He was the first person I thought of when I got to work and learned that the towers had been attacked. As one of my bosses put it to me, “Every fireman in the city is down there.” What he didn’t mention was that just about every fireman in Queens and Brooklyn was there, too. Who saw that morning coming? I remember waking up and thinking it was such a beautiful day. The skies were clear and blue, and I had thought about calling in sick and playing hooky (something I never did) just so I could ride my bike to Flushing Meadows and read while lying on the grass, maybe treat myself to some Ice King of Corona. It wasn’t until I got out of the shower that I smelled something awful, like burning, but I didn’t turn on the news so I had no idea what had just happened. I didn’t find out about it until I got to the city. I immediately knew that something was wrong when I got out of the subway at Fifth Ave. The electricity and confusion were palpable. I think people were not so much scared as they were amazed and in a state of disbelief from the safety of mid-town. When I saw the one tower that was left ablaze, I really couldn’t believe my eyes and thought that somehow it was some massive visual manipulation and that it was all a part of some movie being filmed. There was such a clear and surreal view of it all from Fifth Ave. Waiting for the elevator at work, the director of human resources was there looking jittery, saying he was held up in Grand Central and that he heard something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. A very important woman next to us said that we were under attack. I cracked a joke about the Martians wising up. It wasn’t until we got off the elevator that we understood the full implications of what had just happened. The vice-president of the gallery was there to greet us, freaking out that the towers had been blown up, that we needed to get out and evacuate the building, that the city was under attack and that the sky was falling.
I hadn’t spoken with him in a year, but he was the first person I thought of. The phones were ringing off the hook, and there was no way I could make a call out while answering all the incoming calls and informing people that not only were we closed (seriously, who were these people calling a gallery to find out if they were closed on such a day?) but in the process of evacuating the building.
When I finally left, I tried to get on one of the last trains leaving the city, but it sat there at Fifth Ave and eventually discharged the passengers. I thought about going to Central Park and hanging out there as so many others were doing, but instead I decided to cross the 59th St Bridge and head to my parents’ place. That’s when I wish I had had a camera with me. There were thousands of people crossing the bridge. The enormity of it was awe-inspiring. There was this silence that was almost unheard of in NY. People were being kind and gentle to each other. It’s the generosity of New Yorkers that never gets mentioned seen in action. People making sure that the people walking next to them were alright, kind words were exchanged, sad smiles shared, everyone stopping for a moment at the mid-way point to look across and see what was now nothing more than a mushroom-shaped cloud roiling and blowing over Lower Manhattan.
When I finally got to my parents’ place, the avenue out front was closed off and there were about a dozen blackened fire trucks, soot and smoke still rising off of them, parked there. Elmhurst General supposedly has one of the best burn units, and apparently they were taking people there to be treated. I hesitated for a whole day; I couldn’t bring myself to call because I was afraid to know if something bad had happened. Yet I wanted to make sure that he was okay, that he was alive and well. Just because we weren’t a part of one another’s lives anymore didn’t mean that I didn’t care. He was (and still is) one of my favorite people in the world, and I think the world is a better place with him in it. I finally had my sister call. We couldn’t get through the first few times we tried, since his whole family and all his friends were calling as well. I was relieved to know that he was fine. He was lucky, thankfully. He is always lucky. He wasn’t working that day. He was helping with search & recovery, however, which sounds like it must have been horrifying. And he lost a lot of friends. I saw his best friend’s photo in the paper a couple of days later, and there were several guys from his old firehouse there also. My heart goes out to their families and loved ones. My heart goes out to everyone who lost someone that day.