One Morning in September

This morning, at 8:46am, the commuter train conductor asked for a moment of silence. Commuters looked up from our newspapers, paperbacks, Candy Crush, and into each other’s eyes, briefly . The silence was so profound, it felt alive. Seconds later, there was some sniffling here and there.

How many of my fellow commuters were in this very train 12 years ago? That morning, the trains stopped, then turned around, away from the City which would never be the same. Today, I saw my children off to second grade and Pre-K and hoped today is not the day they learn about that morning. Not yet.

Two years ago, I reminisced about my experience of that morning, ten years earlier. I share it again, in loving tribute to our City, which continues to stand tall and strong.

“What else is there to say about that day, ten years ago? I’ve read so many beautiful, touching posts and stories on 9/11. This is a day to remember. Ironic, in a way, because ten years have passed but the memories of the day are still fresh. The feelings, the sounds, the smell. I was a completely different person ten years ago. Only 27 years old, single, in graduate school in the world’s greatest city. As thousands of people began their work day at the WTC, my goals for the day were to register for unlimited yoga at the NYU gym, then buy some school books. I was an intern at a dance company. That evening, the company was going to perform in the Evening Stars festival, at the World Trade Center.

I took the subway downtown because the line for PE activities at the gym was usually pretty long. There was a man clipping his nails into a ziploc bag in the train. People were disgusted, and some switched seats. I got out of the train at Broadway-Lafayette. The moment I stepped out into the bright sunny day, I saw it. There was a large fire at one of the WTC towers. Groups of people gathered on Lafayette Street, watching. Nobody knew it then. We all thought it was an accident, that the fire was going to be put out and everything would go on as planned that day. I went into the gym to register for yoga. I did. I realize that sounds completely ridiculous. We didn’t know.

Waiting in line with fellow NYU students, I heard that it was a plane. A small private plane, an accident. I wondered if our performance at Evening Stars would go on that night. The tech people were probably already on stage, setting up lighting and sound. I got out of the gym, headed to the bank. That’s when I saw the plane hit the second tower. It was like slow motion. It was a large plane, and definitely not an accident.

Stunned, I continued on with my errands. I can’t explain that, maybe I was trying to hold on to life as it used to be even as it careened into a new reality. I stood inside the Citibank branch and saw on a TV that the Pentagon had also been attacked. At that point, I decided maybe it would be prudent to walk home. Walking across Washington Square Park, heading toward Fifth Avenue, I heard a horrible sound, nothing I had ever heard in my life. That sound meant destruction, a bomb perhaps? I started running and briefly looked back. The tower fell. That huge, magnificent building that I used to orient myself in the City – I have a notoriously lousy sense of direction, and often looked for the Towers, for I knew that way was downtown.

I ran up Fifth Avenue. My roommate, who was supposed to get on a plane that day, said my phone had been ringing and ringing. We were among the lucky. Everyone we knew and loved was accounted for that day. By afternoon, friends gathered in our apartment. My mom, who had been in NY days earlier watching an Evening Stars performance with me, was frantically following the day’s events in Brazil. She wanted me out of here. She suggested I rent a car, drive to Canada, and fly home. Just come home, she said. Crazy logistics aside, I just wanted to stay put.

I went to bed with the television on, afraid there was more to come. We woke up the following morning, and the smell permeated everything. If you lived here then, you remember it. A horrible, chemical, burning smell. There were ashes on the windows. Our apartment was very close to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where they expected the hundreds of injured victims. It was eerily quiet with no traffic below 14th Street. We could hear the occasional ambulance, bringing a rescue worker to the hospital. There were no victims to treat.

That week, the City that never sleeps slowed down, and people looked each other in the eye, checked on their neighbors and friends. The missing posters stayed on bulletin boards for months. We were all a little hesitant to get back into the subway, or any crowded space. The mayor urged everyone out, we should frequent restaurants and Broadway shows.  The tech crew for the dance company never made it to the WTC stage. They made a stop at the Joyce Theater to pick up equipment, and missed the first plane.

Within a week, I was back in classes and at work. I never left the City. Instead, I committed to building my life here. Six months later, I met my soul mate, and as we strolled during our first date, we saw the blue columns of light where the Towers once stood.

Our hearts ache for the families. Mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children. I think of them often. Thousands of people who got dressed and went to work, and never came back. One day we will have to explain that day to our children, who will grow up with the Memorial, instead of the Towers. How do you explain such senseless violence?

In loving memory of all those innocent people, and as a tribute to our strong, vibrant New York, our TV will remain off today. We will hug each other and our children tight, and be grateful for their lives. We pray they grow up in a safer, kinder, more peaceful world.”

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