September 11th, 2001 changed the trajectory of history and of life on this planet.
Among other things, think about how much your personal freedoms have been curtailed the next time you get your innards scanned by the TSA at the airport. Worse, as a society, we’ve surrendered our Constitutional rights to privacy, trial by jury, and habeas corpus, among others. We torture and throw people—some innocent, some not—in jail indefinitely, and think nothing of it.
As the government—with our silent consent—chips away at our personal freedoms, the bad guys still circumvent whatever precautions we put in place. The War on Terror’s constantly shifting battle lines echo the failed War on Drugs: a never-ending, Sisyphean cause that can be exploited for political gain. I’ve prayed many times that this multi-trillion dollar war will end before my son turns 18; he’s almost 10 now—hard to believe that we’re already halfway there—but here we are, 10 years from that day I remember every day.
On September 11th, 2001, I lived in Brooklyn. I was seven months pregnant, and my son spasmed and shook bizarrely inside me that morning, picking up on the traumatic atmosphere.
Unable to get to work in midtown, I walked from Cobble Hill toward downtown Brooklyn and the Promenade, where there was a better view of lower Manhattan from across the river. I worried about my husband Anthony. He reported to work every morning for Verizon in Tower 2, and was usually dispatched around 8:50 AM, right around the time when the first plane hit that building.
Miraculously, like so many other stories from that day, his boss dispatched the crew 20 minutes earlier than usual. I didn’t hear from Anthony until after the Pentagon was hit—he was the one to tell me about the third and fourth planes.
When the first plane struck, Anthony was on the edge of the plaza buying coffee from a roach coach with his crew. There was a deafening explosion, then screams as metal debris and body parts rained down near them. They witnessed people waving and leaning out of damaged towers, then saw people falling, jumping; some holding hands, some on fire, their bodies hitting the ground and exploding on impact like water balloons.
Anthony’s friend turned to him and said, “This isn’t the end of this—just wait. You’ll see!”
Anthony’s friend was eerily right. They left the plaza, and soon saw the second plane hit. They felt the fireball from the explosion from where they stood, four blocks away.
For two years after the attacks, Anthony and his work buddies had to relive those moments every day as part of Verizon’s Ground Zero crew.
Meanwhile, over in Brooklyn, as I crossed Court Street in Cobble Hill, I heard sirens and saw a flood of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars hurtling towards Manhattan. I looked up to see what people on the sidewalk were staring at. An enormous freight train of black smoke cut across the blue sky. Millions of once-important papers—the lifeblood of the buildings—fluttered inside the giant cloud.
Cars screeched as they pulled over on Court Street to make way for the emergency vehicles. Some drivers stopped, opened their car doors wide and blasted their radios as strangers huddled together to listen and commiserate. Our cellphones were jammed; lines quickly snaked around payphones as we tried to reach people downtown.
I felt fury, and fear. Fury at our attackers, and our government: where the fuck were they? How had they allowed this to happen? Why had they done nothing to protect us, to prevent this? Why were our New York City firefighters, police and EMTs forced onto the front lines of this new war? I wondered: what was next? The Brooklyn Bridge? The Statue of Liberty? I felt awestruck as F16 fighter jets scrambled overhead, too late.
Over on the Promenade, we screamed at the people filming and photographing the destruction on the other side of the river. “You sick fucks! STOP!” We yelled at them, but they ignored us and recorded our pain for posterity.
I comforted the woman standing next to me as she tried to call her cousin who was stuck in one of the buildings. Then I turned to go home, stopping first to get money from an ATM on Montague Street in case social disorder descended upon us. Thankfully it didn’t; most of us were in too much shock that day and in the weeks to follow to do much of anything except self-medicate on a numbing cocktail of media, cigarettes, sex, drugs, and booze.
The sky rumbled. The first tower collapsed, then the second. Each time, my neighborhood turned pitch black for many long minutes as clouds of ash and debris floated over the river and onto us. People piled into hastily-opened bars to drink and watch TV; the reality of what was happening over in Manhattan was easier to digest that way.
I instinctively pulled up my maternity shirt over my mouth in a futile attempt to shield my unborn baby from the toxic air as I walked home and thought: so this was what it’s like to be a civilian in war-time. Those who were lucky or who listened to their instincts survived: people who were late to work, people who cancelled their flights, people who didn’t heed the PA announcements to stay at their desks and wait for further instruction.
Largely because of the after-effects of September 11, I quit my corporate job and started freelancing, to have more freedom and flexibility to raise my son. I also moved out of New York City, and sadly, got divorced.
To this day, the number 11 follows me everywhere. Whenever I see it, I am reminded to stay in the present moment, to appreciate my life and its sweetness. The number 11 tells me to pay attention, to stay grounded in the world around me, and to listen to my instincts.