The city I love, and the day all of our hearts were broken

It was a gorgeous fall morning in NYC. My son’s first day of preschool. My husband was already at work training on the Upper West side and my son and I were going through our normal morning routine. I was watching the Today show and he was playing with his dinosaurs. When all of the sudden: “special report — an airplane had collided into one of the twin towers” my son points at the tv “look at the airplane, mommy!”, “yes, honey, but this isn’t good”. In my mind I’m thinking, “they can fix that, can’t they? It’s just a hole in the building”. At this point, no one realized this was an attack — just a terrible, horrible accident.

We all know what happened next. Isn’t it etched in our minds and hearts forever? My heart aches every time I think about it. I called the school: “hi there, are we still having school today?” the lady says: “well, why wouldn’t we?” I say: ” haven’t you heard about what just happened? We’ve just been attacked . . .” silence on the other end. She says: “well, we’re still having school — the children need to be at school today and we need them to feel safe and as if nothing has happened”.

So, we walk out the door. Sirens are everywhere — hundreds of people on the street, bumper to bumper traffic. Everyone’s faces look distraught, frightened, lost. The buses aren’t moving — nothing is moving, so we keep walking toward the school. Entering the school should have felt like such a momentous occasion — I had been on the wait-list for a year. But today, my son’s first day of preschool seemed pretty insignificant. I’m not sure I even took a photo. All of the parents were in shock — most of us with a spouse somewhere downtown and no way to reach them.

I’ll never forget walking the streets that day — everyone with tears in their eyes and looking to anyone who would gaze back with a knowing glance. Never in my years of living in this city did I ever lock eyes with someone else, not until this day. The city would be changed forever.

I sat in front of the tv for hours, biting my nails until they bled. The images of the airplanes crashing were being played over and over on the tv, the sirens continued outside. I couldn’t take it anymore —  I had to get out and go for a run. And I felt weirdly guilty that I was going to go do something for myself instead of sitting and grieving. I ran past car after car of people trying to escape the city as I played my iPod full volume to block out the noise. As I reached the path along the Hudson, I looked at the trees and the surrounding beauty to help calm me. What would we actually do if we were really attacked? Like with bombers and men with guns? These were the questions in my head. There was a clearing in the trees ahead and I could see the river and something that looked like a gigantic boat — I stopped in my tracks . . . it was a Navy gun boat. At that moment, I truly felt the magnitude of what had happened. We were at war.

Laying in bed that night, the city was eerily quiet. Usually you can hear airplanes flying overhead, cars honking, people talking. But, not tonight. Except for the sirens. I hugged my husband tight — suddenly everything that I thought mattered disappeared from my mind. I just wanted to be with people I loved. I had crazy dreams that night . . . people running, me carrying my son and running down the street away from men with guns — we finally hid in a bathtub and were safe for the moment.

The next night I went down to Union Square to meet friends. We saw Zoolander. We needed to laugh. Everyone in the theater seemed to hesitate even when Ben was at his funniest. But, it was so great to be with friends — just being together was such a comfort.

I would take the subway to work the next day . . . many people were literally sobbing out-loud. There were knowing glances between everyone and I had this feeling of solidarity with all of these strangers. On the street were hundreds of posters: “Missing, Lost mother, have you seen my brother?” Heart breaking because we all knew those people were gone.

The smell on the street was unbelievable. I knew that I was breathing in toxins from everything burning — and a deep dread in my stomach that much of what we could smell were people’s bodies that had literally been incinerated. (I can’t believe I just wrote that — but it went through my head a lot).

I will never ever forget that time in my life. I watched my city change in a moment — once known for its abruptness, now there were actually billboard signs saying ” bring back the old New York, be rude again”.

I can’t believe it’s been ten years. And I curse those terrorists every time I’m at the airport standing in my socks. But I can’t imagine the heartache of the people who actually lost loved ones that day and what they must be feeling. The only good I feel that came from this unspeakable horror is a sense of humanity that I had never felt until that day. That despite our differences, we have all suffered a great loss together and we will do everything to not allow something like this to ever happen again. And regardless of how lonely we can feel, that we are never alone.

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