Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Ago, On This Day

*I've decided to update and repost this blog entry I wrote 3 years ago in honor of the tenth anniversary of that terrible tragedy which befell my city.*





10 years ago, on this day . . .

It was a bright Tuesday morning, I recall. Cool and refreshing, with a hint of summer coming to an end. I was walking to work from the West 4th street subway when I saw a plane flying low over the Hudson River. My company was located on the extreme west side of lower Manhattan, just one mile directly north of the World Trade Center. Something about the sight of that plane felt odd to me, as commercial airliners don't usually fly over that part of the city. And certainly not that low in the sky. But as I was running late, I put it out of mind and rushed to get to my office.


10 years ago, on this day . . .

I was in the middle of stacks of tax legislation when I got a phone call from Lisa telling me to listen to the news. She said a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. My immediate thought was: oh, what fool took a joy ride in his little prop plane and got himself killed? See, I thought this was similar to that time someone crashed a private plane into the Empire State Building a few years earlier. It was sad and tragic, but didn't do much damage. I wasn't worried. But then she said: no, it was a 747. Now that was something entirely different, I admitted. That technically shouldn't be possible, I said, unless it was deliberate and not accidental. Still, I didn't want to believe it could be terrorist related. Maybe a suicidal pilot? But the news only got worse as the minutes ticked on by. Pretty soon a noticeable buzz started to build up around the office. My co-worker had her radio tuned to the live news broadcast, listening with her headphones on. She told everyone that another plane hit the other tower, and that's when folks started to really worry.


10 years ago, on this day . . .

I took a quick break and stepped outside our office building to assess the state of the world. I was expecting people to be going about their business as normal, a reassuring reminder that the rest of the city still chugged to the usual beat despite what might be happening a mile south. But to my surprise, the streets were a hotbed of chaotic activity. Fire engine after fire engine came roaring down Varick street, followed by motorcades of police patrol cars with their sirens blaring as well. Fire marshals and unmarked detective vehicles joined the fray, and in the air a distinct smell of something burning hung over us. People were leaving their offices and walking in the opposite direction. Surely they were overreacting, I thought? Still, I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach, so I cut my break short and rushed back upstairs. By now, the office was in an uproar, too. People wanted to go home, but the higher ups told us all--by mass e-mail, no less--to remain calm and continue working until further notice. They were going to keep us abreast of the situation.


10 Years ago, on this day . . .

My co-worker took off her headphones and turned to us, tears in her eyes. One of the towers had fallen, she informed us. They think the other one will, too. My brain tried to process this impossible news. I had an absurd mental picture of a gigantic looming office building toppling forward onto all the smaller office buildings around it. I went numb. The phones were ringing off the hook now; one of them was mine. Lisa was worried. She told me that people were being evacuated from the area, and were they letting us leave? No, I told her. But I had heard enough. I wasn't staying around any longer, waiting for the company brass to decide my fate for me. Others were of the same mind. Finally the official call came over e-mail to leave the premises and to contact our managers from home to find out when it would be safe to come back. We all powered down our workstations and filed out of the building at once. We didn't know it, but it would be a week before we were allowed to come back.


10 years ago, on this day . . .

I was booking it up 6th avenue, heading north. Around five hundred other people were crammed around me, trying to do the same thing. As I traveled up to West 4th street, I stopped and turned to face south. Where the Towers were supposed to be, a giant cloud of smoke obscured the sight. It was one of the most chilling moments of my life, standing there in the middle of the street as others around me did the same, staring up into the sky in shock and disbelief. Once I got myself moving again, I decided to take a shortcut cutting through Washington Square Park and the campuses of NYU. Students and faculty were standing around the steps of the buildings, chatting calmly but obviously confused. No one yet fully understood the magnitude of what had happened. Neither did I, but at that moment I didn't care. I was in pure survival mode, just thinking how in the hell I was going to walk up the full length of the island of Manhattan, cross the Harlem River, and then walk 30 more blocks to my highrise in the Bronx. The subways and buses were frozen, mass transit had come to a standstill. The entire lower half of the city was walking east and north with me it seemed. At 23rd street I had to decide: do I go east past 1st avenue and work my way up the FDR Drive? Or do I go west and walk along the West Side Highway? I knew the east side route would take me past the U.N. building. Having the vague sense by now that this had been a terrorist attack, I did not want to chance that the U.N. might not also be a target. So I made a compromise: I stuck to 5th avenue and continued on north until I hit Central Park. From there I headed east to 1st avenue, and then north again to Harlem. I crossed the barricaded Willis Avenue bridge near 135 street into the Bronx. Buses and trains were not working here, either, so I continued walking home. I walked 10.3 miles that day in 3 hours. A city of dazed and eerily silent zombies had shuffled along with me down those crazily hectic streets. Everyone had a blank look of numbness on their faces as we walked, no one saying a word to each other. Everyone was in survival mode like me.


10 years ago, on this day . . .

When I finally arrived home, I sat on the couch all day long staring at the news reports on tv. Nothing seemed real. From our 10th story apartment, I could see down into the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Not far enough to view the WTC on a normal day . . . but this was not a normal day. A thick plume of black smoke rose up from far to the southwest, testament to how much distance I had covered that morning. My feet were not as sore as the day my boy scout troop got lost and we ended up walking 15 miles on broken trails with heavy packs on our backs, but they were hurt nonetheless. The news reporters kept repeating themselves: a tragedy, a tragedy, they said. Still no word on the Pentagon. Still no word on the fourth plane. A tragedy!


10 years later, on this day . . .

My company has moved locations since that day. Ironies of all ironies, we're now just across the street from the World Trade Center. The site is coming along nicely, and every day the new Tower seems to get taller and more complete. Yet, I am so grateful that 9/11 fell on a weekend this year. With it being the 10-year anniversary, commuting in to work on a weekday would have been impossible. Not to mention the security risk. Although, as a true New Yorker, I can honestly say I'm not afraid of anything happening down there on this day. No, for me this is a time best spent at home with loved ones around me. Knowing that we are all safe is my comfort. My heart goes out to all those families who lost someone close on this terrible day a decade ago. We must do what we can to keep alive the memories of those who lost and sacrificed their lives.

They tell us never to forget. But for me, on this day, it's impossible not to remember.

7 comments:

Yvonne said...

Ten years and I can still remember vividly, as if it happened yesterday. I can remember how scared, worried, and very frightened I became. Someone had taken over our country that day and dropped us to our knees. I never felt so violated and helpless as I did that day. I remember with you...

Botanist said...

Very moving account, David.

Kim Kasch said...

Ten years later...

Can't believe it's been that long. It painted such a vivid picture in my brain...we'll never forget.

Lots of runners today were wearing red, white and blue and carrying flags. . .

The Frisky Virgin said...

Beautiful, David. Tears are stinging my eyes--we will never forget. Ever.

David Batista said...

Thank for reading, you all. Emotions were running high when I wrote that, obviously.

Oh, I so can't *wait* for the day the WTC is fully restored and open for business. That'll show 'em! :)

Jennifer Hillier said...

I got chills reading this, David. So moving. Thank you for sharing.

May we always remember.

Alittlesprite said...

Very moving read. I can't imagine what it would have been like.

I have something for you on my blog.

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