A new friend in CA asked me to tell my story of this day, so here goes:
I was living on Charles Street in the West Village, and working for Random House. I was single. Getting ready for work, blowdrying my hair, turned on the TV, saw something weird, turned up the volume just as the second plane hit and the fact that it was not an accident dawned on the newscasters. The palpable instance when the narrative changed.
You know those moments when part of you realizes in real time that your life will forever be divided into before and after? I’d had one almost exactly a month before, when I got the call about my grandmother and crumbled to the ground. In a relatively short period of time I’d lose close friends to terrorism, complications from childbirth, and non-terrorism-related murder. I’d come to know the collateral beauty that can accompany unthinkable tragedy. The love that rises to the top, the brightness that follows every squall. The fact that love and loss are inextricably linked. And it’s better to have loved …
Back to that morning. I called my mom. I called my ex. I got ready for work.
On 6th Avenue and 10th Street I stood with dozens of people and watched the flames. In that moment my thoughts were on the buildings; somehow, despite my flair for the macabre, the potential loss of life wasn’t yet registering.
Ron, my pal from the neighborhood, a Vietnam vet without a home, called out to me,
“Laura! They got us!”
I remember thinking about going back for my camera and realizing I’d be late for work. I got on the subway. I don’t remember the subway ride, but I do remember running into a cheerful coworker at the station in midtown, and telling him.
By the time we got to the office (Random House), the towers had fallen. We all huddled around a computer monitor keeping up with the news. One of my colleagues was panicking about her husband, who’d had a meeting at the WTC that morning. I have tears in my eyes this moment, picturing him walking into our office, shaken. Alive.
The calls started pouring in from friends around the country; Diane was the first, then Laura Martin. By this time there were rumours of planes targeting Chicago and LA; I don’t remember when we learned about Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Erika and I left work and walked to my parents’ place, where my mom made us lunch. We could see the smoldering ruins from their windows. Sandy lived in Brooklyn at that point; a business card from one of the towers fluttered onto her stoop.
We walked to Times Square and met Michel, then walked down to my place in the West Village. All around us sirens screamed. People spoke in hushed tones. We cycled through the stages of grief.
That night we had dinner at Gus’s, on the spiritual vortex of Waverly and Waverly. The couple behind us was on a first date.
We went to a bar and met our friends. Tom was there. His brother came in, handsome in his suit, covered in ash.
Somewhere along the way, the next day or maybe the one after, I learned that Jonathan was missing. It would be eight months before they found him.
At Sean’s holiday party the following year, the band played—now a trio—with a chair where Jon should have been. With a chair where, if you think as I do, Jon was.
The acrid smell stayed in the air for days, weeks, months—the Missing flyers faded in the elements. Ownerless dogs barked. Slowly we learned we knew more people. We read the Portraits of Grief. We heard the anecdotes. We did a lot of recounting of our versions of the events. We were connected, survivors, we were New York City.
We are New York City, and we’ve been through a lot.
Every year I know this day is coming, and every year it takes me by surprise.
This year, the world is a very different place. We have much to mourn, much to feel anxious about. I am taking this moment for gratitude—to my family—we are strong; to my friends, the old and the brand-new, the ones I know in three-dimensions and those I’ve befriended through the magic of technology; to B, for never giving up on me; to this city, for its resilience.
To all of you for reading.
I dedicate this post to the friends I’ve lost along the way. I’m better for having known and loved you.
*Post title from “Here Today,” by Paul McCartney