Tomorrow will be the first time I have been in New York on September 11 since before the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001. Furthermore, I now live in a building that not only looks out over Lower Manhattan, but has a clear view of where the World Trade Center used to be and the Freedom Tower has arisen. This morning I woke up to a blue, cloudless sky and was overwhelmed with…dread.
Although I knew that life would change that day as the two tallest buildings in New York burned, twisted, and dissolved, I never could have predicted that this country would be at war for more than a decade. This was just as inconceivable as the idea that dedicated terrorists would learn to drive jetliners so that they could steer them into buildings full of people or that an American government would, several years later, watch a city full of people drown and die.
Like most of you, I watched that the events of 9/11 on television from another state, and did not return to our apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for a number of weeks. Upon our return the absence of the two towers that had loomed up over University Place (long considered by many in the Village to have been an architectural atrocity) was stunning and heartbreaking. More so were the number of public spaces that had been taken over by survivors. Not yet memorials, these were the places where hundreds of pictures of people were posted in the vain hope that they had somehow become amnesiac and failed to return home — but would be recognized by someone else and returned.
La famille Radical lost no one, not even a friend, but it was hard not to feel overwhelmed by other people’s losses. The evidence of death was everywhere. Friends who lived in the Connecticut towns along Metro North’s New Haven line said that lists of the missing were made up from cars abandoned in train station parking lots. A story emerged at Zenith that one of the administrators had lost a nephew in the wreckage and, horribly, calls came from his cell phone for several days after the attack. There was never a voice on the other end.
But the homemade posters — at Port Authority, Grand Central, Sheridan Square, and at every hospital — were the saddest. They were decorated with photographs from weddings, graduations, barbecues, birthday parties, Christmas, beach vacations, proms — in other words, happier times. “Have you seen ____?” they asked, with a telephone number where you could call. Later, when we cleaned the apartment, I wiped down surfaces that I imagine were dusted with microscopic bits of all these missing people.
For many years I could not go down there: on my way to do an oral history three years ago, I took a wrong turn and ended up looking through a construction fence and into the big hole where they were beginning to pour cement for what has become the 9/11 memorial. It didn’t look like anything at all, certainly nothing frightening, but –
I haven’t been back. Maybe soon. Maybe.
Tomorrow at 8:46 and 9:03 I’ll be here, in our new home, looking across the water, and thinking about peace.
Join me, ok?