10 years ago this morning I was living on Cornelia Street in the West Village and running late for work. My boss was away on business and so I decided to run a few errands before heading North to Midtown. It was a cloudless day and I remember smiling for no reason as I walked down the street to drop off my dry cleaning. Still smiling, I headed around the corner to Bagels on the Square to get a coffee before heading up to work.
I don’t remember why I decided to walk around Father Demo Square before getting my coffee but I found myself on the corner of 6th Ave and Carmine Street when I heard a strangely loud noise overhead. I flinched at the sound of it and saw a couple people around me do the same. When I looked up, I saw an American Airlines plane flying over my head – too low and close than was normal – and head straight down 6th Ave. The 30 or 40 seconds that followed are etched in my mind with such detail that even now, 10 years later nothing is lost. It was the longest 40 seconds of my life watching that plane fly right down 6th Ave and into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Poof. That was the sound I heard almost a mile away as I watched the gray billow of smoke form and then slowly rise up the side of the building and into the sky. “A bomb!” somebody screamed who was standing next to me at which point I turned and matter-of-factly asked him, “didn’t you just see that airplane fly into the building? it went right over us?” Apparently he didn’t. For one shocked moment I thought to myself that they might be filming movie and these were some awesome new special effects but that thought dissipated as I watched the World Trade Center burn.
I called my then-boyfriend who was not a morning person and woke him up to the news that ‘a plane just crashed into the WTC.’ He was pissed at me for calling so early and was only able to reply that, “that’s impossible, Beana. Manhattan is a no fly zone.” before my phone went dead. I stood watching the Tower burning for a few more minutes and decided that I should head to work before I get in trouble with my boss. In a dazed state, I sat down on the F train and, looking around me, said to no-one in particular that a plane had just crashed into the WTC and that it was burning as we speak. I can’t help but think about how those people are reflecting today…about the shocked woman with wide eyes who was the one to break them the news on an Uptown F train.
By the time I reached 57th Street, the second tower had just been hit and it was clear that something was happening. Some colleagues were hysterical and others were not sure how to process it. I called my Grandfather to let him know that I was okay and then found myself in a city with no subways, no busses, no noise (except sirens) and no idea about what to do. I started to walk down 6th Ave and was fully running by the time I passed Radio City. Something prompted me to wear heels that day and I can remember the pain in my feet as I picked up speed headed downtown.
From a crack in the buildings near Union Square, I saw the towers fall. It felt (and still feels) like an impossibly bad dream. I don’t have any recollection of anybody around me. It felt like me and a crumbling New York. My head seemed to argue that running towards that insanity was not a good idea but my instincts insisted that I try to get to my boyfriend on Mulberry Street. My pace slowed a bit and, as I got further downtown, I can remember these dust covered zombies walking North passed me. These people had been close enough to the Towers to have not escaped their cloud and were migrating North in silence like a flock of alien birds.
I have never in my life experienced anything even close to that day.
By the time I got to Houston Street the NYPD had already barricaded every path downtown and only people with proof of residence were allowed past. I was subletting my flat and had no proof. Walking East and West along the barricade at Houston I finally found a way through and didn’t stop moving until I got to Mulberry Street. Hours of streaming news feeds and trying to find out what was happening are a blur.
Around 6pm we walked through Little Italy towards the smoldering pile of New York to see if there was anything we could do…or give…or try…We got a little past City Hall before we were stopped and the volunteer guarding the gate said that we could go to the Javits Center to give blood but, up until now, there weren’t too many survivors visible. The fiberglass and toxic dust was thick in the air and I can still taste it coating my mouth if I try.
The erie silence of the city that night and the days that followed impacted all of us in the same and, most likely, profoundly different ways. In my case, it brought me closer to the man I was dating (we eventually were married…and divorced). It instilled in me a belief that life is short and there is not a lot of time to waste (surely contributing to my completed degree, 1st round of published photos and eventual decision to move to Europe and see the world). It reaffirmed my love of New York as being the greatest city on the planet and piece of me (perhaps tying the string around my heart that eventually pulled me back here after 4 years gone).
I was here 10 years ago today and, with so many miles and lifetimes between us, I am here today and I will never forget.