Monday, September 11, 2006

My 9 / 11

As I was on my way to work a young man got on the elevator and said, "Isn't it sad? The plane flying into the World Trade Center?"

"Oh, really?" I asked. I mentioned that a plane had flown a long time ago into the Empire State Building and did my best to trivialize his concerns. I thought it must have been a Cessna.

On my way downtown, there was a lot of chatter on the subway. At the Port Authority Terminal, where I usually caught a bus under the Hudson to my worksite in Hoboken, more and more info bits and chatter flew around and a building hysteria appeared.

I found my bus, got on it, we started out the door onto the ramp leading to the Lincoln Tunnel, and we sat. A lady on the bus was explaining how she had heard that a plane had hit the Pentagon and that there were other planes. I'm not sure if I knew that the second plane had hit the towers by then - it was beginning to be all a blur. I was beginning to feel really glad that we had not gone into the tunnel and gotten stuck under the river.

I remember getting off the New Jersey Transit bus and taking a free crosstown bus to the west side ferry port, which has a boat to Hoboken. The boat had been stopped.

Manhattan had been cut off. The perimeters had been secured.

The free bus took me back downtown and let me off. I walked north up 8th Avenue among crowds of people, some very tired, many talking. The enormity of what had happened really began to sink in.

At 59th Street, 8th Avenue becomes the boundary of Central Park, and I walked by the park for a few blocks. Hearing a couple joyfully discover a friend from their floor in the WTC and then discuss together how the building had fallen, I wandered into the park.

There, there was greenery and light, yellow light, gentle light, and I could walk along paths under trees as I continued north.

After 30 blocks more or so, I reached my apartment building. My friend was still home - he had been wakened by a call from his beloved former stepmother, who told him to turn on the TV. Thank heavens he was ok. She, too.

We watched the rest of it on TV.

It took a couple of days before I could cross the river again. Guards were on the boats and buses, eyeing suspiciously the polyglot passengers.

The smoke from the fire continued for weeks. Winds from the west usually sent it over Brooklyn. It visited my neighborhood once or twice, so I have breathed that smell. Air that contained the atoms of those who had gone.

I could see the plume from the commons area of my workplace. A lady I worked with told me that she had been looking directly at the second building when it came down.

One of my clients at the site worked lunch hours at a charity with a friend who had died. Something about helping kids learn to read. She grieved, we grieved for her.

We all grieved. There was a pile of candles and flower there in the little park by the pier at Lincoln Harbor, mementos and farewells taped to the railing. I have video somewhere of the smoke plume flowing in the distance, the farewells in the foreground.

New Yorkers were not enraged. New Yorkers were saddened and grieved. They were also somewhat fearful.

For six months, we looked into each other's eyes. To see who was there. And so very often, it was to see if someone needed help, needed a listen, needed a hug.

After six months normalcy returned, and New Yorkers once again avoided each other's eyes.

The bagpipes' wail of Amazing Grace filled the large hall of the Port Authority Terminal for almost a year, if I remember correctly. It seemed that way, anyway.

The Saturday before the Tuesday that was 9/11, my friend and I had walked through the lobby of the WTC and into the Atrium, the large glassed-in area that contains giant palms and a great marble staircase many feet wide. We bought sandwiches and drinks at a take-out place. Onward, out through the Atrium to the docks and south along the sailboats and piers we walked, to a chessboard table with benches where we ate our lunch.

My friend was raised in view of the towers. Every morning when he walked out the front door of his building there they were, off to the left. Now they are missing.

But he's still around.


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