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.