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Where I Was: 9/11/2001

I have never written about this before. I’ve never been able to. But I’m going to do it now. I don’t know why now, simply that I feel I should.

I’m a New Yorker. I always will be, regardless of where I actually reside. New York City was my playground. I was born there, raised in the Long Island suburbs just outside the city, lived there and in Queens for more than half my life. I had only moved to Arizona five years before the attacks took place.

I had just started my second semester of college; it was my first return to school as an adult. Chemistry was my first class of the day. I wasn’t in the habit of turning on the television or the radio before heading out the door. I generally got up in the morning with just enough time to get myself ready and run out the door. So I hadn’t heard anything when I walked into my class and into a conversation about buildings falling. Everyone was talking about it, so curiosity got the better of me and I asked what they were talking about. Someone–I can’t remember who–told me that one of the Twin Towers had fallen, but not why.

I laughed. I told them they were being ridiculous. I’m from New York, I’ve been in those towers; they’re not going anywhere. They’ve been a major part of my home skyline for what seems like forever. I was five when they were completed, so you can understand that in my memory, they’ve always been there. They survived a bombing in 1993 and still stood tall and strong. They were the icons that welcomed me home whenever I flew in, or drove in when I was in my late teens and early twenties. They were the last things I said goodbye to when I flew away for good. No, they weren’t going anywhere.

Then our teacher came in. She was in tears, and dismissed the class for the day. That was when the first fear started to rise. Something was going on.

I immediately went and called my uncle in Queens, to hear that all circuits were busy. So I then called my parents, who had moved to California three years previously, and my mother confirmed what my classmate had said: one of the towers was gone.

At that point, we still didn’t know what was going on. We had no clue.

I drove home, turned on the television, and called my roommate home from work. I didn’t want to be alone. He came home just a few minutes before the second plane plowed into the second tower. By now, we knew that what we were seeing was no accident. I sat in front of that tv for thirteen hours straight, most of it in tears. I watched people leaping from the windows, and just rocked back and forth. My cousin worked there, and the phone lines were all down into the city. We couldn’t reach any of my family to find out if she was all right. It was the next day before we got the news that she was fine. She had been late that day, arriving at work just after the first plane hit, and hadn’t been allowed into the building. She was safe.

So many other people weren’t, people that we knew, who were family and close friends. Another cousin was on her way in to work on the PATH train from NJ. The train passed either directly under or very near to the towers, and was at that point of the track when the tower went down. She survived, but I never heard that she returned to work afterward. The trauma was too much. I don’t blame her.

Every day, my mother had news of someone else we knew who died there. Police, fire, a businessman who didn’t work there but had gone there for a meeting that day. After awhile, I stopped answering the phone when I saw my parents’ number come up. I couldn’t take anymore.

My uncle told me once that in the first few months after it happened, there was no crime anywhere in New York. Police blotters were empty. No murders, no robberies, no rapes, nothing. People were just too devastated by what had happened, and apparently no one wanted to visit any more trauma on anyone.

New Yorkers are nothing if not strong. We’ve had to be; New York really is a concrete jungle, and it’s survival of the fittest. Sinatra had it right: if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. And more than a few of us wanted bin Laden dropped in the middle of Times Square. Let us handle this. Nobody would have seen a thing, even if they’d been right there.

I don’t mean to undervalue the attack at the Pentagon, or the brave passengers who took down their own plane in order to avoid killing others. Not at all. But seeing my home turned into a copy of Beirut, seeing devastation of such scale in my home, had a profound effect on me. The sheer number of lives lost, especially the children, scarred me. The loss of the buildings, while far less devastating than the deaths, scarred me as well. They were part of my life as far back as I can remember, and their absence is as much a reminder of the attacks.

I am the daughter of a pilot, and I no longer fly happily. Just something else taken by the attacks. I don’t willingly get on a plane like I used to.

Thirteen years have passed, but I can write this exactly as it happened, see it in my memory exactly as it happened. It would be impossible to forget, even if I wanted to. I send my regards and my respect to the families of all those who fell that day. Never, never, will your loved ones be forgotten.

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