5 years ago today, I was jarred out of bed by the sound of a jet airliner crashing into the World Trade Center – six short blocks from my Manhattan apartment.
I moved there for no singular reason, rather a bunch of convenient excuses, really. To live without a car payment, to experience something new, to drink in bars ’till 4am, to escape the seemingly unending heartbreak of a particular girl. I was quite successful in New York City; working for a prominent marketing and political consulting firm. I learned how to depend on subways, how to not get mugged, where to find the REAL Ray’s Pizza, how to get certain bartenders to serve me stronger drinks, and how to blend in perfectly. But my soul was never satisfied, and in 2003 I moved back to Los Angeles. Wiser for having endured such a place, but truly happier with a motorcycle and a beach never more than 20 minutes away.
Most days, I don’t miss New York City. I’m a California Boy through-and-through. In fact, even though half of my closest friends live there, I’ve never been back to visit even once. However, there is one day that I miss NYC every year….
When the 2nd plane hit, I was standing in my living room, watching the television. We heard the plane collide with the building first, and then saw it on TV. This delay was so unsettling. This was happening only a few blocks away, and yet I was glued to the sound of the television. I shared this experience with a girl who was subletting a room in my apartment while my roommate was in LA. I don’t remember her name, but I hugged her and she cried in my arms that morning. We watched the second tower fall from our rooftop. I don’t really care to comment on what that felt like.
Later that day, we walked around ground zero with wet towels covering our mouths. It was impossible to breathe. Today, I barely remember what she looked like, but together, we walked out of that apartment into a world that had forever changed. We opened the doors to our apartment to strangers – people that had been caught in the storm of debris outside. We offered them towels and band-aids for cuts and bruises. I was talking to one of these strangers in my kitchen – I instinctively apologized to her for my dirty apartment. She laughed – a real laugh. It was silly and completely ridiculous. But she understood I was just as scared as she was. I drank a beer in my living room with a 50-year old businessman who worked at Smith Barney. 10AM – him and I shared a Pabst Blue Ribbon. It was a strange new world, indeed.
I spent quite a while on the phone with my mother. She had visited NYC just a few months prior. On the night of her arrival, she asked, “Well, what do you want to do?” I said, “Let’s walk over to the World Trade Center – it’s amazing.” She had remembered just how short that walk was from my house while she watched the towers collapse on television.
Two of my friends and I walked to ground zero that night. Since my apartment was so near the site, we were already well inside the restricted area. All we could hear were the sounds of firefighter’s locator beacons. See, the firefighters wear a little gadget that emits a piercing noise when it’s not reset every few minutes. In the event they become unconscious and/or trapped, these beacons can alert someone to their presence. A chorus of hundreds of whistles, everyone of them attached to a dead man – screaming from a pile of rubble. I never want to hear that sound again, but I know I’ll never forget it.
I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge that night. 6 miles to my girlfriends house. We weren’t alone on that bridge. Since transportation was effectively shut down, thousands of others were forced to make the same trek. People walked hand in hand that had only known each other for a few minutes. We went to Great Lakes, a neighborhood bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn. In silence, we mourned with total strangers. Most of us didn’t even know what we were mourning.
For days and days, perfect strangers embraced on the street. We were all in this together. Two blocks or two-hundred blocks – it didn’t matter how far you were from the World Trade Center. A piece of our city; our world had been taken from us, and the loss was the same for everyone. We all gave blood and supplies and tears and hugs to anyone who needed them, and we were offered the same.
I had never seen more love than I saw then, and I have not seen it since.
Today, I miss you, New York.