I had intended to avoid any coverage of the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. Honestly, I feel the media has been bombarding us with so many images that is is just hard to reflect on that day without all the anxiety building up again.
My dorm building on East 55th Street in Manhattan still hadn’t gotten the internet and cable installed so I didn’t know that a plane had hit the World Trade Center until my mother called on my cell phone. I was grabbing cash out of the Chase ATM on 55th Street and 3rd Avenue before heading to my first class of the day. Not knowing what was going on, I told my mom to stop panicking and that I was alright. It wasn’t until I hung up with her and realized that people in the bank were looking at the TV’s that were on a live picture of the towers in flames. I rushed out of the bank and looked south toward a blackened sky full of smoke and ash. I tried calling my mother back but at that point the cell phone lines were already tied up or down. How my mother got to be moments before I still don’t know!
I didn’t know what to do. I was only 19 years old and essentially living by myself in New York City. I ran up to Marymount Manhattan College for my Voice & Speech class. My instructor hadn’t even heard that anything had happened. Our entire class went on as if nothing had happened. At the end of it we heard that the remainder of the rest of the day’s classes were cancelled. I found one of my roommates, Mike, and we walked down 2nd Avenue toward 55th Street with our friend Liz who was in tears. As we approached the Queensboro Bridge we saw tons of people making their way from the downtown area covered in dust and ash. It was surreal.
I was supposed to head to my first day of work in Times Square that day. It didn’t happen. Instead my friend Shannon and I walked to Radio City and TImes Square. In hindsight, maybe that was a stupid idea knowing that a terrorist attack was occurring. We sat on the floor of Planet Hollywood and watched the TV screens replaying the collapse of the towers.
No one was able to reach me by phone. Another roommate of mine was able to reach his parents in Long Island. They were able to call my parents in Texas to let them know that I was alright. Since I couldn’t make a phone call, I was able to access my voicemail and leave a general message in case anyone called to check up on me. My roommates and I went to a prayer service on the 20th floor of our dorms. Even though both towers had fallen at this point, the sky was still dark with smoke, dust, and ash.
When we got back to our dorms, people were understandably shaken. My roommates and I decided that we should play a movie in our dorm suite for whoever wanted to hang out whether we knew the people or not. I believe I won out and we showed the Bette Midler/Kathy Najimy/Sarah Jessica Parker classic “Hocus Pocus.”
When everyone left we finally made our way to bed. I pulled a rosary out and prayed the entire thing. I slept with a stuffed bear my 12 year old sister had given me the Christmas before. And I silently cried. I honestly felt so scared and alone.
This morning I made myself watch footage from that day. I had never really re-watched the plane hitting the second tower or the towers falling down. It has given me anxiety attacks before and this morning was no different.
There are some things that shouldn’t be relived. It doesn’t mean we forget about it. But that day was the day that I grew up. The innocence of youth was taken away from me on 9/11. I no longer was a kid from Texas who decided to go to college in New York City. I was an adult who made the conscience choice to move away from his family to pursue a dream and life that I knew I wanted. I never regret that decision. But with it comes the realization that we are vulnerable, no matter where we are.
I was lucky. I didn’t know anyone who was killed on 9/11. But I also know the anxiety that came with the possibility of Times Square (where I worked) being attacked in the days following 9/11.
I still live in New York City. And I don’t intend to leave. Something happened on that day for me. It was an eye-opening experience. It made the world a reality for me. I send my thoughts out to all whose lives were lost and to those who lost loved ones. And I am incredibly grateful for the friends in my life here as we tried to figure out how to get through the scariest day of our lives together in Manhattan.
As the saying goes, “we will never forget.”