On September 11, 2001, I went to work at a company that made stationary. In a semi-private room with stools at long wooden tables, the workers would fold paper according to a certain pattern. I was a relatively new addition to the team of women who performed these tasks.
Sometime after 9am that morning, someone said that a plane crashed in New York. Someone turned on a radio, and we sat at the long tables folding stationary and listening to the events in New York City unfold.
I was shocked. What the hell was going on? How could a plane crash into a building in New York City? New York City!
I strained to hear the details of what was going on while folding paper. I was the only New Yorker in the room. People around me listened in the way that people removed from a tragedy listen. I felt like my home was being torn apart, and it made me antsy. I felt more affected by the events than the people around me seemed to be. I felt a sense of terror, isolation, and aloneness.
When a second plane crashed, I started to panic, thinking of my sister S who lived and still lives in New York City. Then later, another crash at the Pentagon. I felt frantic, torn between an urge to do my work at a new job and a desire to flee the place immediately and run home to New York to be with my family.
With all the calls going into New York, the phone lines were jammed. After several tries, I was able to reach my sister who was working mid-town. She could see the smoke rising up from downtown, but she was far enough away not to be in imminent danger. If I didn’t go home, at least I could be a bit reassured that my family was safe.
The more I learned, the more shaken I became. The idea that thousands of people were murdered within a few hours on American soil by terrorists made me physically ill. People running down the stairwells. People doused by airline fuel and killed by falling debris. Firefighters and rescue workers flooding the area to do damage control and to save lives, some of whom died. People walking to get away from the disaster, deserting the downtown area.
September 11 is also my husband’s birthday. That night, we went to our go-to Chinese restaurant for dinner. The news was on the television. Staff and customers had their eyes focused on the TV. I couldn’t take it anymore. We had to get our food and leave. I cried before we even left the place. I couldn’t watch it.
Lives lost due to hatred. People just going to work, their futures cut short. Families devastated. I could barely handle it and I was over 200 miles away, my family was safe, and no one I knew was injured or killed. I couldn’t imagine what anyone in the area went through that day without feeling ill.
For many years afterwards, I refused to go to the World Trade Center area. The change in the skyline was a reminder that things changed. If you lived in NY, the World Trade Center Towers were one of the defining features. You knew where you were looking and what building it was.
On a high school trip into the World Trade Center, I remember taking the escalators up to the elevators. Our destination was the observation deck on the 102nd floor. You could walk right up to the thick glass windows that stretched from the ceiling down to the floor and beyond. Even though I was afraid of heights, I walked up to the glass and looked straight down. I remember standing there, the view, and the vertigo that kicked in. I walked back towards the center of the room and stayed far away from the glass, but I could still see the expanse of the New York City metro area, including Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey.
The NaNoWriMo writers critique group that I attend in NYC meets at the Whole Foods on Greenwich Street from which you can see the new World Trade Center. I still haven’t gone to visit, and I don’t think I will. The area has changed. We have changed. I am changed. I have no reason to go to the spot because I remember.
I remember what it looked like, how the site of the World Trade Towers made me feel. I was proud to be part of a beautiful city with impressive architecture and some of the tallest buildings in the world. I remember the view and the thick glass walls. I remember the helplessness, fear, shock, horror, disgust, anger, devastation, and the deep sadness.
I remember a floundering president who became galvanized, instituting world-changing policies and starting war in response to the tragedy. I remember a nation supporting one of its member states and its citizens rising to the occasion by giving support and offering to make personal sacrifices of their own rights in order to join the fight against terrorism. I remember New Yorkers focusing on the future, on rebuilding, on continuing with their lives as a big fuck you to terrorists. You won’t stop us. We will survive.
I remember that thousands of innocent lives were lost because of hatred. I remember heroes sacrificing themselves to save others. I remember the lives of the lost, and I remember the people who loved them. I remember love.