This morning at drop-off another mom said she didn't feel comfortable about going to a back-to-school picnic tonight because of the day. I thought she meant because it was Thursday, that everyone would be worn out after their first full week of school. She meant because it's 9.11.
After that day, I never imagined I'd be ok again. I never thought I'd be able to sleep through the night, stay calm when I heard a siren, not panic when a helicopter hovered over the neighborhood, not be terrified every time a plane seemed to fly too close by.
That morning while I sitting on Iz's bed, brushing her hair, I noticed a small black cloud hovering over one of the towers. We live in the west village and our bedrooms face south; the twin towers were part of our daily view. It was the most beautiful day, the sky was crisp and blue and the cloud seemed so out of place. My friend Sally called to let us know a plane had hit one of the towers, which explained the black smoke hovering up so high. Minutes later a huge orange ball of fire exploded out of the tower on the left. Jon shouted from our room that he had seen another plane fly behind the building. The tv was on but no one had reported that explosion yet—it was like watching a scene in a high budget disaster film, only it was happening out our window. We heard that a plane flew into the Pentagon and time slowed down. That too felt surreal. We were under some sort of attack. Reality was shifting into this place I'd never been. Would we be attacked again? We bombs coming, gas attacks, aliens? Would we be ok?
We just stared out the window and tried to be in touch with people. Phones went dead. Traffic was stopped in the streets. I swear I saw one of the towers slightly shift. How was that possible? It was a HUGE structure, dwarfing everything else in its vicinity. But I know I saw it move. And then it just pancaked flat. It was gone. It was just gone, like someone erased it. I'd been there. Up at the top. With my entire family. And suddenly there was just one tower standing and smoke billowing everywhere.
The other tower fell and there was nothing. Smoke. White smoke. A powerful smell of burning. We looked out and saw lines snaking around the supermarket. We went to buy water and diapers (Jack was 4 months old) and discovered the line wasn't for supplies, it was to donate blood at St. Vincent's. Hundreds of people were desperate to do something to help.
My sister-in-law worked next door to the towers and we couldn't find her. At one point our buzzer went off and the doorman said she was on her way up. She got out of the elevator, covered in white dust, with people she had brought with her from her office. I burst into tears, so relieved she was ok. She took charge and made lunch for everyone as we all tried to figure out what was happening, how we'd get people home, what to do next, what any of this meant.
The city was shut down south of 14th street. We live on 12th, so things were silent, except for emergency vehicles. The hospital gave out masks, for kids to wear, to protect them from the smoke and dust. Missing people posters were hung on our building, our mailboxes, at the supermarket, in all the store windows. It was so quiet. No one talked. No one smiled.
I never thought I'd be able to look downtown without crying. I never thought this anniversary would come and I wouldn't feel great pain. I never thought anything would ever be ok again. But kindness and sacrifice and empathy came out that day. I was never more scared to live in New York. But I was never more proud to be a New Yorker.