I should be at the #NYFW (Mercedes Benz Fashion Week) tents today. I’m sure there, 9-11 is taking a back seat to the events at the former World Trade Center site. I’m sure that some of the universe is intent on fashion, the other, intent on healing from a decade’s worth of fear, anxiety, anger and change in the way Americans fundamentally go about their lives. Today is, I think, supposed to be about remembering and moving forward.
My husband, John, was there on 9-11 and I remember vividly that while I was at my computer and half-listening to the news on television, he called me on his cell phone. “We heard a big noise,” he said. “I think there’s something going on. Would you turn on the TV and let me know?”
I walked over to the TV and there is was, a site I could hardly believe with my own eyes: The first World Trade Center tower had a huge hole in it and was on fire.
As an aside, I always felt a bit creeped out when I was those huge, twin towers. I watched them being built, huge loads of dirt being carted away. They always looked too tall, to me. When inside, I felt them swaying in the wind. For a short while, my husband worked for the Port Authority. I didn’t like visiting. I was nervous feeling the buildings sway, although he and his colleagues got used to it. To be honest, I never thought the towers would stand the test of time, like the pyramids. Somehow I always thought they would fall down, although not because of an airplane in the side of them.
“There’s a huge hole in the building!” I shrieked over the phone to my husband that day on 9-11. “get OUT of there because the building is going to come down!” I just knew they would…I could sense it. As he argued that he was there to pick up a colleague at the Marriott to be at an economics conference, and no end of my pleading intuition that he was in danger, worked, the second plane appeared on the television. “Oh look, I said, a plane is taking photos!”
The next thing I knew, that plane slammed into the second tower. I could see it on television and I could HEAR it from my apartment. My argument with my husband ended as the cell towers, I guess, were damaged.
I called my father and my sister, crying. I knew my husband was right there and I was helpless to find him or help him. As the morning progressed and the towers, smoked, I watched people jumping, panicked. The choice to jump and die, or burn alive and die. I couldn’t stop crying. I tried to reach my sister and mother in law but the phones were barely working and the circuits were overtaxed. I finally got through and left messages for both saying that I didn’t know where John was, but that I knew somehow, he was safe. Intuition, again.
I ran up to the roof that had a view directly opposite the smoking towers. Somehow I took a camera. i think I wanted proof later on that this awful thing was real, that it wasn’t a nightmarish dream. I took photos. The island of Manhaattan was covering in thick, grey smoke from the battery almost to the Empire State Building.
Then, the wind shifted. The smoke started billowing towards Brooklyn and I went downstairs to close my windows. The television was still on. And then I heard a huge rumbling and saw the the first of the towers collapse in real time. It was surreal. I closed my windows, They would remain shut for weeks afterwards, as papers and ash from the souls stuck in those towers, pitted them and fell like a fine rain all over my apartment building.
I watched the rest of the day unfold on television, transfixed. People running, people dying, people crying, people screaming,people looking for loved ones, friends and colleagues knowing that they were probably already lost. Lke the rest of New York and America, I watched in horror as the other planes did their dirty work. The images, sounds and smells are never going to be erased. I kept trying everyone to see if they had heard from John. No one had. I felt certain that I was now, a widow.
Finally, about eight hours later, I got a phone call from my husband saying that while he and another colleague were being pelted by body parts and pieces of the planes, they both took off towards the World Financial Center and then didn’t stop running until they reached 14th street. They were safe. They walked home from Queens or some crazy route, but they got home. i was never so grateful for anything in my life.
The city lost it’s hum. It was so quiet. I’d never heard anything like it. We took in strangers who didn’t have a place to stay. We lit candles on the Brooklyn promenade and hugged each other, and anyone else who needed it. We ate some dinner at a restaurant but no one really tasted the food. The next day, we helped those without a way to get home, make plans, We took photos on the roofdeck with the smoke in the background. I know where these photos are (some of the last I ever took with film) but in the past ten years, I’ve only been able to look at them once.
For months after the terrorist attacks, my husband was so jittery that anything in the sky made him literally, shake with anxiety. “That plane is too low in the sky, too low!” he’d say,. And then, when it was just a plane ane everything way obviously ok, he’d go about his business. But he would wake up at night, listening to sounds that I guess he couldn;t identify and so they upset him. “Garbage truck,car alarm, fog horn, drunks yelling…I’d say, soothingly.” Neither of us slept much for a long time.
It would be an understatement to say that our lives were not changed by the awful events of that day on 9-11. I know every American, maybe every human being, has been affected by those atttacks. That a few evil men with a crazy political and religious agenda could do so permanent damage makes me angry. If we let our fear get the better of us so we don’t live our lives as we shoujld, then they have accomplished more than bringing down buildings and killing innocent souls.
Which bring me to this weekend, and Fashion Week. I had a number of shows, and backstage reports to experience and write about. I had planned to be at the tents, and go about my business as usual. But I could tell my husband was getting jittery as the day approached. He said he was ok, but I could tell he really wasn’t all that fine. With additional security and terrorist threats in NYC this weekend, he wanted to get out of town.
The choice to be with him and celebrate the fact that we are alive, and together, was an easy one to make.
So, starting tomorrow, I’ll be back the at the tents. But this weekend, I’m away. I don’t regret my choice.Fashion will continue, and so will all of us. We will never let terror, take over!