I am deeply in love with this building. I’ve been snapping photos of the rise of the World Trade Center since the first steel beams poked up from the hole in the ground, back in Fall, 2009.
I lived in SoHo on September 11, 2001 and I’ll never forget the rancid air, the unspeakable smell and the pressing sadness all around me. In the weeks following that horrible day, I walked the city with my camera. Click here to see what I saw as I share my story of how I experienced 9/11.
On the day of we had clients in our 18th street office for a conference. The fellow who took care of things around the office ran in and said, “A plane hit the Empire State building!” Several of us calmly headed down the elevator and I remember hitting the down button and making some frivolous comments about the fact that some poor soul crashed his little plane into the building. Well, that was the final moment of innocence; when terrorism was just an occasional act that happened somewhere else, to someone else. I looked North and I breathed relief when I saw the Empire State Building shining bright white against that impossibly blue sky. Then I turned South and saw the long, fiery gash on the face of the North Tower. I immediately knew it wasn’t an accident. I remember saying to my colleagues, “we are being attacked.” I am obsessed with airplanes and knew that the pilot, even if he’d had a heart attack, would have put the plane down in the Hudson. The feeling was surreal when suddenly the second strike happened and a massive orange fireball lunged toward me. My colleague said, “I saw a plane. It was a 737. It crashed into the building.” I stood there and the streets went crazy. We all went back upstairs. I emailed my Dad, my Mom and my boyfriend and my friends were emailing me – I wish I’d have saved those messages. But then email and the phones went dead. Some of my colleagues leaped into action – we had a team in the building. They didn’t stop until every person was accounted for and luckily all were fine. I huddled on the floor in front of the TV holding onto my friend Janice. Some people say they’ll never forget the sound of my scream when the first building fell. After the second one fell, I could hear the terror coming up from 6th Avenue. What to do? When it seemed time to go home about five of us gathered at my SoHo loft. We had to clear a security checkpoint to enter the neighborhood below Houston Street. That evening we started drinking and smoking and we didn’t stop until months later. It seemed Marlboros and Martinis were the only thing that worked. We bonded in a strange way and to this day I still call some of those people close friends.
Work didn’t really happen during the next several weeks but we all went to the office anyway and offered support and friendship. I wandered the city staring at the sad posters, listening to emotion-fueled debates in Union Square and I heard the music everywhere — guitarists strumming Dylan in Washington Square Park, a lonely bagpiper in the Village, a cellist carving his sorrowful piece on a SoHo sidewalk and the patrons at a restaurant breaking out a loud and proud rendition of America The Beautiful. I stood outside the Lexington Avenue Armory, the first place set up for the families. I can still replay in my head their angry, anguished voices crying out for their loved ones. The vivid memory of the driver of a black SUV who abruptly pulled over demanding to know where Saint Vincent’s Hospital was. When I pointed West, they uttered “OK, ok, thank you, thank you,” and peeled away. A glimmer of hope amid so much sadness.
The sirens didn’t stop for days and days. I sat on the curb at Canal and Grand Streets and watched the Tribecan’s, or what looked like the walking dead, wheeling their big bags in search of a home. I watched the flat beds carting off huge, impossibly twisted steel beams; one after the other. I jogged by the spot where they loaded the debris onto barges and I noticed a hot water heater, barely dented — I thought about the water used by the people who perished with those buildings that day. I could peer down Greenwich Street and see the pile of the recognizable building facade, bowing gently sideways with ghostly haze of smoke dancing up to the sky.
I sat on my couch night after night, with Charlie, my traumatized cat (they said my building shook violently as each building fell), and cried. I couldn’t turn off the TV. I couldn’t shake the images of the horror scene that lay just about 10 blocks south. Eleven years later it’s still raw. I never work or fly on this day. I have the TV on and listen to the names and cry like it was the first time I’m hearing them. Even to this day on every 9/11 I walk the streets of Tribeca, my neighborhood now, and witness the families and first responders paying tribute to the lost ones. I did not know any of the dead but some of my friends lost husbands, fathers, friends.
Then somehow we recovered and life got back to normal. But I was forever changed, just like everyone else. The new building is a source of inspiration for me. It is a symbol of the beauty of the American people, our resilience, our optimism and our capacity to heal. It reminds me of my own strength and of my own resilience. It reminds me to live well each and every day and try to be a better person — the least I can do for the nearly 3,000 people who can’t live their lives because they were murdered that day.
Those buildings were our nightlight and they were often unnoticed. The new building is so much more than that. I see it anew each time I look up at it. I know this place is sacred and it will always remind me of my most profound human experience. When I see the building I feel a welling up of this utter humanness and I want to cry and rejoice all at once. I wish for peace on Earth.