One week to the day and my heart still aches and the knots in my stomach still twist and turn. One week to the day and i stand a little closer to the stairs in the subway station and look up and question if the planes are flying high enough in the sky. One week to the day and I miss my friends more than words can say. One week to the day I stood outside in front of my building on washington and christopher street and stared into a gaping, firey hole in what was the north tower. At 8:45 in the morning, while eating my breakfast I heard a boom and a guy outside my window screaming on a cell phone. I went about my breakfast as he yelled and yelled. I finally ran outside expecting to see a car accident down the block but found him pointing up to the sky.
My world shook, the towers shook, and life would never ever be the same. I ran inside screaming the only words that seemed to form from my mind “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…” Waking up my room-mate, and as others flowed out onto our street we witnessed the horror of the second plane, asking out loud.. isn’t that plane really low, is that plane really that low. And then the fireball, and then the screams of neighbors and people collapsing against cars and the crying and the shock and the absolute dumbfoundedness. Time seemed to stand still as the buildings burned and burned. Time seemed to stand still as the people jumped and fell for what seemed to be an eternity. Time seemed to stand still when there were no phone lines and no way out, NO WAY OUT.
And then the unthinkable, as we stood helpless and grounded in our fear, the first building in a cloud of smoke, crumbled to the ground. The glass and debris shimmering in the black sky that was the disintegrating structure of such enormous metallic beauty. The unthinkable, as the bodies continued to fall from tower one, the unthinkable as the people fleeing up the west side highway lined up to use the payphones on the corners of the street. the unthinkable, the most humbling, mind numbing and gut wrenching sight, tower one in three puffs of smoke collapsed within itself. the giant white antenna falling like a spear through the heart of a city stunned. the rumble, the sirens, the anger, the cursing, the sirens. All flying by me in a blur. then came the shouts, evacuate, evacuate. there is a gas leak, get out. and you stand and you wait. As if your brain is on pause and the only function it controls is the blinking of your eyes and the shaking of your head. then your brain gets the point. Get out, what to take. Standing in the doorway to my room, I look around. My bike, my music, my pictures, my drum, my guitar. What do i grab? My passport. And for what, there is no way out. My license and my passport and the clothes on my back. where was I going?
Tunnels-closed, Bridges-closed, Subways-closed, Buses-to where, every possible way off the island-CLOSED. Trapped-run north, trapped-to whom, trapped-on an island, trapped-stop running, trapped-turn around and head home…home-call home, home-busy signals, home-so close and now so unbelievably far away. STUCK-stuck with nothing to do but watch and think- think-why is that so hard to do- thoughts flood in, tears flood out, fear floods in, adrenaline floods out. And then the faces, covered from head to toe in ash and debris. Flashback to 1993. Across the street the raining glass shimmered in the sky. The lights go out, the building shakes. the same screams, the same smoke, the same two towers shook. The same soot covered faces, but time went by and we seemed to move on-the only reminder were the giant concrete flower pots that now lined the streets around the towers to keep cars off the sidewalks. Used more for cigarette butts and people’s butts who needed a place to sit while waiting for a bus or a cab.
No buses one week ago today, no cabs one week ago today. Only sirens screaming, and big trucks with tinted windows and FBI guys ignoring traffic lights and flying down the highway. Only firetrucks and ambulances, heading south to “ground zero”—Ground Zero—nada, nothing, nothing left but death and destruction. Death and destruction-images forever imprinted in the soul of every witness, of every friend. of every family member. Every one wanting to help. Everyone wanting to dig in the rubble. Everyone wanting to give blood. Every hospital turned into a trauma center. Gurneys and wheelchairs spilling out onto the street. Hundreds of doctors standing outside St. Vincent’s on 14th street. A level one trauma center, waiting, waiting to help someone, lines of new yorkers blocks long, waiting to give blood, turned away to get on shuttle buses that would take us to St. Claires, which we flew right by and headed to the Red Cross Building on 66th and amsterdam.
Thousands of people already there, sleeves rolled up, waiting to give what they could. Needing to give what they could. Back on the bus, turned away, we wait, trying to find something to do. Trying to help, trying to distract ourselves for the slightest moment. to divert our eyes from looking south. Trying to will this all to be a nightmare. Trying to remember exactly where the towers stood and trying to remember how high they used to stand. Trying to avoid the pictures in our minds that replayed themselves against our will over and over and over again. Trying to move from in front of the TV where time again stood still. In all the trying we did finally succeed, we moved across the street to the west side highway where all of a sudden we began to clap. And the clapping led to cheering and the cheering was infectious. then the signs came, You are our heroes, NY’s Heroes, Keep the faith, God Bless You, We will survive, and the people kept coming. and the clapping got louder and the cheering got stronger.and the spirits soared higher.
The trucks kept coming, the bull-dozers kept coming, hundreds of rescuers kept coming, the army kept coming, the military police, the dump trucks, the cranes, the governor and the mayor and the f-16’s kept coming. and we kept going. we kept clapping, kept whistling, kept supporting each other. the hours came and went, the sun light came and went. yet we stayed. there was no where else to go, no where else i’d rather be, and we vowed to be back. Back the next day and the day after that and the day after that.
Each day the crowds grew and we knew that we had something special on the corner of Christopher and West St. As we watched the fires burn in the darkness of the sky line that was forever changed. We stood on that highway and shared our stories and held our signs until exhausted we walked away. Almost feeling guilty about not staying one more minute. the news media came, the photographers came, from all corners of the world people united to stand and cheer. the candles burned at 7pm, the flags flew and the cheering went on and the honking of the horns and the sirens in response went on and on. A comforting lullaby. Sleep came is spurts, nightmares had free reign and the morning came anyway. Another day to deal with the unthinkable, another day, Life below 14th street remains eerily quiet. there is no traffic, no mail, no more life as we know it. You can travel east to west, but above 14th street you must show proof of residential id to go home, show proof to a military police officer. where are we?
We end up at the wall of prayer at Bellvue on 27th and 1st. Haunting pictures look back at you. It’s almost as if you are trespassing on someones private life. the pictures are that personal. The grief is that profound. Looking, hoping that there is no one on that wall that you know. Hoping that you might remember seeing someone you passed on the street, just fucking hoping that this is not really happening. And then you walk away, because you can. because your friends and family are safe, because you still want to help and feel so utterly helpless. You just have to walk away. and you walk across town to union square at 14th street and broadway. where the memorial is mammoth and the mood is oppressively somber. The rain trickles down from the sky and then the blue sky to the west reclaims its rightful place. The sun comes out and with that the memorial continues to grow and grow. the candles, the balloons, the prayers, the flowers, the flags, the handwritten messages in chalk that cover the cement steps. The throngs of people. All the people, who don’t know where else to go or what else to do. People who just need to be around other people. Here? where personal space is such a commodity, here, where now you welcome the crowds and the noise and the company. huh- now we don’t mind waiting in a line, we don’t mind hugging complete strangers we just don’t mind. We head back to the highway, our little sliver of salvation, the highway-the only way in or out of ground zero. the highway of hope. the highway of heroism, the highway that is our second home.
That is the underlying irony- even when there were ways off the island- many of us stayed. this is our home. those are our friends, this is our city. We have been violated and awakened to the fact we are not untouchable. One week to the day the sadness turns to scared-ness. Who is already here? where are they? where are the emergency exits, do i really want to take the elevator? Do i really want to ride in your cab? what’s in the trunk? Why do we have to think this way? We need to think about the positive and not feel guilty. We need to think about our friends and our family. We need to think about just not thinking so much. One week to the day it still seems so surreal, one week to the day is how long it took for me to be able to sit still and concentrate long enough to collect my thoughts. One week to the day and the loneliest sight is looking north to see the empire state building alone in the skyline, lost without it’s twin brothers. One week to the day the human spirit grows. one week to the day we will continue to live day by day.