Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Thought It Was a Little Single Engine Jet

On September 11, 2001 I was seventeen years old and a senior in high school...seventeen years old.  I went to high school in Staten Island, New York on the southern tip of Staten Island (here is a map).  Staten Island is just south of Manhattan, and for those who may not know the World Trade Center is on the southern tip of Manhattan...that's somewhere between 12 and 15 miles I think.

I was walking to my second class of the day and a friend of mine came up to me and told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  My very first thought was that somebody has screwed up and hit the towers with a small single engine jet that probably crumbled itself but that the towers were indestructible.

We went into class and sat down.  Nobody had any real idea what was going on yet.  Our teacher quieted us down and before anything asked if anybody had parents who worked in the World Trade Center.  Two of my classmates raised their hands.  He asked the two of them to please speak with him outside the classroom.  I don't remember who they were, and I don't know if their parents were OK.  I can actually still see them raising their hands.

The teacher came back in and gave us vague details.  Then there was a PA announcement from our Principal basically telling us that we could stay if we needed to, but it was OK if we all left.  Our high school relied on NYC trains and buses...not school buses, so we could just leave.  I walked home.  You could see the smoke in the sky from my high school.

When I got home I did what I think everyone else did.  I turned on the news...I didn't stop watching for days....and I had my hand over my mouth a lot.

I don't know how other people react now, ten years later, to these events.  They make me cry whenever I think about it.  As I write this the people on TV are reading off the list of those lost.  While I wish it was more of an understated ceremony, I am crying.

I was lucky enough not to have lost anyone that Tuesday.  I was a bit young to have friends who were responders or WTC workers.  I didn't have any family in it either.  I did have close calls.  My neighbor, Mr. Salatino, I believe he was a fire captain, and I believe he captained the fire-house closest to the towers.  He took that day off, for no reason.

My brother lost a high school friend.  He a firefighter who went into the towers.  He's the only person we know of that got lost.  I knew him too.

None of that really matters though.  We all lost a lot.

Now, I don't like when people try to make this tragedy solely a New York thing.  It's not.  I've heard people say you can't understand unless you live(d) here or know the people or walk by it every day.  I don't buy into this.  It truly is a worldwide thing.  However, I will say I believe the emotion I get, the feeling of loss and the feeling of pure sadness, is there because of proximity.

I truly can't put into words just how much everything surrounding this date upsets me.  I physically can't think about it without my eyes welling up.  It is the single worst thing that has ever happened in my lifetime and was my first real exposure to the world as a dangerous place.

I remember how I felt in the immediate aftermath.  They didn't show many of the things that happened down there that day.  But in the days and weeks afterwards, if you wanted, you could see some of the details.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about how I would have reacted had I been stuck in the floors above where the planes hit.  Something that isn't impossible.  In 2007 I worked on the top floor of a building across the street from where the WTC was.  I think about what I would have done.  I've seen pictures of people jumping.  Jumping from the top floors of a 90 story building, just to escape what was inside.  I don't know if I would be able to do that...I just don't.  One picture in particular haunts me.  You've probably seen it if you looked, here is a link if you haven't.  One man had jumped, and he was on his way down...head first.  He looked incredibly serene and peaceful.  He probably wasn't, but I like to think he was.  He had escaped something much worse.

It's this decision that brings me back to this past May.  To when President Obama announced Osama Bin Laden's death.  A lot of people cheered.  A lot of people smiled.  A lot of people said this wasn't right. I have never been one to choose vengeance, or to cheer someones death. It is simply immoral and illogical to cheer someones death. However, in this case...Osama Bin Laden presented these people with a choice, and this man chose to die.  Bin Laden caused this to happen many, many times.

I was 17 when this happened.  Me and people a generation younger or older had never really been exposed to this kind of evil.  We are too young to have seen Hitler or Stalin or Mao.  Hell, we were likely too young to know the Polpots and Milosevic's of the world.  This was pure evil to us.  I had never been exposed to anything like this before. This man, Bin Laden, he was my Hiter, my Mao, my monster.  He was the absolute vision of what evil was capable of and I truly hated him. So when it was announced that he had been killed, I smiled and clapped.  I didn't go outside and make noise, nor did I join the idiot college kids who were likely 6 years old on 9/11 who were drinking at ground zero. But I smiled, because the most evil man I will ever see had perished and could not do any more harm.  His body would disintegrate in the ocean at a slower and less dignifying pace than those on the planes.  He deserved much worse than he got.

I also remember discussions I had with friends in the weeks and months afterwards.  I specifically remember one night in my friend Scott's backyard.  Over some beers we were having a discussion about 911 and the war we were about to have.  A few of them said they would gladly join, and would welcome a draft and looked forward to fighting. I told them I've wave from Canada.  I guess I'm just not that brave.  It wasn't idle talk either.  Two of the fellas in that discussion went on to join the armed services.  One became an Air Force Pilot and another joined the Army and spent a couple of tours in the middle east. I'm proud to have known them.  They are far braver than I ever could be.

I went to the first baseball game in New York City after 9/11.  The Mets played the Braves on September 21, 2001.  I remember wondering if we were going to get blown up.  I recall the snipers on the roof and the dogs sniffing everything and that it took forever to get inside.  I remember Liza Minelli singing "New York, New York".  I remember the 21 gun salute in left field.  I remember the USA chants throughout the entire game for no apparent reason.

The result of course didn't matter much to anyone, or so we thought. After all, it was just going to be an escape.  But it did.  We had to win. In the bottom of the 8th inning Mike Piazza hit a very, very long homerun off of Steve Karsay (himself a Queens, NY native) to give the Mets the lead.  I still consider it one of the greatest moments of my life (i'm balling right now) and NY sports fans list it as one of the best moments ever in NY sports.  I've never been to a playoff game, especially not a World Series game, but I can't imagine a crowd can go as crazy as that crowd did.  Have you ever seen fifty-five thousand people cry as hard as they can at the same time?  I did, at that moment. Here is an article on the game.

I don't know exactly why I'm writing this.  I guess I've never had an audience to share it with.  I guess I realize a lot of my readers aren't from around here so they might like a look inside my head.  I don't even know what I'm trying to express.  I'm just intensely sad today.  More than I ever thought I would be.

I miss my freedoms.  I miss not knowing evil.  I miss a lot of things. Oddly, I think most of all, I miss my skyline.  The skyline is what we have as New Yorkers.  And they took away out most prized part.  We are raising a new one, and it will be beautiful.  But every time I drive by lower Manhattan on the BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, just across the water) and I don't see them like I used to, or every time I drive to the Lincoln Tunnel on the Jersey Turnpike and those towers aren't there, I get horribly sad.  I used to be able to see them from Staten Island.  I'm glad I don't have that reminder every day.

I no longer like the "Never Forget" stuff that goes on.  There are football players putting it on their sneakers and people putting it in their facebook status.  It is just so pointless now.  That doesn't mean you should though.  The sentiment is right.  We should never forget.  Never forget those lost.  Never forget what those wonderful, wonderful first responders did.  And never forget the unity we had not only amongst ourselve but with the world afterwards.

I love New York.


AmyIrenie said...

I can't imagine having classmates raise their hands when asked if their parents worked there. I would have been hyperventilating.

We were talking this morning about the photo you were speaking of particularly. Would I want to be running around in panic and chaos? Or would I leap in the hopes of learning to fly at my final moment. I also see peace and serenity. I don't think I could have done it.

This morning, I posted "never forget." I'm still so speechless, after 10 minutes it was all I could write. But you're right, we will never, ever ever forget that morning, and those days, and the way the world we know it is now.

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