I wrote this letter last night to my family and friends around the country and across the globe after my first day back to NYC after a six-week absence. I am an actress and was in a small, town in Wisconsin performing in a production of, ironically, The Miracle Worker and was unable to return until this past Sunday. This was my experience upon my return.
Deanna deCampos, New Yorker
To My Friends and Family across America and The World:
I returned home to New York City today after being away for far too long. I was not here with my two daughters in New York City on 9-11-01. Although both my and their fathers’ apartment’s are in the downtown area, they attend a school on the upper east side in Manhattan, a safe distance away from the devastating horror that was unfolding on that day, and so, didn’t see the planes hit or watch as the towers crumbled, as some children in their downtown classrooms did. Their father, who works in a midtown office, walked 35 blocks to pick them up from school and together, the three of them walked the 75 blocks back downtown to their father’s apartment along with scores of other dazed, confused, and frightened New Yorkers. In New York City 10 blocks equals one mile.
My beautiful girls greeted me at the elevator with shouts of joy upon my return. Jumping into my arms, it was the most beautiful feeling in the world to just wrap myself around them. A short time later, the girls and I took a walk down to our apartment in Soho (under renovation - we’re moving back in next month), some 15 blocks north of ground zero. I wanted to feel New York City under my feet again…walk the streets….see the people… and my 10 year-old daughter Lindsay was talking a lot about the WTC attacks and about the rescue workers. I suggested we walk downtown a little, to where the barricades are set up, so that we could thank them. It was a good idea on a warm, sunny day. We turned onto West Broadway and Spring Street, where you once had a perfect view of the towers (The construction workers in my apartment felt the explosion of the plane impacting.) They once towered over the rest of the skyline…stick straight..reaching to the heavens….but now there is nothing. emptiness…It even looks as if something is missing. I pointed and said to the girls, “they used to be right there”..we just stared at the sky… and then my 7 year-old daughter Rosie wrapped her little arms around my waist and held me real close. As much as Lindsay uses words to express who she is, Rosie expresses herself through touch. We gathered ourselves together and began to walk downtown towards “the ruins” as some now call it. Many people were walking in the same direction; most carrying cameras. I didn’t bring mine out of respect. It is a sight I will never forget. I don’t need a snapshot for my photo album. Lindsay talked about how many people died. I made sure to tell her that at least as many got out alive. They talked about what they wanted to be for Halloween.. maybe a firefighter, or a police officer, or a rescue worker. “Maybe someone will go as the twin towers!” Rosie said, then adding “or at least one of them..” I told her that maybe that wouldn’t be very appropriate under such sad circumstances. Then again, children choose their halloween costumes out of reverence…and the truth is, I think she just misses them. They used to be there and now they’re not. Gone. They’re just….Gone.
As we approached the area the air began to have an acrid burning smell. Not overwhelming, as it probably was 12 days ago..but lingering, nonetheless. The girls didn’t say anything about it and I chose not to point it out to them. Lindsay wanted to know why they were using dogs (she knows they use dogs in airports to sniff out drugs and other “bad things”). I told her that they also could detect the human scent. We walked to where the police barricades are set up and the NYPD monitors and checks the Id’s of anyone who wants to enter ground zero. We could see one of the charred 60 ft. high piles of still smoldering steel about 200 to 300 yards away. “Oh God..” Lindsay said. It is a sight the magnitude of which cannot be conveyed in words. I have stood on top of those towers and I have stood at their base. From the top, on a clear day you could see forever in all directions..like standing on top of a neatly formed mountain. From the base, if you looked up at their height, you would fall over backwards. Now they were reduced to an unrelentingly horrifying blackened tomb of concrete, steel, and heroes. I turned and shook the hands of two police officers standing nearby and said “thank you” for all they have done. They looked weary, but appreciative. Then I took my children’s hands and we turned to walk back towards home, not wanting to allow them to linger. To say thank you was what we came to do.
We walked north, towards home, and turning onto Spring Street, we ran into one of the coolest museums in New York. The New York City Fire Museum. Both girls yelled, “Hey! I had my birthday party there once!” (true on both counts). We were stopped by the memorial that had been set up and noticed a book laid out in which we could express our wishes, prayers, and thoughts to the firefighters. Pictures of the 300+ missing….“are they the ones helping?” Lindsay asked. “No, sweetie. Those are the ones who died.” I told her. “that’s so many..”, she said. A number is just that, but when you give each one a face, it settles in quickly. I wrote a few words in the book and Rosie drew a heart next to our names. Lindsay wandered into the museum and we followed suit. We walked around a bit looking at the old fire engines and after letting the girls put some money in the donation box, we continued on our way. As we entered their father’s building, we passed a makeshift memorial for one of their neighbors who worked in the WTC and never came home. There is also one outside my building in Soho.
Lindsay also told me today, “mom, I think we’re going to go to war. In some country far from here..Afff…” she didn’t know how to pronounce it. “Afghanistan” I said. “Yes, that’s it” she replied.
“Those people were so stupid” Rosie said today, referring to the hijackers, “they killed themselves too!”
It’s hardest when we come across a poster of one of the “missing”, especially if the photo is of the man or woman with a child. “how sad…” Lindsay said…as we passed one on our way home. “yes..” was all I could say as I swallowed my emotion while looking at the face of the little girl in the photo, suddenly without a father. You see, it’s part of the fabric of the city now, especially downtown, where we live. I’ve been told life is “almost” normal on the upper west and east sides. Seemingly, perhaps.. on the outside. But on the inside, they’re as heartbroken as the rest of us.
Later in the evening, I took a walk alone over to Union Square, where a massive memorial and gathering place has emerged in the days since 9-11-01. Thousands upon thousands of candles and flowers surround the base of a statue of George Washington on his horse and spread along the fences and sidewalks of the park. Candles, photos, poems, flowers, flags, thoughts, prayers… wishes from across the country and the world… people gathering, talking, praying, crying… many quiet, like me.. grateful to have a place to come to try and piece together the unfathomable.. I wandered around looking at the pictures of the lost, lighting a candle I’d brought home from Wisconsin, and reading the thoughts and prayers taped to the sidewalks and fences of this lovely park.
I wandered over to 4th Avenue and turned left on 13th Street. There is a fire station there and I wanted to stop by. This station, Ladder 3, lost several of their own. More candles, flowers, cards, and letters….the doors of the station open and the firefighters on duty talking and mourning openly with friends, neighbors, and passers-by. I turned away from them as I began to cry, feeling myself come undone for a moment. Collecting myself, I turned back to the fireman sitting near me and went over to him to shake his hand and say thank you for everything he and his brothers have done for this city. He stood up and wrapped his arms around me. I melted in this strangers arms and we stood there crying together, sharing our grief… Strangers. Understanding, Kind, Gentle, Strangers… They truly are the Bravest..
There is grief and sadness here, yes. But there is also a great defiance…. That we will survive, we will go on, and we will not let them win. And in honor of all those lost..
We Will Never Forget.
I love you all very much. May peace reside within all our hearts.