Sep 11, 2011

September 11, 2001


(saw this photo at ARM's blog and had to share. via dearphotograph.com) 

(this is an old post of my September 11 experience.  a decade has passed since the most horrific attacks on american soil this generation has seen. today, new yorkers walk the streets under a high alert terrorist threats. terrible men planning to attack again. i've been watching coverage, interviews, commemorations and remembering all week.)

Ten years ago 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 almost 9:00 am. 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 fell - we heard a massive roar. Collapsed 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 were 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 decimated 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 is a beautiful tribute with commemorative waterfalls, artifacts, and the long list of people lost.  It's just Sunday. The weekend is here. College football is on. But please take a moment to remember.
. 
It's not because I'm from New York.
Californians, Alaskans or Canadians were all hurt by the attacks.

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.
I remember those who climbed the stairs. I remember those who lost their lives. I remember September 11.




5 comments:

Us Three and Daisy B said...

What a wonderful remembrance of this unforgettable day. Being in New York on September 11 had to have been unfathomable. I can't even imagine the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings. An amazing story for the rest of us reading...it is a day that will never be forgotten. Thank you for your story!

Elle Keeps Moving said...

such a beautiful post. thanks for sharing your experience. i think it's especially good for those of us who were not in close proximity to the attacks to hear from others who were so we can feel more a part of it and be unified with those whose lives were more intimately touched by it.

Marisa said...

Every time I read this I just can't stop. Very well organized. (That sounded like I'm grading a paper, but I mean it.)

flexMD said...

thanks noelle. this is a treasure to pass on to your grandkids. thanks for sharing it with us.

Lindsay R said...

what an awesome picture and incredible post.

i can't even imagine what it must have felt like to be there.