I Remember: A New Yorker Reflects on 9/11

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As a native New Yorker–I was born and raised in Queens–I’m used to fielding all sorts of bizarre questions. These range from “What’s a MetroCard?” to “Have you ever seen a celebrity?” to “Wait–alternate side parking? What’s that?” Inevitably, someone will, upon discovering my New York roots, ask me: “Where were you on 9/11?” The best answer to this question lies in the vivid memories of nine-year-old me, memories that capture what words cannot express. Ten years ago today, I woke up extra-early. Even as a nine-year-old child, I hated getting out of bed before 9:30 in the morning. I worked better at night, a habit that, ten years later, is still with me. But ten years ago today, I bounded out of bed extra-early. It was the first day of school. I loved school. School was worth waking up early for, especially at the start of a brand-new school year.

I remember the weather especially clearly. It was the perfect school day: a sunny 75 degrees. The sky was the deepest, smoothest shade of periwinkle. There was literally not a single cloud in the entire sky.

I remember sitting down to help my youngest brother, Ethan, with his schoolwork. He was just learning how to write, and being the cool sister I am, I let him practice forming his letters with fine-tipped Crayola markers. I still remember the colors he chose: jungle green, golden yellow, and firetruck red.

I remember my dad calling from work at Jamaica Hospital that morning. I remember rushing to pick up the phone, only to find my mother had beaten me to it.

I remember her face paling as she asked, “Oh? How bad is it?”

I remember that even though I couldn’t hear the other half of the conversation, I knew it was serious.

I remember talk of bombs and, as the early reports grew more accurate, planes.

I remember my mother throwing all of us into the car, along with my best friend, who lived around the corner.

I remember driving to the East River to get a better view of what was happening.

I remember seeing my elegant, beautiful skyline marred by billowing columns of dark smoke.

I remember standing next to a police car, listening to the scanner. “There are bodies just falling from the buildings,” a female officer said over the radio. A policeman turned to my mom and said, “They’re not falling. They’re jumping.”

I remember looking at the gaping abscesses in the Twin Towers and thinking, “This is New York. They’ll fix it. We can do anything here.”

I remember being wrong.

I remember the cascade of metal as the South Tower fell: smooth and silent, like yards of silk slipping off a bolt of fabric.

I remember looking away briefly, only to turn back and see the North Tower buckling under its own weight, too.

I remember the absolute silence: no air traffic, no cars; only the screeching of fighter jets scrambling overhead.

I remember the panic.

I remember going back to my best friend’s house, only to find her dad, an off-duty cop, gone.

I remember my mother, the experienced nurse, contemplating helping with triage.

I remember the day progressing too rapidly, even though the entire city shut down.

I remember a quiet evening of exhausted prayer, candles littering the sidewalks.

I remember the months of recovery and clean-up.

I remember when they renamed my best friend’s street in memory of her next door neighbor, a young firefighter who died in the Towers.

I remember the changes, but I also remember the constants. Ten years ago today, I lived in a city I believed to be almost unshakable. This belief is, in my mind, even stronger and truer today. Ten years later, we’re just as vibrant, just as tough, just as fast-paced as before. But we’re also so much more; we’re more unified, more cautious, more aware of the world outside our city. Despite an inexpressible sense of loss, my city has risen to the challenge of life in a scarier world, and ten years later, we are safe.

 

 

OpinionHannah Herman