10 years

September 11, 2011 |  Category:   life nyc

I wasn’t sure if I was going to write anything regarding the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 because there’s been so much coverage already leading up to this day. But it also feels weird not to acknowledge it, you know? I’m also not sure if I’ve completely processed it yet, something that I was made keenly aware of when Mia’s first grade class made a field trip to our local firehouse on one of the last days of school a few months ago. I was a chaperone and during the talk that a fireman was giving to the kids, I heard that sound. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. That high pitched beeping sound. The city was quiet except for that sound. You can hear it in all the footage. It was haunting and eerie. We later would find out that it was a personal alert device that goes off if a fireman isn’t moving for 30 seconds or so. Then you realized that all of the beeping were actual people, the firemen, who were no longer moving.

I was not in New York on September 11. I wasn’t even in the country. I wrote about this briefly on the blog a few years ago. I was in Venezuela, on a business trip, and to this day I still shake my head at the fact that I wasn’t at home that day. What are the chances? I don’t travel much, not even for work, and that was the first time I had left the country since 1987. I really wish that I had been here. As surreal and scary as it must have been to have witnessed everything that went on in the city that day, it was also surreal to have been in a completely foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alone in my life.

I first heard the news when I was about to get on a helicopter to fly to a private plantation owned by the client. Someone from the office told us that a plane hit one of the towers. We didn’t really think anything of it then, just that it was odd. We had already forgotten about it by the time we landed at the plantation, but then as we toured the property one of my colleagues mentioned that she overheard one of the farm workers telling the others that the towers had fallen. We sort of laughed about it thinking that the story was already getting wildly exaggerated, but then when we got to the kitchen we saw that people were huddled around the TV. And then I saw it. The towers came down. The tears were immediate and I started crying. I don’t think any of us could believe that the towers had really collapsed.

It would be some time before we could fly back home and I believe that we only got on the particular flight that we were on because the client had some influence to get us on a flight as soon as they could. Tracking down family proved to be difficult that day, but I later learned that my dad was on the N train crossing the river to Midtown when the first plane hit that morning. Mark had just started a new job at Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant, Aquavit. He walked home later that morning from midtown Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge like thousands of other people trying to get home. All I wanted to do was stay in my hotel room and watch the news, but the client thought it would be best to distract us by booking these guided tours to a few tourist destinations around the country, including the hometown of one of the artists featured in our project, and we flew to them via commuter plane. Getting on an airplane was the last thing I wanted to do unless it was one that took me home, but we couldn’t say no. We were their guests. I understood and appreciated their efforts, but it was really hard to keep emotions and fears in tact and go along with everything without bursting into tears. We also tried to resume meetings, but really, who could concentrate? It wasn’t until I got home nearly a week later that I could finally exhale and let go.

There are a few distinct things that I’ll never forget about that week. One is that high pitched sound. The other is finally coming back home to NY, riding in a cab across the Verrazano Bridge into Brooklyn and seeing the billowing smoke for myself. The 3rd thing is really so random, but the show “Friends” was a source of huge comfort during my nights alone in the hotel room. I guess because it was something from home and it was a relief to hear a language that I understood. I also knew these characters and the familiarity of that show kept me grounded when everything else was so unfamiliar around me. The 4th is this wooden animal sculpture that my colleagues and I each bought somewhere during our travels in Venezuela. I still don’t know what it’s supposed to be of (a mole? a nutria?). The sculpture is the size of a small animal and we struggled to pack it, eventually having to buy an additional small suitcase to make the animals fit. We laugh about it now – what were we thinking? Why did we think it was so important to bring it back home? But sometimes you need something to focus on, no matter how ridiculous, to get you through your journey.

We were driving on the BQE last night as we were going to my mom’s and I pointed out the WTC tribute lights beaming up to the sky as we had a nice view of the lower Manhattan skyline at dusk on our drive. It really struck me how pretty the city looked. I realized then that I wasn’t ready to tell the girls about that day yet. I think they are still too young to understand. How could they when so many of us are still struggling to understand? It’s hard to admit, but I’ve gotten used to the towers being gone 10 years later. It was so strange to lose them that first year. When you were downtown, the towers were always visible, always there, like an anchor. If you were disoriented, you could locate the towers to reorient yourself, and that was the thing. I think we all felt so lost without them, more so than we realized.

I know everyone has their own story. Mine isn’t particularly special and it isn’t particularly tragic. I didn’t lose anyone I knew personally. I even feel a little funny writing this down when I know so many people are mourning real losses today. I wasn’t even in NYC on 9/11, but the truth is, we all lost a little something that day.

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  • Seema September 11, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Absolutely beautiful post Jenna. Normally it’s the pictures that take my breath away, today it’s your words. It was a horror, watching those towers come down, a loss for everybody that day. You capture the sentiment beautifully.

  • Em September 11, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    This is a lovely post. I think you have captured a loss we all understand. I couldn’t be further away from New York but I remember that day 10 years ago vividly. My daughter had just started school and my first instinct once I finally understood it was really happening was to to go and get her. I think everything just stopped as we all watched in disbelief that something so unthinkable had actually happened.

  • Sarah September 11, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    I think your story is just as important and it is so important to share it. I had big tears running down my face.

    As an Australian, I didn’t quite realize the impact until I visited NYC 3 years ago and went to one of the churches that acted as rest/refuel stop for the firemen. There was a grown man there, howling in pain at the memory at what had happened.

    That memory will always be with me just as my heart goes out to every person that was and is still affected by this monumental tragedy.

  • katie September 11, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    eloquently stated.

  • tara thayer September 11, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    jenna. your last paragraph is all you – any of us – need to say or write or believe.
    tara thayer (whom you do not know.)

  • Susan September 11, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Yes, absolutely…that last paragraph says it all.

  • Kiana September 11, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Jenna, thank you for this post. As always, it is beautifully written and deeply personal. I have just written a post myself on what this day means to me. As a Persian American, I have such conflicted emotions about September 11th and its aftermath. Ten years is a long time, but where hatred and discrimination go, unfortunately we haven’t progressed much as a nation. It’s so important that each of us share our stories and document our memories as best we can so that we can learn something from this terrible tragedy and hope to gain some compassion and understanding for our fellow human beings. Thanks again.

  • Claire September 11, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I truly think we all lost something on 9/11. I was still in high school on the other side of the world then and our class was going to take a trip to Harvard for a conference that November. We would have flown on the same flight from New York to Boston that crashed into one of the towers. It was surreal. Now that I live in New York and consider it my city/ my community, my emotions do get stirred up on 9/11 each year even though I didn’t live/ belong here when it happened.

  • Emma September 11, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    I’m Australian and I remember that day like it was yesterday, being woken up by my flatmate who woke me and all of us huddled around the TV wondering how people could go on after that.

    It really doesn’t seem like ten years ago.

  • Caddy September 12, 2011 at 12:13 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. I was still in elementary school when 9/11 happened. I’ve been reading New York Magazine’s coverage with a big box of tissues next to me. Such a sad day.

  • Sally September 12, 2011 at 2:36 am

    Thanks for sharing your story Jenna. I’ve only known a few people from New York & have never heard their experiences on that day. You really convey your feelings so well. I always start to wish I could ask a question & then you give me the answer. I can only imagine the pull you must have felt to be there. To help. To grieve with friends. To try & absorb it. After watching a wonderful documentary tonight I kind of felt that way. I feel closer to your city than ever before. And a deep ache for the great loss we all experienced –but most of us from afar.

  • Manya September 12, 2011 at 3:49 am

    ..and ever since then some people made us live under the word “fear”, controlling us in any way possible supposedly “protecting” us, but getting deeper and deeper into our lives….fear controls…..

  • Jennelle September 12, 2011 at 5:01 am

    I was in New York during 9/11 and though I didn’t lose anyone that day, it was still such a significant loss. This years anniversary has really hit me the hardest … maybe that’s the result of being so far away from home during this time. Added to the fact that I’ve been following all the recent news coverage up to the minute.

    Oh and that sound you mentioned. It still gives me chills just thinking about it.

  • Mariana Veloso September 12, 2011 at 8:25 am

    10 years ago (9/11), I was in a small village in the north of Portugal. We were just starting a family lunch at a local restaurant , when someone came to our table and told us that a plane hit one of the towers. We immediately run to the TV to watch the news and tried to understand what was happening. I can’t really describe what we all felt when the second plane hit the other tower or when the towers collapsed. Most of all, I can’t describe what we felt watching all the images and listening to all the reports of that day and the days that followed. In some way, we were all americans at that moment, we all felt for your losses and “we all lost a little something that day” – some innocence and a sense of freedom that was, somehow, stolen to all of us.

    There are still many questions unanswered about that day and about what really happened. I don’t know about you and the majority of the american people, but here (or for me, at least), there is still the feeling that the whole truth has not yet been revealed.

    I watched part of the tribute ceremony yesterday and, like 10 years ago, I could not hold back the tears. The WTC tribute lights seem beautiful and it is a very peaceful homage – and I think that what we all need right now in the the world is a more peaceful everyday life.


  • anon September 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    I too was out of the country on that day. I was outside on a peaceful evening stroll with my family when an uncle called to tell us a plane had flown into the WTC. I immediately thought it must’ve been an accident. We rushed back to watch the news and we all gasped while watching the second plane hit… just the thought of it brings me to tears even now. We were scheduled to fly home on 9/12 but didn’t make it back until the first flight available three or four days later. Even though I don’t live in New York, the feeling of not being home was like a surreal helplessness. How could I not be there right now? I need to be there! My country is suffering. I feel so alone. I watched CNN like a zombie for probably 48 hours straight. I also ate McDonald’s for every meal since it felt like the only thing that would help me feel closer to home.

    All the non-Americans we spoke to in those few days following 9/11 were extremely sympathetic, even though this was not their country. People truly banded around us to offer support. And even so, their lives continued on normally while mine felt like it would not.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and emotions.

  • twiggs September 12, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    well, i loved your post anyway… because as always you know how to write in a beautiful way, but always so straightforward! i am not an american, nor i live in nyc, however i have visited nyc for 3 times now, being the first one when i was only 12. and nyc has always been my favourite city in the whole world, and i have traveled quite a bit, since i am european and it gets easier for us to travel around! i feel at home in nyc and i never had this feeling again in any other city than my own. so, when i saw the breaking news… my heart stopped because that place, i knew so well, was being destroyed. though the towers are no longer there… i know what you mean about having them all the time and having a different skyline. the last time i was in nyc i visited the empire state building and it’s different. the beautiful thing about going up… was going up the towers… to see the whole city and the empire state building, not the other way around. and i didn’t visit ground zero… perhaps because it would feel strange. have a lovely week and thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  • Sara September 12, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    I was in the DR, with my bags packed because I was moving to the US permanently on 9/13, my flight was coming into the JFK. I was awaken by my aunt saying the world was ending and I was just sleeping. I always thought she exaggerated everything, but then I saw what was happening. I didn’t make into the States until 9/18… and there was still a silence to the city, and the smoke still tainted the skyline. Thank you Jenna for sharing.

  • lissa October 4, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    jenna, this post was beautiful. I was Claudine’s age when the towers came down, and i still remember that day vividly. Every year, I watch the memorial documentaries and such, because it is so important that the human element is shown and that that day is never, ever forgotten. This year, reading about the firefighters coming from all over the world to stand in solidarity with the NYFD who had lost their brothers… i sobbed at my computer. And the picture of an enormous American flag being unfurled on the platform-thing across from the Eiffel Tower by Parisians in the pouring rain…. Though our stories aren’t tragic, we are affected as anyone. all memories of that day are so necessary and important. thanks for sharing your story.