NYC: September 11th, 2001.
I had spent the summer in the Netherlands in 2001. I returned to New York when my Dutch boyfriend broke my heart. Before I was able to settle back into my East Village apartment and begin healing, more bad news came my way. We had to move. The lease had been sold to what would later become the chic East Village lounge, Pianos, whose second floor had been my first apartment in the Big Apple. I immediately found a sublet where I could mend my heart and figure out my next move.
“I’ve been living in this house for ten whole days now, but it feels like a month… I didn’t sleep well last night.”, I thought. I can usually sleep anywhere, even in a wooden chair.
“Perhaps I’ll try lying down the other way. Hmmm…everything feels backwards.”, I thought to myself as I went to sleep.
The apartment was a two bedroom apartment but my roommate, having rented out the two rooms, had turned the large living room into her bedroom. She had put up Japanese dividers and two cabinets in order to create a wall, hallway and her rent-free space. My uneasiness probably stemmed from the fact that I felt like I was always holed up in my room. There was no other area to hang out in that place. The kitchen was minuscule, leaving the bathroom as the only other option. I even had to keep my bike in my room. I felt like the walls were closing in on me.
“8:39?”, I thought as my body shot straight up in bed. Surprised to have woken up so suddenly and at that early hour. “Well, I’m up, I guess I’ll turn on the TV and get an early start to my day, maybe I’ll even…” My eyes tried to focus through my sleepy haze. Once my mind grasped what my eyes were seeing on the screen, I quickly awakened, in horror.
“Hey!”, I screamed as I ran towards the bathroom door where my roommate was taking a shower.
“A plane has just hit the World Trade Center!”
“No way!”, I hear her say as I run back to the TV to find out more.
My eyes were glued to the screen as I watched the re-enactment of events. I watched a black silhouette of a plane flying toward the twin towers. They explain the occurrence as an error with the R.A.D.A.R. system.
“It’s not a re-enactment? It’s another plane!”, I realized as I got up in my confusion to run back to the bathroom.
“Hey! Another plane has just hit the World Trade Center!”, I yelled at the bathroom door, then ran back to the TV.
A feeling of numbness overcame my body and it took months for it to dissipate. I imagined planes crashing all over Manhattan leaving it to resemble Swiss cheese.
I’ve never seen NYC so desolate. It was a ghost town that following day with random phantom tourists hauling suitcases to nowhere. All of the airports had been shut down and yet there they were, wearing dumbstruck faces with their footsteps echoing as they lead their suitcases along the empty sidewalks.
Central Park became my oasis. I walked around that park with my friend, walking off the fear and sorrow until we felt safe again. We walked up to 14th St. where Downtown had been blocked off and saw what we were feeling painted on the faces of our fellow New Yorkers.
A few weeks later when downtown had opened up, we joined the group of cheerleaders who stood on the West Side Highway cheering the fire-fighters on and applauding their courage and tenacity. It must have been mind-crippling to be in the midst of the continually-burning site of Ground Zero and digging up pieces of people who had been their fellow fire-fighters. Cheering them on was our way of sending them love which may serve as the fuel needed to continue the ever-challenging task at hand.
We visited the firehouses and gave our most heart-felt condolences. I noticed three different reactions to 9/11: extreme paranoia, profound sorrow or a calm-but-cold empathy. My reaction was the latter. I didn’t cry, my fear dissipated rather quickly and I felt a bit cold and numb.
A month earlier, over a million people had died in an earthquake in India. Horrible things, in fact, were happening all over the world but only when it happened to us did the world stop and react. All life is precious, not just American lives and so many other lives deserved the same reaction of outrage and sorrow.
Rage overtook me as I observed the negative side-effects. Right in my city were some of my fellow Americans being insulted, attacked or even killed, due to their Middle Eastern ethnicity. In my eyes, the ignorant people who unjustly committed these acts are no different from those who are responsible for 9/11, whomever they may be. I do not believe the stories that the 9/11 Commission released. I think each person who seeks the truth should research it. It’s easy to just accept what the media and the government proclaim. “The truth shouldn’t be told but realized.”
Although I was overcome with a numbness toward everything, I began to feel that my coldness helped to balance out the other reactions. I think that without the calm and collected people in NYC, the rest would have really gone mad. Slowly, New York City brushed itself off and stood up again as its people became warmer, more helpful and closer to each other. ‘Me’ turned into ‘we’, making the city bond.
Tears did eventually fill my eyes, but they remained where they had pooled, without pouring out. I had visited an art gallery in SoHo that was showing photographs of those moments. One will forever be engraved in my mind. It was a photo of a crowd, zoomed onto the looks on their faces. They were all in a shocked state with mouths opened in dread. I could feel in my soul what their eyes were focused on. What I didn’t know was that the world would remain focused on it until today.
My Big Apple bounced back stronger than ever…but it is due to its people, who gave NYC its strength by joining together.