Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I Heart NY

File:I Love New York.svg
image via Wikipedia
This post, written by me, was originally published at MomfiaInc last year, on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

File:Wtc arial march2001.jpg
image via Wikipedia

My husband and I lived in New Jersey in 2001, right on the Hudson river, across from Manhattan. We’d been in Europe that summer on vacation but I flew back on September 10th because I was in graduate school and had to start class on the 11th.

It was an absolutely beautiful morning, so I’d decided to drive into the city, going through lower Manhattan into Brooklyn, instead of taking the subway, which would have passed right under the WTC at around the time of the attack. When the first plane hit I was already sitting in my classroom, catching up with all my friends after the summer. Our classroom actually directly faced the WTC, but they’d built a dorm right next to us over the summer which *just* blocked our view of the towers. When our professor delivered the news (she’d heard it on the radio in the office) and I looked up and saw the gigantic column of smoke and debris rising outside. Then I looked down and saw scores of people, just running down the middle of the road, screaming. Many of my friends lived or worked near the towers, many of them lost people they loved.

When I looked around the room there were only about 8 of us left sitting there-the rest had fled to try to find out what had happened to their spouses, family members, co-workers and friends. I don’t remember anybody saying anything, maybe we did, but in my memory we all spontaneously got up and started walking to Brooklyn Hospital to see if we could help.

When we got there, you could have heard a pin drop. Two orderlies ushered us into a windowless store room, deep inside the building, with about a dozen other people and some folding tables. They told us to wait there, that they’d let us know when they needed us. About a half hour later, two visibly shaken orderlies came in and said, “We want to thank you all for coming, but the ambulances have started to arrive and what we really need right now are these folding tables. Here’s a map to the local blood bank, please go and register there and someone will contact you if they need you.” Then they left. We made our way out into the hallway and couldn’t believe our eyes. Thousands of seriously wounded people, all covered in ash and drywall dust and particles of acoustic tile. There were so many of them that the staff had dragged their office furniture into the corridor and were examining people on desk chairs and old typing tables. When we got to the exit, the line of ambulances stretched as far as they eye could see.
Brooklyn Hospital  (Image via Wikipedia)
The blood bank was right on the East River. To get there we had to pass the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, where many thousands more were being evacuated. These people were also seriously hurt, but because they could walk they were evacuated on foot, saving the ambulances for those who needed them more. I’ll never forget how gentle and compassionate all the emergency workers were that day, from the hospital staff to all the police who remained so calm, so organized. There were countless lives saved that day because these people kept their heads, even though they had no way of knowing if there would be more attacks that day. My friends and I registered at the blood bank, hugged and parted ways.

Eventually I was allowed to cross the Manhattan bridge back onto the island. For the entire walk across the bridge, I had a direct view of the Statue of Liberty with what was now Ground Zero behind her. When I got to Canal Street (I guess about ¾ mile from WTC?) the fumes were so bad that they scalded my throat and I was hoarse for days. That didn’t stop the people who lived there, or owned businesses there, from spending hours standing out on the street to offer water and food to the mass exodus of people walking uptown.

I heart New York.  (image via Wikipedia)
I walked all the way up to 34th St, on the opposite side of the island, where I’d heard they might be running ferries back to New Jersey. Again, anyone who had a boat on the waterfront showed up to take people across. I ended up on a “dinner cruise” ship with about 50 other people, watching the devastation from the Hudson river now. At one point the wind shifted, the column of smoke dipped down and we all gasped when we saw the hole in the skyline and the last flaming facade of the WTC that still stood.
File:WTC-remnant highres.jpg
What we saw from the boat. (Image via Wikipedia)
By the time I got home it was about 7pm. I immediately called my husband back in Italy, who’d been panicked all day. He kept asking, “But it’s not ALL gone, though? Right? It can’t ALL be gone. How?” I kept saying that yes, it was all really gone. It was about 9:30 that night when I finally saw the video footage of what had happened.

In the weeks that followed the site continued to burn. New York City was plastered with “MISSING” flyers made by people who’d lost contact with their loved ones in a desperate hope that they’d been evacuated and unable to contact them. I remember still being able to smell the fumes in lower Manhattan that Christmas.

For months after the attack, whenever I saw the Statue of Liberty represented in any way, I would completely go to pieces. That doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but in New York City one sees the Statue on coffee mugs, t-shirts, snowglobes and more all day long. I’ve gotten to where I can handle photos now, but video footage still has that effect on me. And I haven’t been able to bear looking at the actual Statue with my own eyes since that day. My daughter hasn’t asked me about it very much yet, but of course it has come up. I tell her it was a very, very sad day but that many people were saved because the city came together so quickly and so well.

One sight from that day that frequently comes back to me is the carpet of papers that littered the streets of lower Manhattan. Faxes, invoices, memos-all these papers that people had probably lost sleep about the night before that were now as insignificant as confetti. I try to remember that whenever I get too caught up in the little daily hassles of life and keep my priorities in check.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years. I’m still deeply sad for all the victims and their families. There’s been so much that come out of that day, both bad and good. Mostly though, I’m profoundly grateful to be marking the anniversary with everyone I care about safely under one roof, and that’s not something I’ll ever take for granted.

1 comment:

Isabel Garcia said...

Margo, thank you for sharing your personal experience on that tragic day. So many precious lives were lost. They will never be forgotten.