How Fragile We Are

September 11, 2011

Everyone has a 9/11 story.  Here’s mine…

 

On September 10, 2001 my grandmother died.  Of course, this was a big loss for my family, especially my father.  We were rallying in Ohio, where she had died, on September 12 for her funeral.  This was going to be a little tricky for me, because I was starting school at Aveda (cosmetology school) on September 11th.  I decided I would attend school the first day and then drive out to Ohio that evening.  I rented a car and reserved a hotel room, but when I called my parents to tell them, they hated my plan.  They really wanted me to fly out there, because they thought the drive would be too difficult for me.  I was offended that they felt I was incapable of driving from NYC to Ohio, and although my parents and I never fight, I couldn’t let it go. We had it out.  Several phone calls later they informed me that I was flying and that they had already bought my ticket.  I was so angry that I hung up on them.  Then I called the airline and spent several hours negotiating a “bereavement” fare, so at least they would not have had to spend hundreds of dollars for a flight I didn’t need to take.  I went to bed incredibly bitter.

 

When I woke up on September 11th my first thought was of the fight with my parents and my stomach churned.  I was still nauseous with anger when I got on the subway to head downtown to school.  Luckily, when I got to the 1 train I ran into my friends, Alake and Suzy, also boarding the train.  Alake’s birthday had been the day before (9/10) and Suzy’s birthday was September 11!   So they were both in a very celebratory mood (Suzy was covered in glitter) and they cheered me up.  I had a long ride to school–from Washington Heights to Soho, and when I got to my stop (Varrick Street) it was about 8:50am.  As I came up onto the street I immediately noticed crowds of people lining Seventh Avenue and looking up and down the street.  I was beginning to wonder if this was what people did every morning in Soho when a caravan of firetrucks came roaring down the avenue.  Everyone on the street cheered and as I looked down Seventh to see where they were heading I saw giant flames leaping out of an enormous gash in the World Trade Center’s North Tower.  It was about a mile directly ahead of me.  I was alarmed, but nothing in me thought it was anything more than an accidental fire.  When I got to our classroom, news started coming in about a plane having hit the tower, and within 30 minutes a hysterical Aveda staff member came to the room telling us that both towers had been hit by terrorists and we all needed to leave the building so we could call our parents. (Many of the students were only just out of high school.)  I left the building, shaking, and called my parents.  I got through pretty quickly to my dad who was beside himself.  He told me the Pentagon had also been hit and I immediately had the idea that whoever was behind the attacks was not done with NYC yet and there would be more to come.  We were supposed to go back to class once we made our calls, but just when we got back the South Tower collapsed, and the staff told us to get to safety.  They suggested we team up and all head somewhere together.  I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible and my thought was,” I do not want to die with these strangers.”  I had the idea that there would be more attacks on landmarks around NYC and mentally made a map of them in my head.  My plan was to walk uptown, taking a route that would avoid as many of them as possible.  I felt that if I could reach 72nd Street and Riverside Avenue I would live.  I couldn’t think of any significant landmarks further uptown than that.

 

As I walked quickly north I noticed that it was eerily quiet.  Many people were just silently transfixed on the remaining tower.  Most cell phones weren’t working anymore and people were very patiently and orderly lined up to use pay phones.  The only sound came from news reports playing out of car radios–the cars parked on the street and surrounded by listeners.  I headed up 6th Avenue from Spring Street to 8th Street and the whole way I was very aware that the drama was playing out directly behind me, but I didn’t want to turn around and look.  I never once looked back at the towers that day.  I knew thousands of people were dying a mile behind me I didn’t want to see.  At 8th Street I cut west across Greenwich Avenue and realized right away that my view of the tower was now blocked, even if had wanted to look.  I started to panic and felt incredibly alone, as everyone had deserted the side streets for the better view the avenues afforded.  And as I walked toward Seventh Avenue I repeated over and over, “I’m ready, I’m ready…”  I thought I was about to die and it comforted me to know I was ready to meet my Maker.  Then as I looked ahead of me the crowds of people on Seventh Avenue began to scream and run north.  The second tower had just fallen.  I couldn’t see what they were running from, though, and I thought there had been a new attack right ahead of me.  My heart stopped and I quickly turned east to backtrack to Sixth Avenue and saw the same scene of people screaming and running there, too.  I felt trapped and terrified.  I looked down at the ground and my legs began to give out.  Everything slowed down and I knew I was about to pass out.  I wanted to just sit down right there and have it all be over, but just as I was lowering myself toward the ground, something in me turned back on and I knew I needed to just put one foot in front of the other and keep walking.

 

When I got to the avenue I walked a few more blocks north and along with everyone else, was in a complete daze.  Then I heard someone calling my name, and a car pulled up next to me.  In the driver’s seat was a friend and I just walked over his car and got in.  He hadn’t invited me to ride with him and was actually en route to pick his mom up from work and get her to safety, but I told him I was riding with him as far as he was willing to take me.  I don’t remember talking to him at all, but when we got to 34th Street he told me he needed to drop me off.  I got out and headed west–away from the Empire State building–and started zig-zagging uptown, avoiding the Lincoln Tunnel, Port Authority, Times Square, Columbus Circle and Lincoln Center.  I began to notice that already, everywhere I looked, there were American flags.  There was a feeling on the street of being very united with everyone else.

 

My only focus was to reach 72nd Street and Riverside Drive, and once I did I began to feel that I would live through the day.  I still had about 80 blocks left to walk in order to make it home, and just a few hours later I was walking in my door.  The next few days are a blur.  I knocked on doors all over my apartment building to see if everyone was OK and hosted a prayer night that many neighbors came to.  Two of my best friends married each other September 15th, and I know we had parties for them throughout the week.  (I can remember looking out the window at their rehearsal dinner and seeing the fighter planes circling the city.)  My parents came in for the wedding and I remember my mom choking up as she held me, telling me she was never going to tell me what to do ever again.  The nightmare she had been envisioning that week was “What if Renee’s flight, that we insisted she take, had been one of the hijacked ones?”.  And my 30th birthday was September 16th.  I think I spent most of it in bed.  As the days, then weeks went by, I began to find life’s rhythm again.  Of course, September 11th changed me forever.

 

What I think about most from that day was that moment where I almost gave way to terror and sunk to the ground on Greenwich Avenue.  Coincidentally, my church now meets on that block and I walk that same stretch every Sunday.  I went there today and sat down with a friend and prayed.  I thanked God for giving me the last ten years.  So many blessings have come to me in the past decade, especially the blessing of being Rahul’s mom.  That same sinking/I’m-not-going-to-survive-this feeling has come to me a few times in the journey of loving and helping him, and that same “something” has clicked on inside me each time.  Urging me to keep walking.  To survive.

 

How Fragile We Are VIDEO *click here*

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: