In Reverse

Many have written about September 11, 2001, perhaps too many, and perhaps there are too words to ever sift through.  But the events of that day compel many, especially Americans, to pause, whether we experienced the events at a distance on a television screen, before our very eyes, or as actual, painful loss, and to wonder how this ever could have happened to us.

On the morning of the attack my wife and I had gone for a run around Washington Square Park.  It was a beautiful day, one of those perfect days.  It was an election day, too, a reflection of what our system is all about.  Once we were back at our apartment on East Eleventh St my wife poured over election materials.  I finished my coffee and listened to the radio before I needed to head off to work at around 9:30.  It was all so normal.  Overhead I heard the roar of a plane; too close, I thought, dangerous even, but I had grown accustomed to the loudness of the city and my mind moved on.   When we heard on the radio that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, I, too,  thought it was just a small plane.  Just a small problem on a sunny day.

But soon the radio announcements grew grave.  We turned the TV on in time to see the second plane hit the north tower.  But with only rabbit ears, the signal soon vanished.  The transmission tower was on one of the towers.  I grabbed a camera and a radio and we rushed out the door, first heading over to Fifth Avenue, then south, farther and farther south.

New Yorkers pride themselves in being oblivious the the events around them, never amazed, never shocked by the city.  Two crosstown bicyclists stopped, annoyed that they couldn’t ride through the crowd.  Someone pointed downtown.








Horses in a big city are used for two things: parades and chaos.




















After the north tower fell we walked north with the crowds.  Some were covered with the thick, gray remains of the tower, some limped, all were amazingly quiet.  The crazies were still out; one dragged his cross as if this were the end he had been talking about.






My wife and I stopped to buy can goods and water.  It was still not clear if the attack was over.  I made no effort to contact my employer; my office was between the Empire State Building and Penn Station and I was not about to casually return to my cubicle.  There was suddenly no place that was safe.  We simply went home.

My wife’s way of coping was to gather up the dirty clothes and do laundry.  We lugged our laundry bags around the corner to the laundromat.  It was open, but there was no one inside other than the attendant.  We washed and dried and folded and waited for more of the sky to fall.

In the evening we walked with friends through the darkened West Village looking for a restaurant.  We finally found one; I ordered the Middle Eastern Platter.

In the following days I returned to work (I had decided not to be intimidated and that hard work could somehow defeat the enemy, whoever or whatever it was).  In the evening, we wandered our neighborhood, walked the traffic-less streets, walked past reporters, hospitals, read the signs for the missing.  The second night was filled with smoke from the burning site of the towers, searing smoke that attacked our lungs.  We searched for masks and found an emergency worker on Houston who gave us each a mask.












For weeks afterward the smoke would seem to snake through the streets at night like the spirit of death in the movie Exodus, enter through  the window, seek the sleeping, the unprotected.


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