There is a palpable sadness in Brooklyn today, seen in how people walk, then stop, as if they’ve just forgotten something, how they gather on street corners to talk, in those who cry on the sidewalk and the faces of the old people in my neighborhood who look up when the roar of jet planes starts again.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve cried since yesterday morning; there was the minute I saw the South Tower collapse and friends around me screamed or stayed eerily silent; yesterday afternoon at the Eastern end of the Williamsburg Bridge where a group of Hasidic Jews were handing out cups of water for the hundreds of people streaming from Manhattan; last night when I saw my girlfriend and later when I talked to my dad on the phone; today when I talked to a local firefighter on the street and he started welling up as he described the men they’d found and, worse, the ones who were still buried; and only a half hour ago as Governor Pataki spoke on the television. The last time I cried this much was when I was sixteen and my girlfriend at the time was about to run away, to somewhere she wouldn’t tell me, and I thought my whole world was falling in.
And I’m one of the lucky ones. The people I know who may or may not have been injured are all at least two degrees away from immediate relationships; they’re the friends of friends, the friends of my parents, the colleagues and lovers of people at work. My girlfriend and I, holed away in Williamsburg, feel immune until we walk outside where the air smells differently, sharp somehow, and there’s still the massive body of smoke over the East River, moving its way uptown and over to Brooklyn.
I saw Andy late last night and we sat outside his apartment for a while, barely speaking until I said ‘I feel like we’re living in a war zone.’ ‘We are,’ he said. And he was right; we all felt threatened and confused by forces we didn’t understand. We worried that if these two pillars of the downtown skyline were vulnerable, then what protection could we possibly have? We’re still worried.
My girlfriend and I started cleaning our apartment today, a task long overdue. This feels good. I’ve signed up to give blood, I’ve gone and thanked my local fire department, I’ve given money to the Red Cross. It makes me feel like I’m doing something. We all lost a lot, some greatly more than others, but very few lost nothing. We had order before and now we have something different, not disorder but a tenuous peace; one, I’m sure, that will be disrupted shortly.
I’ve received emails and phone calls from people around the world, from a friend in England who tried calling this morning for two hours until he got through, from friends in France and Michigan, New Jersey and Maine. No matter how light the relationship had once seemed, each note of correspondence has assumed a special gravity. We want to talk to everyone we know if only to build the first level of reassurance, to know that those things that mattered most are still in place. As one friend in Chicago wrote, ‘All I could think to do is to squeeze my wife and my children.’ Sadly, there are many here who couldn’t do the same.
Whatever response comes from this tragedy, it will only be good in its estimated measure to prevent yesterday from happening again. More people will be hurt, more lives damaged, and no matter who deserves what, there will always be those who suffer by doing nothing more than living near a target. There are lots of things to think about, and even more things to feel, but I’ve found a joy, for now, in the smallest intangibles, the friends and family I have, the woman I love. For now, it seems enough that I have these, and I wonder how in the world I accumulated all the other parts of my life. Everything, now, has changed.
I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and I work in Manhattan. While getting ready to leave for work yesterday morning, I turned on the television and saw images of the first attack, when newscasters were still calling it an accident. In fact, when I first saw the images I thought it was an accident at an area airport. When I found out what was actually happening, I called my girlfriend, who had already gone to work in midtown Manhattan, to find out what she knew.
She and her co-workers were listening to radio reports of the event. She said she hadn’t seen any pictures because all the major news sites were clogged with traffic; she asked that I go up to the roof to get some photos to send her. Understandably, she truly needed to know how serious all of this was.
While heading out the door to go up to the roof, the second plane hit. I reached the roof and saw the faint flames and the dark smoke, and I heard emergency vehicle sirens blaring from all around—even in Brooklyn. I took a few photos and then started to look around me—at all the other roofs in my neighborhood—and realized that I was surrounded by my neighbors, who were watching the destruction and were obviously terribly shaken, just as I was.
Many of us made eye contact and stared at each other, for just a moment.
I went back downstairs to call my girlfriend and couldn’t get a dial tone. While trying to contact her, either by phone or email, two neighborhood friends rang my door. They came inside and we watched the news unfold, in utter disbelief.
At about 11.30AM we went to Bedford Avenue to find something to eat. All of the people in the neighborhood were visibly stunned, except for one man, obviously drunk (and drinking a beer out of a paper bag), who was yelling a string of obscenities and threats at a young woman of Arabic descent. His feelings were apparently unshared by anyone in the vicinity, and his comments subsided as his full drunkenness, apparently, set in.
While on Bedford I ran into many of my good friends from the area, and two very good friends from California. Looks of distress, worry, and helplessness were all around. People mostly asked very simple, direct questions—’How?’ ‘Why?’ Nobody went berserk, nobody went crazy. Everybody seemed, very simply, deeply concerned.
I spent the rest of the day trying to get in touch with family and friends to make sure they were alright. By one person telling me who they’d spoken with, and by exchanging with them the list of people I’d spoken to, we were able to track down everyone we knew in a relatively short period of time. We were very lucky.
I went back home and my girlfriend called to tell me that she would try walking back to Williamsburg. She wanted to know what information I’d heard regarding bridge and tunnel closings. I had none. As soon as we hung up I saw on television that the Williamsburg Bridge was closed in both directions.
She walked from 37th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan to the Manhattan Bridge (hearing the Williamsburg Bridge was closed), stopping at Union Square to see if the L subway line was running. Finding that bridge closed as well, and hearing that the L was back up again, she walked to Union Square and, finding that station closed, walked to Third Avenue, where she caught the train home.
I spent that time and the rest of the day watching the television reports as they rolled in.
My home still smells of jet fuel, two days later. This morning, I looked out my window, as I have countless times before, towards Manhattan, and saw a steaming cloud where once the World Trade Center used to stand. My home is still sooty, smelling of jet fuel, two days into this New America.
Tuesday morning as I traveled on the bus from Red Hook (which is a neighborhood in Brooklyn) towards Manhattan, innumerable slips of paper fell from the sky. We didn’t know it but an airplane had just slammed into the North Tower. Looking up and towards the island, we noticed a fire on the WTC, and we all stopped moving, talking or reading, and stared at the destruction. There is no preparation for this. As we watched, silent, we heard over the bus PA system, ‘Due to an emergency at the World Trade Towers, all Manhattan busses are stopping at Houston Street, or Canal.’ Still, we had no idea as to what was occurring.
After departing the bus, I made my way down Smith Street, toward the F train, to begin the second leg of my commute. Looking up, seeing the fire burning, I called my roommate at home to tell him that he may want to rethink his route to work, knowing that the A train, which he rides, travels directly under the WTC. In retrospect, this is awfully petty. As we were on the phone, he saw the second plane bisect the South Tower. Our conversation turned into a canyon of silence. I descended into the F train station.
Sea of people streaming out and in and back and forth panic terror misery retribution leading to death begetting more anger jesus save us oh as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death smell the fire see the tears of anguish touch the debris feel confusion confused how how disconnected no contact call call call call crying out no response under terror confusion catharsis calm calm calm calm.
Leaving Manhattan, towards Brooklyn, walking across the Manhattan Bridge watching the tug boats as ersatz ferries crowded with people, reminded of early pictures of NYC, before the Brooklyn Bridge. So surreal.
Onto Atlantic avenue, one of the busiest streets in Brooklyn. Quiet. No activity, no sound no thought, movement only to return to homes. Into friendâs apartment, watching CNN, trying to make sense.
Later, night, onto Atlantic avenue, masks for the people walking, soot descending like snow, a terrible Christmas. So quiet, no traffic. So eerily quiet.
Into Red Hook, directly across from WTC on East River. Cars covered in fine white ash, piling up, surreal landscape of police in riot gear, shields to protect clubs to damage confusion.
Home. Home. Home.
Smell of fuel and burning permeates throughout. Soot in house, smoking cigarette looking out window, onto roof, seeing smoking crater. Looking at roommate, no talking, looking only for reassurance, tears, brushed away for resolve. Turn off TV, leave, walk anywhere not wanting to stop.
Sleep. Dreamless. In and out of consciousness. Headache, skin oily sheen from burning jet fuel,
Awake, a new day.
As I woke and looked out the window, things grew slowly again into focus, and I became aware of the destruction, and the loss. I am one of the lucky ones, at least I am here today to write my thoughts, whereas so many are not. Thinking of all the Fire Fighters, running into a burning building to save, losing their lives. The Police, the same. So many people lost, and no idea why. Violence, destruction, for what cause? This cannot end well. I am awaiting the reprisal of the U.S. war machine, and frankly, I am scared. I have been listening to conversations, and so many people are calling for us to just ‘Bomb some country back to the Stone Age.’ I am worried that we will. And I do not know how that will fix anything. The loss of so many lives on Tuesday, and I wonder how many more have to be lost before we as a country feel as if we are cleansed, and our national nightmare is over.
I am worried about the hawkish nature of our current administration, and I hope that they proceed with patience, and not with retribution.
I think that we must understand the systemic reasons for terrorism, and devote resources towards combating it on a meta level, and not just towards the military to eradicate these people.
Violence begets more violence, and while I think that we will have to use the military against these aggressors unknown, I hope that the administration will not think that the military is the only solution in the war against terrorism. I remind the government that our funds and our training made these people, and that perhaps it is time to rethink such institutions as the School of the Americas.
We as a country will emerge from this crisis. What remains to be seen however, is how policy will be affected so that we can assure that an atrocity like this will never again happen anywhere.
Finally, to anyone who is reading who may have lost someone in the WTC, or at the Pentagon, my thoughts are with you.
New York, New York
The Day After The World Trade Center Was Attacked
There is a palpable sadness in Brooklyn today, seen in how people walk, then stop, as if they’ve just forgotten something, how they gather on street corners to talk, in those who cry on the sidewalk and the faces of the old people in the neighborhood who look up when the roar of jet planes starts again.