I Love NY More Than Ever.
Song for today. Bolero (Ravel). Jean-Michael Basquiat used to paint it. Anything to get me back.
To be everything, New York.
New York, you are everything.
September 11, 2001, Brooklyn.
It's morning, and the radio alarm is going off. I hear something. Something in the announcer's voice is panic, but I'm still sleeping. I hit snooze. Ten minutes. Alarm. Buzz, but more, something more.
Finally, I make it out. "World Trade...", " Airplane into the building..." "Fire...". Up! I go to the television and see the full scope.
My heart sinks.
I run to the roof; there's a better view. Everyone in Brooklyn seems to be on a rooftop. The whole borough is stopped and watching in disbelief. The smoke is billowing, and we are just watching. What is happening?
Sirens, sirens, sirens. Smoke, smoke, smoke.
We hear a distant rumble as the first tower begins to fall. It seems to be in slow motion. But it doesn't take long. What took years to construct is now gone in a matter of minutes. The plume of smoke sets in and takes the place of what used to be a building.
At that moment, the city went silent, and there was terror in that silence. I've never, in all the time I'd lived there, heard the city quiet. I looked around at my friends and neighbors. All mouths open, agape.
It's as if we were all silently screaming.
Slowly, time started, and the sound came back. We stood in disbelief. What had just happened? I stood there, frozen. Are we under attack? Why? I was scared, as were all of my neighbors. But, unfortunately, there wasn't time to process as the same deep rumble started again.
This time the sound turned up, magnified. Again the smoke swelled, and the plume formed. Oh, the horror! Now screams, cries, and so many "NO's." began. Finally, I heard gasps as people crumbled to the ground, unable to comprehend what was happening.
Grown men cried.
It took me a long time to realize there were people in that building. Did they die? What had we just witnessed? Questions running through the mind. The answers were unbearable. We had all witnessed death. Finally, it was too much to carry.
I made my way back to my apartment, numb. Inside seemed the safest. People retreated.
Then, friends called. They were making their way downtown to go closer. I wanted to go too. To do whatever I could. The subways were down. We would have to use the bridges. Cars, barely moving across the Williamsburg bridge. People, hundreds of them covered in dust and walking like zombies, made their way across.
These dusty individuals —the survivors, made my heart break.
I had made an escape plan long ago, but the thought of leaving at a time like this seemed illogical. I had to stay. I grabbed water and passed it out, the bodegas quickly turning into triages. I tried to do what I could. Everyone wanted to help.
The roads were blocked off. There was no way to get close, but we could see the gaps between the buildings, where the Towers once stood in our skyline. It seemed impossible.
Soon, dusk, candles, and exhaustion as the gravity of what happened sets. We wander the streets and find ourselves in the East Village. Tomkins Square Park is a vigil. Flowers. Tears. Families. Friends. People banded together, lit candles, hugged, cried. Oh, the tears.
The smell of burning would last for months, maybe more than a year. That pile burned and smoked and reminded us. We were alive, and others weren't.
For over a year, the funerals and processions filled the streets. I stopped in those moments and remembered. We all did. Not knowing the people lost but honoring them anyway. We allied the tattered and worn and hurt and angered and killed to be everything that was New York. Resilient, tough, strong, caring, and most of all kind. We rallied around each other in the sorrow of that day. We reveled in the heaviness of the lives lost. Their deaths would not be in vain. We rejoiced in being alive.
Years later, and after moving away, I would visit a friend's apartment in Brooklyn. She had framed the Daily News front page paper on her wall that read "New York I Love You Now More Than Ever." The iconic I LOVE NY emblem was pictured, made famous on a t-shirt worn by John Lennon, and created by graphic designer Milton Glaser. The heart had a part of it missing at the bottom. I stopped and thought about that, just as I do from time to time. Twenty years have passed, and I've never spoken about it. My husband will sometimes ask, but something in that experience has been too painful to talk about until now. But it's time.
New York, I love you. You will always have more heaven than any sky.