Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2001

I was at a gym on Mercer Street near Bleecker, about a quarter of a mile from the World Trade Center. My friend Patty and I were on stationary bikes and we looked up at the televisions and noticed that there was a close-up of a building with smoke billowing from what appeared to be a hole. The caption read something like "small plane accidentally hits World Trade Center." People started gathering at the TV's and I decided to leave the gym and see what it looked like for myself.

I went down to the locker room to get my stuff and told a few women what had happened. One of them had a friend who worked at the World Trade Center and she took out her cell phone to try to reach him. He didn't answer.

I left the gym and there was a crowd of people standing on the street. I said something like "Strange accident, right?" And a man said to me, "It's no accident. A second plane just hit the other building." I looked downtown and saw massive amounts of smoke billowing and stood there for a few minutes in shock. Then I started running down the street to get home. I went into our fifth floor loft and Steve wasn't around. I found him on our roof, with his camera. He told me that he had been sitting in his studio and he heard a really low plane go by overhead and then he heard the sound of the crash a few moments later. My office had a small window that faced downtown Manhattan and he could see the smoke coming from the north tower. He ran up to the roof and brought his camera with him. While he was up there, he saw the second plane crash into the south tower. We listened to the transistor radio Steve had brought up the roof. I looked through the camera lens, but Steve had warned me that he could see people jumping from the windows and I didn't want to see that. Soon we were joined by a few neighbors. I had a therapy appointment on the Upper West Side scheduled for 11:30 and I called my therapist to tell him what had happened. He thought I should come anyway, but I didn't want to go anywhere at that point. We hung up and I looked out the window again and then I believe my phone rang and someone was calling from L.A. As we spoke, I suddenly felt something like an earthquake and our connection was cut off. I looked out the window and just saw smoke - I'm not even sure that it registered in my mind that one of the buildings was gone. I ran upstairs to the roof and then I could see that the south tower had collapsed. We all watched in silence mostly, with the radio on, stunned. Our daughter, Zoe, who was in 8th grade then, was at school, and we were trying to decide if we should go and get her. I went downstairs again to our loft, heard some loud voices from the front of the building and I could see people running up the street covered in gray ash. And then I felt another huge vibration and I ran back to my office and saw even more smoke and knew that the second tower was gone. I called my therapist and told him that both buildings had collapsed and he didn't believe me at first. He said, "That's impossible."

We decided then that we should go up to Zoe's school and pick her up. We walked there, not knowing if the subways were safe, if all of NYC was going to be under attack, not knowing what the hell was going on. The school was totally chaotic. A friend of Zoe's parents both worked at the World Trade Center and her brother went to Stuyvescent High School, which is nearby, and she didn't know at that point that all of them were safe. We brought Zoe and her friend Willa home, stopping to buy some water, and then we gathered in front of the television. I don't know exactly what the girls were thinking and feeling at this point, it was probably too much to take in. I know it was for me. It felt like a dream.

We heard about the Pentagon and the plane in Pennsylvania. I honestly don't remember anything about the rest of that day. I remember a few days later, going to a candlelight vigil in Little Italy with our friends and neighbors and baking cookies for the fire station near our home. They had lost something like ten firemen, as I recall. What I remember most from that time, from the weeks afterwards, was the smell that lingered for so long, and the sadness that engulfed the entire city for a long, long time. I also remember a feeling of community and compassion in the city that I'd never experienced before or since. It was the best and worst of times.


anniemcq said...

Joe-Henry was ten months old, and my sister-in-law called and said "we've been attacked". I thought she meant that SHE had been attacked, then I figured it out and turned on the tv. The first words out of our mouths were "Robin, Steve and Zoe"
And every anniversary, I think of you guys, as well as the families who are no longer complete. Hugs to you.

Mia said...

A coincidence, though perhaps not such a huge one, given the time of day: I was at the gym too!