Saturday, September 09, 2006

September 11, 2001: A Reflection

The morning of September 11, 2001, I was up early getting ready to go to a funeral in San Antonio. One of my backyard neighbors who was sort of a surrogate grandparent during my growing up years had passed away. As my mom and I were getting ready, we had Good Morning America on, and breaking news informed us that one of the Twin Towers had been hit by an airplane. As we watched the first tower blazing with fire, we saw the second tower get hit by another airplane. A while later, we heard the news that yet another plane had hit the Pentagon and a fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. I began to worry that we would spend the rest of the day hearing reports about major cities throughout our country being attacked. We went to the funeral that morning and spent the rest of the day with our eyes and ears glued to the television and radio, as did the majority of America.

I lived in New York City from 1996-1999. I have many wonderful memories of the World Trade Center. All of these memories involve dancing. The top floor of one of the towers had a bar and a dance floor where swing bands would play. The view of the Brooklyn Bridge was awesome. My friends and I went dancing there several times. Miriam and Marion, two German girls who became close friends of mine, had a farewell party there before they returned home--it was there that the three of us exchanged inexpensive, plastic bracelets and promised to wear them until we saw each other again (which we did four months later in Frankfurt).

I spent part of 9/11/01 going through a mental list of people I knew who worked at the WTC. I found out that my friend Linda, was working at her company's Jersey office that day. My college friend, Stephanie, had a doctor's appointment that morning, and didn't go in to work. I am so thankful that their lives were safe. I was resting easy. No one I knew was harmed. Then panic struck when I rememered my old boss, Joel. He had gone to work for a new company since I left New York, and his new office was in the World Financial Center, right across the street from the WTC. Was he okay? I called his office. No answer. I called his home and only got an answering machine. I called his cell, but there was no service. For days, I didn't hear any news from him. Finally, about five days later, he and his wife made their way from the city to their country home where I had left messages, and he called to tell me they were safe.

I was surprised in the days following 9/11 that part of me really wanted to be back in NYC. My beloved Manhattan had been injured, and I wanted to be part of the healing process, or at least to be there to grieve with New Yorkers. I didn't make it back to the city for two more years. I happened to be there on the two year anniversary of 9/11. I didn't know what to expect when I went to ground zero that day. it was just a big, leveled construction zone. Buildings around ground zero, proudly displayed American flags. A cross made of scrap metal left from one the buildings stood as a humble reminder of the lives lost that day. People were reading biographies of those who died to honor and remember them. At night, two tall spot lights shone high up into the dark sky in a somber recreation of the skyline I loved. I soberly took it all in. I walked to the nearest payphone to call my old boss and got his voicemail. I intended to leave a simple message saying that I was at ground zero and I was remembering how concerned I was for him two years before. I ended up bursting into uncontrollable sobs as I tried to leave a coherent message. I hung up, feeling embarrassed. Joel called me back a few weeks later and said that he saved my message because it meant so much to him. Suddenly, I didn't feel so embarrassed anymore. It was just delayed grief, and he understood. He recounted to me the horror of that day. How his building shook when the planes hit. How awful it was to see such terror. How he couldn't look at the burning buildings anymore. He just had to turn around and walk home.

I call Joel every year on 9/11 just to tell him that he is part of my memory of that day. And to tell him that he is my friend, and I'm glad he is alive.


Buttercup said...

I'm glad your friends and former boss are safe, and I think it's completely understandable that you got emotional under those circumstances. I think it would have been hard not to.

J said...

I have a dear friend who works very close, saw it all..and her husband worked in building 4, whatever that was also destroyed. He got out, and was safe, but I remember trying to get through, to call her, and when I finally heard her tired voice on the phone, I burst into tears from relief. So hard.

Nice tribute. Thanks.