Andrea D. Ploscowe
September 18, 2001
Notes from Brooklyn
Enjoying a civilized morning in Brooklyn, I sipped my coffee, read the New York Times, listened to a classical radio station, and prepared to get to work in my home office. Then my brother, Bradley, called from his office in midtown Manhattan.
“Andrea, turn on the television. A plane has hit the World Trade Center. Tell me what you see.”
We assumed the crash involved a private aircraft—a Cessna or a lousy prop plane—just like the Empire State Building, decades ago. This assumption was the first among many increments of innocence that we tough, edgy New Yorkers were to lose that day.
I switched on the tube, and my heart sank. “Oh, Bradley, it’s bad, really bad!” Flames raged from a massive gash in the North Tower. This would be a disastrous high rise fire. People on the top floors would be trapped and perish. I started to cry.
Suddenly, through the corner of the television screen, I saw a plane fly behind the buildings. I thought, “Wow, that plane flew awfully close! Is some airborne moron rubbernecking? Has the smoke obscured flight paths? What the ...?”
An enormous fireball exploded one-third of the way down the South Tower. “Oh my God! Oh my God, Bradley! Another plane just hit the second building!”
“Are you sure? Are you sure you’re not seeing a tape of the first crash?”
“No! Both buildings are on fire! It was a second plane! Oh my God!” Brad relayed the new development to his coworkers.
Call waiting beeped. My mother was calling from her office building in Jersey City, directly across the Hudson River from the World Trade Center. She had just seen the second plane crash with her own eyes. I switched back to Brad.
“Ask Mom if the plane hit dead-on.”
The answer came back, yes. It was no mistake. In horror, we realized that this was a terrorist attack.
I hung up with Brad and ran outside, a few blocks away, to a sidewalk overlooking the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a location affording an unobstructed view of lower Manhattan. Drawn to this vantage point, as if to the bedside of a sick and suffering friend, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder, with my fellow Brooklynites, to watch our Twin Towers as they burned.
A mobile unit for a city council campaign piped radio news over a loudspeaker and onto the sidewalk. People on cell phones called friends and family to report what they were seeing. One fellow took a snapshot. At this point, our New Yorker attitudes remained intact. We were worried and outraged, but still capable of griping about the situation: “After they put out the fires, we’ll have to look at two burned-out shells for years!” We speculated about how long it would take to repair the damage.
Then the South Tower crumbled to the ground.
Everyone screamed in shock, anguish, and astonishment. Even the announcer on the radio was shrieking, “Oh my God! Oh my God!”
Neighborhood tough guys welled up with tears. We cried about the people—the employees, fire fighters, police officers, and EMS workers—who must have perished in what we just saw. An elderly lady shook her head and said, “We’ve lost a friend.” She was referring to one building. In our shock, we still couldn’t comprehend the enormity of the crisis or how much worse it could get: the fall of the North Tower, multiple hijackings, the Pentagon attack, thousands of murdered and injured souls.
A civil defense official directed us to go home and shut our windows. Nobody knew what was in that plume of smoke, but it was wafting right over us. Grey soot and singed papers blanketed the neighborhood. Pulling my t-shirt up over my nose, I retreated down DeGraw Street. A burnt section of Tuesday’s New York Times—the remnants of someone else’s attempt at a civilized morning—wafted past me.
When the first bombing darkened the lights on the World Trade Center in 1993, the gap in Manhattan’s nighttime skyline was jarring enough. Today, the collapse of the Twin Towers amounts to a physical and psychological amputation from the body of our city. Indeed, the body politic of New York—and of the United States—has suffered a brutal mutilation.
Peering out across the harbor in the days following the disaster, my neighbors and I would swear we could see the buildings still there, lurking just behind that plume of acrid vapors. As the phantom image of our Twin Towers fades into the mist, we scour its outlines for a trace of our lost edge.
With love from Brooklyn,
Andrea D. Ploscowe
The author, a freelance writer, has lived in New York City since 1986.