Sunday, September 11, 2011
Where Were You?
Ten years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, I was on the subway in New York, heading from 86th and Lex to Grand Central Station as the world changed. I arrived at work, picked up my already-ringing phone, and heard my mom in tears asking if I was OK.
"Slow down," I thought. "What's going on?"
That sentiment was something I kept repeating to myself throughout the morning, as colleagues stopped what they were doing and huddled around small TVs, wondering what was happening and what was next.
I remember it being a bit of a panic in the office, at the New York Times Syndicate. We could see on TV that the towers were smoldering. Then we heard about the Pentagon, then the flight in Pennsylvania. What was next? The Capitol? The White House? Nobody knew.
Then the towers fell, and it was as if that were the last straw.
Some people in the office said we should stay where we were, that that would be safer. A couple of my friends and I just wanted to get the hell back home.
A few of us decided to go, and the streets were chaotic. Manhattan was on lock-down, and the only way to leave the island was on foot. I told my friend at work, Mary-Beth, who lived on Long Island, that she could stay at my apartment.
Tons of people were jumping on buses, us included. The subways were a no-go. We didn't have any change -- or maybe the exact change -- but the bus driver just said, "Get on."
I was amazed at how familial everyone became. We were helping each other get through a tragedy as it was unfolding.
The next day, after everything, there was still smoke billowing over downtown, as it would for days. The city was a ghost town. People stayed inside their apartments, cocooned in some kind of protective shell.
Then there were all the paper signs taped on poles and walls around the city and in Grand Central, signs of missing people. Had you seen them? Please contact their family.
A young man who I went on two dates with in college died in one of the towers that morning. So did the brother of a classmate from high school and the son of a colleague. How was that possible?
Ten years later, we're still trying to make sense of it all. But time has passed, and we've changed jobs, gotten married, had kids, and learned to live with the post-9/11 stress that comes with getting on a plane.
The world might have changed, but we're still here.