Fifteen years ago, I was 22 years old and living in New York City. Five years later, I decided to write down my memories in a journal. Despite my desire to edit it for today's world (and what I hope is now a more mature writing voice), I have left it as originally written, only excluding a couple of names. I will #neverforget Here's what I wrote:
September 11, 2006
It has been five years since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and I have realized that I never wrote my personal history of the day. This has weighed on my conscience for five years and I am afraid that I have already forgotten some of the details I wanted so badly to remember. I'll start at the beginning.
The alarm went off that morning at the usual time and, as was usual for me, I hit the snooze button one too many times and was running late for work. I lived in a beautiful prewar building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (It even had a name: The Alden.)
I said a hurried goodbye to the doorman (I think Norman was working at that time.) and walked briskly to the subway. The subway stop was only a block from my house (81st and Central Park West). IT was warm. I was wearing my khaki flat-front, bootleg pants with an olive/hunter-green short-sleeved collared shirt with flat mother-of-pearl buttons. I had remembered that morning that I needed to start wearing fall clothes, since Labor Day had passed and fall was on the way.
I skipped down the subway stairs and admired the tiling, all clean and in mosaics of animals — perfect for the Museum of Natural History at the top of the stairs. The stop had just been finished when I had moved in one year prior (September 1, 2000). It was my favorite stop in the city — all clean and pretty. My favorite game was to find the hidden letters in the animals (a "Y" in the whale's tail, etc.).
I admired the tiles as I moved down to take my place at my usual spot. I watched impatiently as an A Express train whizzed past on the inside rail. I tried to calculate in my head to see if I could catch it at the 59th Street/Columbus Circle stop. Very doubtful. I still had to go through 72nd Street.
Once the train arrived, I squeezed myself onto it, just like I did every morning. I became a pro at squeezing into very tight places in public. Some days, I imagined myself as a Supreme. The car was packed so tightly that the slightest rock of the car would cause us all to move in a clump, like choreography.
I got off the train at the 42nd Street/Port Authority stop and met up with my travel buddies. There were two men in particular that I saw every morning. One, a young, handsome African-American man whose wife had just had a baby and an Asian man who looked to be in his late 40s.
When I emerged from the tunnel, I found my friends at our normal spot waiting for the ferry bus. As usual, it was nowhere in sight. This morning, however, things were different. Everyone was looking at the smoke coming from Lower Manhattan. We peered through the tops of buildings and all discussed which building was on fire. It looked pretty bad. We hoped everyone was getting out.
All around us, sirens were wailing. Fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances were all racing downtown. There were so many sirens that we could barely hear each other. They were all heading toward Riverside Drive — the route our bus would take. We heard a loud boom and looked up to see another smokey cloud come from the tops of the buildings. The fire was worse that we thought. It seemed to have hit a gas line, we thought.
The ferry bus arrived and we made our way to the NY Waterways terminal. We stood outside and craned our necks to see what was happening. At that point, a man in a brown suit wearing glasses (slight of frame with brown hair) snapped his phone shut. "A plane hit the World Trade Center," he said. "Oh no! That's terrible! What a tragic accident!" we responded.
His cell phone rang again. "Another plane hit the other tower," he said. "What?" we asked. Surely, we surmised, it must have been a news helicopter or a smaller plane that got lost in the smoke. Yes, we agreed. That must have been it. "How sad! What a terrible accident!" we said as the ferry pulled up.
We boarded the ferry in our usual way. My spot was always at the front of the ship so I could feel the wind in my hair and on my face. We pulled out of the dock and started to make our way across the Hudson River to Lincoln Harbor in Weehawken, New Jersey, where our company's headquarters were. In fact, our buildings were the only buildings there. They sat like two blue glass cubes overlooking Manhattan.
It was a common comeback to the question, "Why would you go all the way to Weehawken for work?" We would answer, "You can't beat the view."
As we came around the bend in the river, we had a clear shot of Lower Manhattan. What we saw took our breath from our body. On any given day, our boat would carry around 50 people at a time. As we looked at the World Trade Center, not a soul so much as whispered. What we saw were two gaping holes in the building. Black smoke poured out of them into the perfect, cloudless sky. They looked like a child who had lost its front teeth.
All at once, the silence broke. People began frantically fumbling for their cell phones. Screams started, "My wife works there!", "My daughter works there!", "Oh my God!" Over and over again. I was relatively separated from most of this, being so far to the front of the ship. There was another girl my age, Sarah, standing with me. We talked calmly about what we saw. I don't think either of us fully appreciated that moment.
As we approached the dock, the captain of the ship announced that our boat would be the last one to leave New York and that all of the ferry boats were being asked to report to the World Trade Center to help evacuate people. Some people ran off of the boat at full sprint speed; some walked at their normal pace; I walked faster than usual, but did not run, something I regret in retrospect. I did, however, wish the ferry gate operator, Edwin, good luck. We all hurried inside to see what was happening. After all, maybe other people didn't know what was going on.
The scene in my department was somber. My co-worker, Shannon, was crying in her office. I said hello to my manager, Mike, and asked him if he knew that the World Trade Center was on fire. He said he did and directed me to the conference room where The Today Show was broadcasting the scene of the second plane hitting the second tower. In the days, months, and years to come, we would all see that footage over and over again until we were numb to it. Seeing it for the first time was unfathomable. How could this have happened? What exactly did happen?
I hadn't been to my desk yet. I logged onto my computer and checked my voicemail while it loaded. The first message was from my parents asking that I call them when I got to work. I could tell they were worried, but were determined not to sound worried. The next call was from my cousin Bridget. She sounded very worried. I called them both back to assure them that I was fine and out of harm's way. I would call them back later when I knew more. I turned to my computer. I had several instant messages — all AOL — pop up on my screen asking if I was all right. Two friends from college and sister-in-law-to-be were all waiting to hear from me. I sent the same first line back to all of them: "My God."
I was busy recounting what I was seeing and hearing when I heard screaming. A group of women who had gathered in an office across from my cubicle had just seen the first tower collapse. They had screamed. Five seconds later, screaming came from the conference room where another group had seen the same thing on television.
One woman, Stephanie, was so horrified by what she had seen — the close-ups of the people in the open windows fall when the tower collapsed — that she had to turn away and cry at her desk. Shannon was doing better. She was worried about the girl whose position I had filled. Melissa had been working in the World Trade Center for almost a year and had not been heard from. Finally, a call came through. She was okay. Her cell phone couldn't get service and most of the pay phones were broken. Melissa's father also worked at our company, as the head of the mailroom. Hearing that Melissa was okay was one piece of good news..
More screaming. The second tower fell. I went into the conference room to watch the news. The Pentagon was hit. Another plane crashed in a field. It was supposed to hit the White House. What was going on? Bombs were reported at the Sears Tower in Chicago. A car bomb had detonated in front of the Supreme Court. Mike and I turned and looked at each other. Was this Armageddon? Why was everything being bombed? As it turns out, the last smattering of news reports was incorrect. Those places had evacuated and put up anti-bomb barriers. The newscasters were so flustered that they were reading anything anyone called in without verifying it.
When the (false) report came in that Chicago had been bombed, I frantically called my fiancé. His cell phone was off. I left a frantic message to call me. I didn't hear from him. An hour or so since arriving, an announcement was made: evacuate the building. Send everyone home. But I couldn't go home. The police had closed all bridges, tunnels, and trains into the city. a pretty blonde girl, Jolyn (no sure on spelling), asked if I wanted to stay with her and her husband. I took them up on the offer.
As I was getting ready to leave, Vineeta, a project manager in my department, came in looking completely panicked. She was so upset at being late and was trying to explain that the ferries weren't running but she didn't know why and that she had taken the PATH train instead. Clearly, she hadn't heard the news. Someone led her to the conference room. She sat in stunned silence as she watched the horrible images.
It wasn't long after this that the head of marketing came down to our area to discuss the practical implications of the disaster. The news had announced that the financial markets would not open and would remain closed until further notice. She was concerned that our company's investors would be worried about their investments. She asked that a member of our group stay at the office to regularly update the online marketing site with information as we received it. Shannon and I were the only two people in the office who knew the software. Since she loved close to the office, she volunteered to stay.
Pretty soon, our office started thinning out. Mike was particularly perplexed about how to get back to his family in Pelham, New York from Weehawken, New Jersey now that the entrances into Manhattan (and Grand Central Station) were closed. I left with Jolyn to go to her apartment with her, her husband, and their cat.
i had been working on making a Christmas stocking for my best friend's husband. It was almost finished when I left my apartment that morning. Generally, I would work on it on my commute to and from work. In the middle of the commotion of that morning, however, I hadn't worked on it at all. It went with me to Jolyn's house.
The three of us sat in Jolyn's living room watching the coverage on television. It was on every channel, even the Cartoon Network. We watched as Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings (and Katie Couric on the Today Show with Matt Lauer contributing) all showed replay after replay of the towers falling and people running down the powdery streets. We watched as President Bush addressed the nation and as Mayor Rudy Giuliani learned in a press conference that a friend of his had been on one of the planes.
I made phone calls. My fiancé finally called. He'd been in a law school class and had no idea what had happened. He was on his way to his sister's apartment in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood where his father and sister were waiting for him. He said that he had cried when he heard my voice on his voicemail, relieved that I was alright.
I was able to get through to my friend, Solange, who had been in town that weekend visiting a childhood friend. She had planned on going to the TKTS (discount theatre ticket) booth in the World Trade Center that morning to get half-price tickets to a Broadway show. (Locals knew that the line was always shorter than in Times Square.) She had been walking to the subway to head downtown when she passed the Metropolitan Museum of Art and decided to start her day there instead. It was a decision that saved her life.
I got in touch with all of my friends: Amy, Kiley, Amanda B., Suzanne, Ann. I talked to my future mother-in-law who was relived to hear my voice, even though her daughter had told her I was fine. I checked in again with my parents who were glad to hear that I had a safe place to stay for the night. Both of my brothers were also relieved to hear that I was fine.
The only friend I had not been able to find was my best NYC friend, Amanda S. She was working for a different major financial firm whose offices were a block or so away from the World Trade Center. I was most worried about her, as I knew that she was very close to the site. I finally heard her voice that afternoon. She had walked (in her high heels) from her office to her home (East 48th Street and 2nd Avenue). She was exhausted by the walk and also horrified by what she had seen. Being so close to the World Trade Center, she saw people jumping from the roof to escape the fire. She was walking home when the towers fell and had to run for shelter from the flying debris. She was clearly shaken from her experience and I remember thinking it odd, as Amanda is usually unflappable. She wanted only to go home to her parents' house in Weston, Connecticut. She planned to go the following day, assuming correctly that the markets would stay closed. (The following day, I called her parents to tell them what Amanda had seen and to expect a shaken daughter.) I said a prayer of Thanksgiving that my friends were all safe. They each have their own stories. Suzanne crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot to get out of Lower Manhattan.
My attention went back to the news. At this point, everyone suspected that the event was actually an attack on the United States by a radical Islamic terrorist group: Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden. Suddenly, it seemed very clear that the whole world had changed. An attack of this size meant war. The United States would be entering a major war for the first time since Operation Desert Storm back in the early 1990s. I thought about my friends who had joined R.O.T.C. in college. They would all be deployed. All of them, of course, knew this was a possibility when the joined, but it seemed so far outside the range of possibilities. Now it was very much reality.
From Jolyn's apartment, the view of Manhattan was indescribable. Her apartment was along the Hudson River and, on a clear day, you could see everything. Because it had been such a glorious, cloudless day, every detail of the city was visible. A hazy cloud had formed over Lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers had stood only hours before. As time went by, the cloud began to spread across the city. It was almost like a smoggy snow globe, contained to the city limits, stopping at the water's edge.
Before long, we heard loud, thundering noises. Out of the blue, fighter jets were cruising up the Hudson River, patrolling the city and its airspace. Seconds later, views of the fighter jets appeared on television. All the airports had closed; all flights had been grounded. The fighter jets had been instructed to shoot down any aircraft in the area. Hearing the jet engines had been alarming. I immediately thought of the civilians in World War II who had lived with air strikes for years. If my reaction was this strong after one attack, what must life have been like, living in uncertainty day after day?
As the day wore on, we became numb to the news. I finished the stocking, but couldn't bear to put the date on it, so I left one stitch undone to complete the following day.
After the sun had set, Jolyn's husband announced that he could not watch the news for one more minute. We had hit our limit of seeing the images over and over again. We searched in vain for something else. It was on every channel: the Home Shopping Network, children's programming, Turner Classic Movies, everything! We wondered what parents with young children were doing. Was it better to try to shield children from the disturbing images being replayed endlessly? Or was it better to watch the coverage with the children explaining that it would be a day in American history, similar to Pearl Harbor or J.F.K.'s assassination?
As it turned out, in the weeks that followed, a mixture of the two viewpoints emerged. My best friend from home was stunned when she started to make a reference to the attacks in one of her classes and was quickly hushed by the children in her class. One child in the class had not been told (nor had seen) what had happened and the child's mother had requested that the teachers not discuss the attacks in front of her child. My friend was stunned and had to quickly change the reasoning behind her lesson plan of patriotic songs.
After we had turned off the television and were getting ready to go to sleep, the neighbor in the unit below Jolyn loudly played a recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner." It was a recording of a solo electric guitar (possibly Jimi Hendrix). It was twilight (the sun was still going down) and the city's hazy cloud still hovered over (mostly) Lower Manhattan. Outside the window was an American flag waving against the city. It was a moment and a scene I will not forget.
In the middle of the night, after finally drifting off, Jolyn's cat jumped onto the couch (and subsequently onto me). We both scared each other and accidentally work up Jolyn and her husband who were asleep in the loft upstairs. What a weird way to end the day!
The next morning, Jolyn and her husband offered their place to stay again. I thanked them for their generous offer, but, at that point, I desperately wanted to go home to my apartment. The news was reporting that people who lived in the city and had been stranded for the night were either walking through the Lincoln Tunnel to get home or taking the one ferry that was running from Hoboken, New Jersey (the town next door to Weehawken, where Jolyn and her husband lived).
Jolyn's husband drove me to the ferry. The honored my company commuter pass and I was soon headed home. It was a somber ride back across the Hudson River, all of us looking at Lower Manhattan as we crossed over into the New York Waterways dock. I boarded the ferry bus as we arrived. I took, as usual, the 57th Street bus to Columbus Circle, but nothing about my ride that morning was typical. The streets of Manhattan were nearly deserted. It was like riding through an entire movie set. Practically the only people on the streets were heavily-armed policemen, carrying machine guns and dressed in riot gear. The subway was equally deserted. All the shops and cafés were closed as I made my way home. (We had called and verified that our company would be closed, as well as the financial markets.)
I arrived at my building in a bit of a fog, desperate to take a shower and change clothes. I had found a copy of the New York Post on the subway seat and had taken it home with me.
I was greeted warmly by the doorman, who was happy to see that I was alright. I called my very nervous parents to say that I had gotten home safely. I checked my answering machine and heard that my rehearsal for Godspell had been cancelled the night before. (I had figured as much.) I finished the stocking, made myself some lunch, and watched more of the news.
Not much had developed overnight, but stories about whole units of firemen being missing were a common news item. Hundreds of people, including my friend, Amanda B., had given blood at multiple Red Cross triage centers near what was now being called, "Ground Zero." Expecting to be swamped with badly-injured people, these triage centers were sadly never used. Those with injuries (mainly terrible burns from falling debris) were taken directly to the hospital. Rescue workers tirelessly worked day and night, hoping to find survivors trapped in the rubble. At first, the rescue workers were thankful for the beautiful weather. They could work quickly without rain. But as the days wore on, the debris in the air started to become unbearable. Workers started to have trouble breathing and, as the "rescue" effort turned into the "recovery" effort, we all prayed for rain.
By the time Monday morning, September 17, came, New York City was going back to work. The financial markets, as well as our company, were reopening and I headed back to work. The air was still thick with debris. I, myself, was having trouble breathing. Many New Yorkers walked down the streets of Manhattan with slim construction masks covering their noses and mouths. Everyone was sold out of masks quickly. The rest of us tried to make do with napkins.
I remember particularly walking to the train with other cast members following a Godspell rehearsal at St. Bart's (50th and Park). My eyes burned in the night air. My nose filled with a burning smell — like the first few seconds of church incense catching fire. Even covering my nose and mouth with a napkin, it was hard to breathe. (I later was diagnosed as having developed temporary asthma due to the air.)
Returning to work was odd. Falling back into old patterns felt completely new. The journey seemed like someone else's; my eyes seemed like a stranger's. The trip was the same, but everything was different. Everyone was quiet. There were no loud quarrels, no loud phone conversations. Makeshift memorials had begun to appear at every firehouse.
Most alarming were the homemade flyers of missing people. The New York Waterways depot was covered with these flyers. Many family members believed that their missing loved ones had escaped the Towers' collapse and had received head injuries causing them to be confused. After all, no trace of them had been found.
These missing faces stared at me from every subway station, every utility pole. They stayed up for weeks, months. As time went by, it was clear that these missing people had all died. Yet, even as December wore on, no one took these, by then, faded pictures down. I felt, as I'm sure others must have felt, that it wasn't my place to determine that the young mother of four or the middle-aged Hispanic husband were, indeed dead. It wasn't my place to remove a family's hope.
In the weeks following the attacks, New York seemed like a different city — its whole personality changed. An overwhelming air of sadness surrounded everyone. I found myself riding a packed subway car in which you could nearly hear a pin drop. In my head, the tune, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hand" played over and over.
I felt the attitudes of everyday New Yorkers changing around me. As I was walking through Times Square to catch the train after rehearsal one night, a young African-American man and his girlfriend were run into by a blonde man of around the same age (both late teens/very early twenties). As was typical in New York, words were exchanged. Each accused the other of not paying attention when walking. Things escalated. I was certain that a fight would break out. I even started to reach for my phone, in case I had to call the police. To my surprise, however, the African-American man stopped the quarrel by saying, "Look, man, we got bigger problems. People just bombed the World Trade Center." The blonde man agreed and they hugged on the street. The African-American man complimented the blonde man on his beautiful girlfriend and they both continued on their way.
When I returned to work on Monday morning, I was surprised to find an exhausted Shannon still at the office and in tears. Mike sent her home. Apparently, the head of the department had required Shannon to stay at the office (or very nearby) to update the site for the entire time the markets had been closed, including the weekend — a total of six straight days. Shannon was desperate to see her mother who lived several miles away in New Jersey. Sh had been able to sleep at her fiancé's apartment during the week, but had been in the office by herself every day. Now that the ferries were back up and running, I could take over for her. Mike was furious at the department head for not showing any compassion to Shannon. He let his feelings be known, a move that would later haunt him as she used it against him politically. I remembered being thankful for Mike as a manager who had his priorities in place. Certainly family comes before a website update.
The fact was, investors didn't bombard their brokers with questions about their accounts. All of their personal finance matters took a backseat to the news following the attacks. Patriotism swept the country. American flags were everywhere. "God Bless America" replaced "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the seventh-inning stretch. (Even now, years later, "God Bless America" is still included at most ballparks.) Celebrities recorded "We Are the World"-type songs, most notably the remake of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?" Fundraisers sprang up around the nation for the families affected by the attacks and, in particular for firemen. Several ladder companies had been wiped out entirely. Hearing "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes on the evening news was a regular news item.
Not only did patriotism see a huge rise (I remember the flags of many countries in Rockefeller Center being replaced with all American flags and the stores on Fifth Avenue changing their window displays to reflect red, white, and blue, often with somber messages), but international support poured forth. Countries all over the world sent personal greetings and their sympathies and pledged to stand with America.
To me, one of the biggest changes I noticed was the rise in faith and faith-based discussions. As someone who attended church regularly before the attacks, I was unprepared for the mass quantities of people suddenly filling churches on Sunday morning. My own church, which had a very large sanctuary, was standing-room-only for the weeks following the attacks. People were looking for answers. "Why did this happen?" Or, more specifically, "Why did God allow this to happen?" were questions heard over and over.
Faith-related emails forwarded from one to another jammed my inbox, many of them thinly veiling the idea that, as a society, we had shut God out and that we got what we deserved. Of course, those who voiced that opinion more loudly were fired from their jobs or ostracized (like Bill Maher, who suggested that Americans' frivolous behavior is exactly what the terrorists were targeting). When people would say to me that they didn't understand why God would let something like this happen, I would try to reply that I believed that we were given free will from God. The terrorists chose to use that free will to create destruction and murder thousands of people. But that I also believed that God had not abandoned those people on the plane, in the towers, in the Pentagon, or their families. We don't know how everything works. We don't have all the answers, nor should we.
Given the outpouring of faith, it was a perfect time to be doing Godspell. Before the attacks, we had been told that the performance would be in the sanctuary instead of the theater attached to the church. All of us were concerned about playing in such a large space. After all, in the sanctuary, a hundred people in the congregation looked more like a handful. And, while St. Bart's Players was the oldest community theatre company in New York City, its audiences didn't draw Broadway-sized crowds.
After the attacks, our nervousness about the audience size increased. Several shows on Broadway had shut their doors temporarily. No one was coming into New York to see a show. Theaters, shops, and restaurants were all suffering. The city launched a campaign to bring people to New York. The President of the United States urged people to fly, to go shopping, and, in particular, to come to New York and help save the economy.
As it turns out, we need not have worried. The audiences for the two weeks of the run were the biggest in St. Bart's Players' history. People flooded in to see the show and the sanctuary didn't seem empty at all.
I had performed Godspell in college, only a year before this production. This production, however, changed completely after the attacks. Lines like, "Love, love, love your enemies. And pray for your persecutors," took on a whole different meaning. In the Beatitudes section, I had "Blessed are they who mourn." To this day, that was one of the hardest lines I have ever ha to deliver to an audience. Every night, I wondered how many people had just lost someone close to them. Singing "All Good Gifts" as an ensemble and "Day by Day" as a solo were particularly touching.
Our cast was a mixture of people from different faiths. Several cast members were Jewish and I having conversations about their concern for the Muslim people in the U.S. Soon after the news report had been released that the terrorists were all radical Islamists, a widespread effort went out to make sure that Muslim people in the U.S. were not make the victims of hate crimes. Information about Sunnis vs. Shiites flooded the Internet. No one wanted to see a repeat of America's treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Much criticism has been heaped upon the Bush Administration in the following years, but I applaud this act of tolerance early. It set the tone for open discussion in America.
As for discussion, the Jesus in our production of Godspell was cast as a woman, Courtney. (Also in the cast was her husband, Ward.) Having a woman as Jesus was uncomfortable for me. It went against so many years of Sunday School. And even though my priest from home had taught us that the Hebrew form chosen for "God" in the Bible was neither masculine or feminine, this was hard for me. Many audience members remarked how much more vulnerable a female God appears. Godspell was carefully written to avoid names. The Jesus character is never called "Jesus." It is the teachings of Christ put forth in an abstract improv-like setting until the end, when the Christ figure is crucified. Seeing a woman nailed to a cross was very difficult for a lot of people. We are not used to seeing women treated this way and it is not the typical image of a male Jesus on the cross. But perhaps this is why it was a moving play. Perhaps Courtney's portrayal did show what it must have been like for the disciples to see their gentle Christ, their teacher, on the cross.
Courtney and Ward were both practicing Christians. A very good friend of theirs had recently been married. After getting out of a terribly abusive relationship, their friend had fallen in love with a wonderful, caring man. They had married three months before the attacks. He worked at the World Trade Center and had not come home that night. His wife and family were keeping vigil, hoping for his eventual return. Courtney and Ward brought food to the family, as they waited in vain for any sign that he had been spared. As they were leaving, Courtney asked her friend if there was anything else she could do for her. The friend asked if Courtney could please sing "Amazing Grace." In Courtney's retelling of the story, she said that God's hand must have been on her shoulder as she sang. She got through the first verse without falling apart. She hugged her friend and left with Ward, who promptly asked her why she didn't sing the last two verses. She replied that getting through one verse took all of her strength and that she knew she'd never get through the other two.
Stories like this connected me to New York. I felt a bond with the city. There was a feeling of camaraderie. We had all been through this horrible thing together.
Not long after Godspell closed, I looked back on the past month. I had many visitors during the run of the show. My fiancé had come for opening weekend, reporting that the airports and airplane were nearly empty. His sister and their cousin came the following weekend to explore the city. My parents flew in from Dallas; they weren't going to miss my New York City debut! Of course, my mother admitted to profiling everyone on her plane and thinking about the different ways she could stop a terrorist in his/her tracks. (After the news broke that the plane that crashed in the Pennsylvania field was full of passengers who fought the terrorists, "Let's Roll!" became a popular phrase and everyone thought about what they would do in the same situation.)
My fiancé was disappointed that his birthday gift to me, a prosciutto basket, never reached me. Even by late September, shipments were not reaching New York. I thought he had forgotten my birthday. He thought I had forgotten to call when I received the basket. Even years later, he still gets angry when he thinks about the mission prosciutto basket.
After the show closed, I nervously boarded a plane bound for Dallas to attend our engagement party. It was wonderful to be at home surrounded by friends and family, but I felt a great homesickness for New York. I was glad to get back.
Of course, things never go according to plan. My apartment flooded, ruining a large portion of what I owned, and forcing me to live in a hotel until Christmas. At that point, the decision was clear that I should move to Chicago. Economically, it made sense, but I felt torn. This was not supposed to be the way it ended. This was not the plan.
I shipped my slightly damp things to Chicago and tried to enjoy my last days as a New Yorker. I saw the Rockettes' Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall and the musical version of A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden. I shopped on Fifth Avenue and visited the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, still surrounded by American flags. I told myself that living in a hotel was glamorous — like Eloise at the Plaza.
When I boarded the flight that would make me a "former New Yorker," I was emotional. I cried all the way to Dallas. I felt like a traitor. How could I leave this city that had given so much to me? How could I leave it now when it needed me so much? Would I ever share that kind of connection with a place again? The answer was "no." Now I know that the relationships I have with places are special in their own way, but there will never be another relationship for me like mine to New York.
For anyone who was there that day, for anyone who witnessed the attacks, there will never be another bond like that. I think about my friends who have moved to New York long since the attacks and the aftermath have faded from everyday memory. Yes, they feel a connection to the city, but I have a hard time believing that their experience has bonded them to the city and to other New Yorkers the way mine did. Or anyone else living there at the time of the attacks. Have they witnessed two strangers hugging in Times Square due to a common city-wide unity?
Even now, I have a hard time returning to visit New York. I still have wonderful friends there and still feel a connection to the city, but things have changed. My life is in a different place now. My heart is with my home. I have often said that New York is a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit. Time has healed that sentiment. I love going back, but it will never be the same for me. I have accepted that and I give thanks for the time I did spend there.
So, that's my story of the attacks and my memories following them. Even though years have gone by, I still find the memories fresh. Maybe some things don't leave you. All I know is that one whiff of newly-lit incense in church can take me back in an instant to walked down the streets of New York with a paper napkin over my nose and mouth. And that's a good thing. I wouldn't want to forget.