An Ex-New Yorker Remembers

I was sleeping soundly in the basement of my father’s house when I felt someone shaking me awake. My brother is a decidedly laid back person and had probably never bothered to wake anybody up in his life; for this reason the urgency and concern I sensed in his normally aloof demeanor caused an immediate uneasiness in my stomach.

“Dad called. He said to turn on the TV…something’s happening in New York.”

In a confusing haze of anticipation and dread I sprang upstairs to turn on the television, not realizing as I did so that I was being joined by hundreds of millions around the world. Nor did I realize that while I had been downstairs enjoying the peacefulness of a few sleepy morning hours in bed, the world was spinning out of control and would never be the same.

It had been a week since I started my vacation and much-needed break from my life in New York. During the previous year I had made the city my home, but I still enjoyed the occasional trip to see family and recharge my batteries amid a less hectic lifestyle.

However that morning simplicity had just been detonated into a million little pieces, and as my brother and I watched the second tower get hit I myself felt like I’d been hit squarely in the gut. In the confusion of anger, sadness, and fear, I continually asked myself a difficult question: did I have the courage to go back?

I did eventually return to live out several happy years, but obviously life in the city would always retain the memory of that morning when so many of my neighbors, whom I’d never met but was so closely connected to, were taken from their city. Their families. Everything they dreamed and planned for.

We visited ground zero this spring and saw the memorial. Two enormous basins where the foundations stood now serve as fountains which pour deep into the ground, seeming eerily symbolic. The names of every victim surround the edges.

It was a powerful sight for an ex-New Yorker for many reasons, not least of which being that I have a mother, two siblings, and numerous friends living in the city today. Any of their names could be sitting there carved into one of those plaques. I could have been shaken awake that morning with much worse news, like so many thousands must have been in the fall of 2001. Or it could have been my name, filling in the corners of tourist photographs and soaking up the mist of a fountain as breezes from Battery Park blow across the concrete esplanade.

Had it been me there instead, I’d like to know that someone, even eleven years later, would take the time to remember and send a few thoughts my way. It’s with that in mind that I post this today, along with a heavy heart, a lump in my throat, and the remembrance of how important it is to enjoy your damn life, even if it sometimes means getting out of your own way to do it. Today I’ll be trying to do exactly that, not just for myself but in honor of those who no longer can.

Do you remember what you were doing that morning? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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19 comments

  • I love this post so much — because it so captures the reality of what it was like to be in that moment, when you saw the towers fall. Most of my husband’s family is in NYC, my daughter’s dad was in NYC, and being in Philadelphia, so close to both DC and NYC (and the United Airlines flight that went down in the western part of the state) — I will never forget that day, in all its unfolding horror. So a week ago, I went to the 9/11 memorial as well — and it was exactly as you said — a hauntingly evocative moment where the plunging water reminded you of what you saw unfolding, and yet somehow is beautiful and honorable and fitting. I’m really glad you wrote this today … we should never forget!

    • Thanks so much Betty, thrilled to have you as a reader! Can’t wait to pop over and catch up on your last two blog posts.

      Wow, it’s true that day must have hit very close to home for you. I remember coming back to the city to regain my daily routine and being a bit on edge for a while. I even had friends who decided to leave after 9/11 because they never really got comfortable again. But it made me proud to see New Yorkers pushing forward during the aftermath and not letting it get the best of them. I tried to follow their lead.

      Safe travels to you, and thanks again for taking the time to stop by and comment, it means a lot!

  • I watched the Today show faithfully every morning, but on the morning of 9/11, I was instead locked inside my little office, putting the final touches on my choreography for my first day of our dance season. The phone rang and it was my business partner telling me to turn on the tv at once…”They think we are being attacked by terrorist!” she said! I spent the rest of the morning frantically trying to reach your sister, who we had left in Brooklyn for school just one week before….and picked you up brought you back to Maine for your vacation. It took me until around 11am that morning to hear back from Nicole, hear her voice and breath a sigh of relief.

  • I remember that morning well. It was a gorgeous Fall morning (much like today in New England). I always watched the Today Show before heading to work around 8:45 a.m. For some odd reason I remember thinking that morning, “There has been nothing interesting in the news lately, I’m not going to even bother to turn the tv on.” What a strange thought to have when at that very same time evil people were executing their horrific plan of attack. Needless to say, I was glued to the tv for nearly a week after that fateful morning.

    • It’s true Natalie, how could any of us have seen that coming? It changed an ordinary morning into one of the most infamous days in history.

      Thanks for commenting and take care.

  • What I remember most is the strange juxtaposition of the horrific, unbelievable images on the television with the gorgeous, bright-blue-sunshine, once-in-a-summer day outside. I went for a walk to try to compose my thoughts but was unnerved by the eerily empty sidewalks. I had a profound sense that the world had changed irrevocably that morning, that nothing would ever quite be the same.

    I’m profoundly sad for the people who lost their lives or loved ones that day. But I’m so grateful you weren’t one of them. So grateful …

    • Aw, thanks munro. :)

      You bring up a good point — another weird part of that day was how everyone was glued to their TV sets, turning so many places into ghost towns. I remember the days following being very uncertain and stressful as everyone tried to figure out what happened and what we would do as a country afterward. Definitely a defining moment that has left its mark forever.

  • My mother-in-law called from Pennsylvania tellling us (in California) to turn on the TV. We watched in disbelief – it was like a disaster movie. I went to work after the second tower fell and the screens went gray- some folks arrived at work without having turned on a TV or radio and had no idea what was going on. It seemed very far away, but when the plane went down in Pennsylvanial it was suddenly much closer.

  • Living in Norway, I was in a meeting regarding the Nobel Peace Price Ceremonie that should take place three months later, when the meeting was interupted by a secretary that told us to turn on the news. I remember all the horror, disbelieve, the confusion, this day that changed the world.
    The Ceremonie took place at December 10.th as always, under a much heavyer security. In fact, the security level has never gone back to the way it was before 9/11. I’m profoundly sad for the people who lost their lives or loved ones that day. We will never forget! <3

    • What an interesting place to be when hearing the news; that must have been strange. It’s true that the even was so big it forced everyone to stop what they were doing. I’m glad the ceremony went as planned, it was important for life to continue after something so tragic. Thanks for commenting ellengry.

  • I remember it was around 2 pm in my hometown, in Portugal, when I turned on the tv, and saw the first tower burning. Everybody was saying that it was a horrible accident, and I was struck at the sight of if.
    Minutes later, still standing in front of the tv, the second tower gets hit, live, right in front of me, and I fell on my knees, on the rug, speechless, thinking the world was about to end.
    Whoever did that, didn’t do it to NY, but to the whole western world.

    • So true gigi, it was an attack on the whole world and I think everyone was a New Yorker that day. And like you said, there was a feeling of doom that the world was ending, because it was hard to see if it was an isolated attack or part of a much larger thing. It was a very strange thing to live through, for sure. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • I can remember it very clearly. I was in my office when it happened and I came home to see the second tower get hit. I had to fly from Paris to Frankfurt the following day and Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris was completely empty. It was very eerie and even more so when I got on the plane to find that I was one of only three passengers! I visited New York and Ground Zero in 2002 and I was particularly struck by how much damage there was to the surrounding buildings, I’d somehow missed that up to that point. Everyone’s thoughts go to all the victims and their families and friends.

    • Can’t believe you had to fly the following day! That must have been strange indeed. And yeah, Ground Zero was impressive during those following years because it was basically an ominous crater in the middle of Manhattan. I’m happy to see it being built back up finally, which I think helps psychologically with the whole process. Thanks for commenting & sharing your story soundlandscapes.

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