Sep 11, 2009

on september 11th

After returning from the gym this morning I found myself on facebook - perusing updates and photos - surprised to see that the only stati recognizing today as the anniversary of 9/11 - the most severe and tragic attack made on the United States in my lifetime- were from friends back in New York.
Lauren Saunders.
Dan DeRosa.
Mitch Weiser.
Lauren Gaita.
Karen Greco.
RJ McDonough.
and so on ....
It was only 8 years ago.
And I'm surprised at how this day comes and goes like so many others. Perhaps that's how an older generation feels about December 7, 1941.
I didn't have the presence of mind to record my experience then.We were all in shock. In a daze. Glued to the television for whatever scraps of information came our way.
I sat in Mrs. Ferguson's homeroom waiting for the pledge of allegiance and morning announcements. It wasn't unlike every other Tuesday. Senior year had just started, we were dressing in black shawls and posing awkwardly with roses to commemorate our last year of high school. We lived 30 miles north of the world's greatest city - at least in our opinion- in a small community, with a high school of 400 students.
That morning...
Mr. Ferguson came in - and though he naturally possessed a high degree of nervous energy- he seemed particularly rattled. He announced that a plane had hit one of the world trade centers, and no other information was known. It was 8:53 I think. They decided to play radio coverage of the event over the PA system. We heard play-by-play of the unfolding events. Then frantically, the announcers screamed "What is that, WHAT IS THAT?" and then gasps-yells-profanities …. as another plane crashed into the second tower. They witnessed it from the vantage point broadcasting from the top of the Empire State Building. There was no composure only raw emotion and incoherent fragments.
On the other end, we sat helpless unable to see what was happening, or understand why.
We students flooded to the library, one of the only places we could see live coverage, dumbed by disbelief, moving in silence and reverence.
Glued to the screens we watched as black smoke billowed from the towers and papers flew like dust from 110 stories. Family friends and survivors from tower 2 later reported what they thought they saw - a ticker tape parade. Had the Yankees won a game last night?
Firefighters scrambled the grounds of the World Trade Center, entering swiftly into Tower 1, ushering people away. Officials were there- it was over, or so we thought.
The streets were littered with shoes - left behind in moments of terror when our primitive instincts warned us to flee. And we did. The Brooklyn bridge was flooded with a tidal wave of unconventional runners- in suits and ties, in skirts and heels - glancing back now and again to catch one last image of a place where they spent too many of their waking hours.
We watched until the unimaginable happened.
Almost like water, the tower collapsed - we heard a massive roar. Mangled steel. Then the screen clicked off. Students began to cry and scream. We lived in a commuter town, where the majority of our parents boarded metro-north trains or maneuvered the narrow lanes of the Hen Hud parkway to get to work - many of them destined for the financial district. The school administration decided that watching live as neighbors and perhaps family members perished, was not in our best interest.
BUT we needed information.
We were corralled and herded to our appropriate classes. In Mrs. Mora's AP English class we sat round table in silence. We were free to talk about how we felt but for the first time, this group of eager over-achievers didn't have an answer for the question.
We felt naive. We felt violated. It was OUR city. We were scared. But we didn't have to say that. We all knew. We felt the same.
As is the case in so many high-school dramas, this being more severe than most, rumors were flying - and none of it confirmed as we weren't permitted to watch television.
More planes were in the air.
One crashed in D.C. - the pentagon was under attack and on fire.
The White House was next.
Indian Point, the nuclear power plant up the river from us, had been identified as a target.
We wouldn't survive the massive nuclear explosion when a plane hit the facility.
And it all seemed believable - planes had hit the towers and the pentagon - why wouldn't we be facing our own mortality in a nuclear strike?
The school was on crisis lock-down. No one was to enter or leave. We would sit until our next move was decided. So we sat.
Transit shut down. Parents were stranded in the city. Bridges had been blockaded. I snuck home and my mother and I sat in silence glued to the television - waiting for answers. I don't remember anything the news anchors said but the images of burning towers, and massive huddled messes of steel and glass are unforgettable.
In the following days we watched as firefighters searched through the wreckage around the clock. Their limbs were tattooed with permanent marker- social security numbers, names, engine company information- in case something happened. Because they were finding limbs. Hundreds of unidentified limbs. They used flashlights to navigate in the dark, responding to desperate calls for help. Survivors. Alive. Trapped under tons of steel and rubble. Unreachable. Unsavable.
Stacy's father, part of the city's bomb squad, was given charge to sort through the thousands of tons of rubble removed from the site to find those who were missing, now packed into construction dumpsters in Jersey. Gibby's father, a member of an NYC ladder company who had his one day off that Tuesday, rushed in to assist. His entire company was killed in the collapse of tower 1.
Downtown was covered in a thick layer of soot and ash.Grand Central was plastered with missing signs. Heart-wrenching notes to dads that didn't come home. Phone numbers to call in case you found someone's beloved who might be wandering the city confused, but alive. New York's hospitals were inundated.
The Daily News ran a cover picture the next day. Bodies flying from the top stories of the towers before the buildings were razed. It wasn't suicide. They had tried to evacuate but suffocating black smoke filled the staircases and when they bravely made their way down in the darkness - extreme fires on the lower floors forced them to retreat. There was no escape. They took their chances - a morbid leap of faith from the 80th floor. And we were all leaping- reaching- hoping for something.
I wanted nothing more for New Yorkers, in our state of dessimated unification, to continue our rally, to rebuild. To show the faceless cowards who attacked us that when you knock us down, we get back up. For more reasons than I’ll ever understand, we didn’t. New Yorkers in high-rises fled to lower, safer buildings. Fashion and artisan areas became popular office sites. Putting every business egg and employee in one basket or building was no longer a good idea. We weren’t getting back up. We had suffered a severe loss – too shattered to spit in the face of the opponent.
Our lives were consumed in the coming months. We were all personally affected and as a result, we will never forget.
Today Ground Zero sits as a concrete platform, abandoned. A ghost town.It's just a Friday. The weekend is here. College football is on.But take a moment to think about it because it still hurts my heart.
Don't think it's because I'm from New York.
Don’t think that Californians or Alaskans or Canadians came away feeling unscathed.

They didn't crash planes to West Point or Fort Knox.
They didn't dress in fatigues or declare their purpose.
They hijacked carriers full of fathers and sisters, husbands and daughters.
They aimed at civilians headed to work to pay their rent in Chelsea or Murray or the Upper West Side.

They came for me and you.
It was an attack on America.
On Democracy.
On Capitalism.
On Civil Rights and Suffrage.
On the ideals that allow us to live with the freedoms we enjoy.
It was my city and our country.
Tell me where were you.
Tell me you didn't forget.


Morgan said...

I haven't forgotten. I was walking in to the Tanner Building when I saw a large group of people watching the TV in the top entry area. I wondered what they were watching so I stopped to see. Everything seemed so surreal. I can't believe that 8 years have passed already. It doesn't seem that long ago.

laura said...

I said last year that being in New York City today feels like being at a funeral for a friend's loved one--almost like I'm an intruder on someone else's grief, because it's something that is so personal to so many New Yorkers.

I remember driving to early-morning seminary in California and hearing vague reports of some kind of attack, with the details still sketchy. In my first period photography class, my teacher Mr. G--a big, gruff guy with a bushy beard--burst into tears and had to leave the room. We spent the rest of our classes that morning watching TV coverage, and went home at lunch to watch more.

I've read many accounts of those who were in and around the city that day, and it never ceases to affect me. Thanks for sharing yours.

Laura said...

Today we are flying a flag here in sunny California in remembrance of the tragedy and heartbreaking sacrifice of brave New Yorkers. Even though my little family was living hundreds of miles away from Ground Zero, we felt the earth shake when those towers went down. We felt solidarity with New York City. Our nation was united, perhaps for the last time in this century.
Thank you for sharing your experience!

Ryan and Laura said...

I was sitting in the cannon center eating a quick breakfast before heading to my Econ class. It was so unreal that I don't think I knew what to even think until later that day. One of those moments in time when you want to know exactly where every person you love is. Thanks for reminding us Noelle. I wonder if my boys will ever understand what that moment was like. I love your style- you made me remember the pit in my stomach that day, and how it taught our generation what patriotism really is.

noelle regina said...
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Ashley said...

I can't stop crying.
Thank you so much for writing this.
I was in Mr. Miller's French class and I still remember every moment of that horrific day.

Tim and Sara said...

I was also driving to early morning seminary when I heard something about it on the radio. They didn't realize it was an attack at the time, I was half asleep and didn't get what was happening, so I turned off the radio. My mornings were pretty hazy during high school. I went to seminary, where no one knew what had happened, then went to school and knew something was wrong when I saw people in the parking lot, crying. By then we had more information and we all watched the footage on TV. For me the worst part was watching the people leaping from the towers - everything else was so surreal and unthinkable but then you saw these individuals, and thought about all those people.

How our world has changed since then...and how many more Americans have continued to fight and die for those freedoms. Now my little brother is a Marine, being deployed this month, possibly to Iraq or Afghanistan. Not something we would have predicted 8 years ago.

Even if you don't support the war in Iraq, support our troops and our new returning veterans! They are fighting a very different kind of war and they are coming back with hurting hearts and minds as well. We enjoy a safety and peace that others in the world have never known, thanks to the sacrifice of brave men and women.

annie said...

I don't think I've ever commented here, but your post today is so powerful that I can't help but share. From Florida's capital city, I sat in a chapel service, shocked by the news that was breaking as we sung praise songs and played guitar. For the rest of the day, we were glued to the TV. One of my best friend's aunt's worked in the towers, and she was scared. We all were scared. Because on that day, New York just didn't seem that far away.

Amanda and Matt Dalton said...

Noelle- thank you for writing about this. It is so strange, living in LA, no one really understands or seems to care today. It's kind of unbelievable. Maybe that's because it was so close to home for me, growing up in New Jersey?

I was a Junior in calculus class when we finally heard of what had happened- one tower down- and we weren't allowed to turn the tv on. I sat wondering what would happen next. Would attacks happen all over Manhattan? My Dad's office at the time was @ 57th and 7th- and I wanted him to get out of the city ASAP. Even from his office he heard the explosion and ran to a window and could only see thick smoke rising out of downtown, afterwhich he grabbed his things and ran for Port Authority to get out of the city and get home- but it was too late. Transit shut down. He was stuck until late that night, lucky to get out even then with limited transit service. I also snuck out of school and once home, also sat in silence with my mom around the tv while they played the horrifying video over and over, all day long, all week long. It was too much and to this day when I see a shot of the towers in an old tv show or movie I cringe because of what I saw and felt that day. It was a horrible day and a changing point for the world, and I wish everyone showed a little more respect. But maybe they don't understand because they weren't as close to it?

Amanda said...

I was driving to school listening to the radio. But they didn't have more information until we got to school. Then we sat through AP history class just watching the TV. It was so surreal. After Columbine a few years before, I think everyone was just waiting. Waiting to know. Waiting to understand. Silence reigned over the school. One of the pilot's sons from flight 93 went to our high school. News spread quickly. So many New Yorkers have such tragic stories from that day. There seems to be so little that we can really do to fix the pain, or change the outcome. I guess remembering it is all we can give. Thanks for the poignant and beautiful reminder Noelle.

noelle regina said...

i love all of your stories. thank you for sharing... Colorado, California, Utah, Florida ... it's amazing for me to know what you were experiencing. like multiple-screens of the same event. in school, at church, in the car... i've leaked reading each of your stories. thank you.

siovhan said...

This made me tear up.
I haven't forgotten.
I hope I never forget.
I still get goosebumps when I think about it.

I was sitting in English class. We were beginning a free write -- when another English teacher stormed in the room and says, "The World Trade Center has been bombed." We were aghast and sat locked to the television screen as the second plane hit the south tower.

As the details of the day unfolded and we learned these planes had left from our city ... and caused so much harm ... we all rushed home to be with our families. I will never believe this only affected New Yorkers. I will never believe it affected just us East Coasters, or Northerners. It was that day that affected Americans.

Thank you for this. So much.

Shea McGee said...

This made my eyes really wet.

I was in Calculus class - and I distinctly remember what it felt like to have my heart stop and feel so sad for all the families that would never be the same.

Nicole Nascenzi said...
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Nicole Nascenzi said...

Thank you for writing this - well said. I too was surprised how many people didn't seem to remember what today really stands for.

I was in a newsroom in Tulsa, OK, a journalist working on the paper's first special edition since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, trying to find my NYC-based sister between calls to sources. My sister, who was an EMT, could have been one of the first responders that day, but thankfully fate kept her away.

Lejdja said...

Noelle, your post really touched me today. I don't think you know me, but I enjoy reading your blog.
Eight years ago, I was in my native country-Albania,having lunch with my family( since we are 6 hours ahead of NY)when my mom turned on the TV to watch the afternoon news. We were terrified of what the news were saying! We couldn't believe at our eyes and the entire time we were thinking that the planes crashed into the towers by accident. 9/11 is a day to be remembered not only from New Yorkers and Americans, but from all those people around the world who believe in democracy!

Shannon Low said...

I had a baby girl 28 days before this tragedy occured...thus I was experiencing tremendous joy in my personal family life yet viewing anguish from afar as it all unfolded on a TV screen.

Teri said...

Thank you for such a well-written tribute and memoir to the tragedy that is now known as 9/11. I was awaiting a phone call from my husband who was in DC on a business trip. Little did I know he would call to tell me he was alive and fine, not just how the meetings were going. He was in a building just down the street from the White House and was unable to get home for several days.
I will never forget. The images are permanently in my mind and in my heart. I love New York for more than just one reason!

Angie said...

Beautifully written post. I got chills reading your experience and remembering my own. I was in 9th grade seminary class, and Brother Esplin told us a terrorist attack had happened at the world trade center. We assumed it was something smaller, like a car bomb outside. Then in second period Biology we watched live on TV as the towers fell. I will never forget what I felt watching as people jumped from the windows, and others wandered the streets, covered in white ash. It was horrifying, it was unbelievable. I went to my friend's house after school and we watched the news for hours. I'll always remember that day, the fear it caused and the patriotism it inspired. Thanks again for your post.

The Mendenhall Clan said...

i was in beauty school and sterling and i just started to hang out. he drove up to costa mesa that day on his lunch break and took me on out first official date. i will never forget that day....

Jalene said...

this was beautifully written. thank you so much for sharing.