On September 11, 2001, I was living in Berkeley, California. One of the things I remember most is the generous outpouring of sympathy for New York and the United States at the time, with Le Monde in Paris writing beautifully Nous sommes tous Américains: we are all Americans (translated version). Having lived in New York for two years now, what I didn’t fully appreciate then was the intense love that New Yorkers feel for the city. The towers themselves could be seen across the East River from the bedroom of my apartment where I live now in Brooklyn, which I know now because I see the Tribute in Light from that spot today. The city has become my own in the past two years of living here and I feel the impact of 9/11 in a way that I didn’t then.
Like most people, I had good friends in NYC at the time, and I caught a close friend working in midtown on IM that morning shortly after the second tower fell. I saved the transcript, and reading it now brings back the chaos and worry of that morning, the feeling of not knowing if the people you cared about were ok, and concern for the people who experienced such horror, mixed in with the human spirit of dark humor from someone who was in a frightening situation. I was lucky that my friends and loved ones were ok, but felt such a sense of sympathy and concern for those who weren’t sure about their love ones.
me: everything ok where you are?
friend: or relatively so?
friend: i'm shaking so hard i can't even see straight
me: i was glad to see you pop up on IM.
friend: i'm looking for [friend of his]
friend: who works downtown
friend: classic [big company] internet moment. i can't post new content to [the web site he was working on]
me: the internet is pretty much hosed right now.
friend: i was on the subway right as it happened, evidently. 8:45
friend: i was just in the WTC on Monday
friend: labor day
me: i'm staying at home. . . not risking driving over the bay bridge today.
friend: i'm gonna be sick
me: is there any way to get back to queens?
friend: don't know, the bridges are closed
friend: nothing stop sspam. i just got 3 mails to enlarge my breast size
me: not surprised.
friend: was outside. so much chaos
friend: not safe to walk around even up here
me: why is it unsafe there? just too much panic?
friend: too much panic and confusion and emergency vehicles
Our conversation ended then, but I at least I knew he was ok at the moment, if not very shaken.
At that point, the news from CNN got to be overwhelming and I hopped on my bike to ride up into the Berkeley hills from the flatlands where I lived. When I got up there (about 1300 feet above sea level), I took some deep breaths and took in the views of the bay that had always had such a calming effect on me. That day, I remember gazing at the Golden Gate Bridge and taking a photo of it knowing that it had been evacuated out of concerns that terrorists might fly planes into it or blow it up. Would I be one of the last to see it intact? I took some other photos that day, in part to document what that day was like but also because I was legitimately wondering if something might happen to alter the landscape that I was seeing, not to mention the lives of those living in it. I thought of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. These were strange and frightening feelings, but I had seen the towers fall on TV just hours earlier and the rumor mill of what might happen on the west coast was going at full throttle.
I visited NYC about six weeks after 9/11 and the memorials around the city brought me to tears many times. I remember coming across a donation station for food and treats for the dogs who were still looking for victims, and there was still smoke in the air downtown as the remains of the building smoldered. The city was very much in mourning.
My heart goes out to those who lost friends and loved ones that day.