"
In that walk to the next room over I couldn't help but think in between the fog of my mind of all my family on the east coast and how if mass attackings were happening why the hell was I stuck in Idaho on the other side of the country.
I didn't put on my glasses when I woke up so I knelt very close to the television. The anchorman's words weren't getting through my head until they showed a clip of the plane hitting the first tower. I just said, "HOLY SHIT!"
My roommates all looked at me and said, "Heather! You're an RA, don't swear!"
"Thousands of people are dying right now and you are worried about my choice of language!!?!??!"
They all sat down and shut up. None of them worried. All five of my roommates had never been out of Idaho or Utah. I sat glued to the television. I called my family and couldn't get a hold of them.
Then the news of the plane that went down in PA just 20 minutes from my sister. I just prayed for the people, for everyone out there, prayed that this didn't mean a war was beginning.

Posted by: Heather (Zaf) at September 11, 2004 7:24 PM

I was unemployed, except for a current gig at a major Jewish temple in Los Angeles (High Holy Days, rehearsals for which were starting that night) and was awoken at about 7:15 by a phone call from my parents telling me to turn on the TV, that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. I thought for a moment that it was April 1st, but turned on the TV to Channel 7, thinking (hoping) that it was a joke, that whatever I'd see would be funny.
I only moved from the TV at about 5:30 to go to rehearsal. There had been some talk of cancelling, but our director thought it was important to go on despite the crisis. I'm grateful he did, because it was a small act of courage in the face of the terrorism, a small example of the message America wanted to send to its attackers.
While I'm sympathetic to individuals in emotional pain, I had a hard time relating to what was happening on my screen... the enormity of it is something I'm still trying to get my mind around. I forced myself to watch as much of the coverage as possible, until it seemed I felt an acceptable level of sadness and outrage. I know I'll never truly be able to understand what people who were there went through, but I understand enough to know that our country has suffered a blow beyond anything it's experienced before, and that it will take some time to know how to respond appropriately. I don't believe going to war was was an appropriate response... but I'm not sure what else we could have done (which is not to say there wasn't a better way). I hope that the positive outcome of 9/11 is, besides making our country more secure, that we take the opportunity to understand *why* this happened, and instead of fighting fire with fire, learn to rise above the irrational rage of our attackers, to grow as a country and society.

Posted by: Lala at September 11, 2004 10:13 PM

I was in my tenth grade geometry class working through a particularly challenging set of proofs. A teacher rushed in our room and gravely stammered,"Turn on the television...the twin towers." From that point on a solemn pall swept over my usually vibrant high school. The air had a sharp twinge of confusion and disbelief. I myself felt an eery emotion of ambiguity and numbness. I had never been to the twin towers, or New York for that matter, and was unable to comprehend the devastation while sitting in a impersonable school desk in small town Auburn, Alabama.

To this day, I have not yet completely grasped the full extent of this tragedy. I feel a deep sense of loss and disbelief towards an event that I never witnessed and have yet to understand. Perhaps with maturity and acquisition of facts I will realized how tremendous this horror actually was. Until then, I feel the deepest sorrow for those who experienced loss and say a special prayer of peace for all.

Posted by: Lauren at September 12, 2004 2:30 AM

that's funny, i thought, we never get CNN in australia. what's going on?
i flicked through every station; channel 7 turned into CNN, channel nine was NBC, SBS now ABC... they were all telling me the same thing.
oh my god. oh, god.

we watched a nation mourn on the television- the window to somewhere i'd never been.
we listened as the networks fought over who could tell us the sorrier tales of woe.
on the other side of the world, the sky had fallen.
sometimes it feels like it's never going to end.

Posted by: sushifatale at September 12, 2004 6:02 AM

And I can't add to save my life. I guess it was closer to 4 pm when I got in...

Posted by: Peg at September 12, 2004 2:03 PM

i had just gotten to my second class of the day, vocal jazz. the week before we had all found out that we would be singing at carnegie hall come april. we were still very excited. 10 minutes later we were all crowded around the tv, shocked. we had turned it on just in time to see the second plane crash into the towers. what if there was no nyc to visit?

Posted by: Robyn at September 15, 2004 9:17 PM

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