Monday, September 11, 2006

Up on the roof.

On September 11, 2001, I was sitting in my apartment on the border of Chelsea and Greenwich Village, reading my email before going out for a run down to Battery Park. I was in the middle of returning a message when I heard the scream of plane engines overhead. As a New Yorker, you tend to tune out most of the sounds of the city, but this was so loud and so close that I thought, "this can't be good."

I ran up to my roof and saw that one of the Twin Towers was in flames. I couldn't comprehend what had just happened, so I returned to my apartment to check the news. I sat dumbfounded at the horror of it. Grabbing my cellphone, I went back upstairs and called my mother to report in. That's when the second plane hit.

I'm usually a pretty grounded person, but I lost my shit at that point. Neighbors had gathered on the adjacent roofs, and as the reality sunk in, hysteria spread across the rooftops. Someone shouted that the Pentagon had just been hit, others were screaming that we were under attack, while others just keened, watching the conflagration consuming the Towers.

The towers fell. I dropped to my knees, crying. I believed a dear friend of mine was down at Park Place, across the street, and I couldn't believe he'd be able to escape the catastrophe. A stranger knelt down, putting his arm around me. People clung to each other, unable to cope with the loss of their neighbors, their fellow citizens, their landmark, their city.

That's when the local refugees made their way home. A man who lives in the building next door staggered up to the roof, shellshocked, his clothing, hair and skin covered in dust. He had been at work in the World Financial Center, and had seen bodies hitting the pavement from 90 stories up. He was so traumatized that he couldn't speak more than three or four words at a time. On that roof, he found himelf surrounded by people he didn't know offering him their arms and hearts.

The rest of the day was a blur. From the roof, I watched with another friend as WTC7 collapsed in the late afternoon. His cellphone rang: it was one of his patients, wanting to know whether the physical therapy office where he worked would be open the next morning. People are funny - in the face of tragedy and horror, any small glimmer of normality is respite. Later on, I retired to my downstairs neighbors' apartment, watching the BBC coverage until the early hours of the next morning. I slept very little, waiting for the next explosion. I suppose to a certain extent, I still am. I'm cynical that way.

I am very fortunate - I lost no one, all of my friends and family in the area were safe. But as I stood up on my roof watching what would very quickly be used by BushCo. as the impetus for the institution of a series of the most criminally foolhardy and degenerate foreign and domestic policy changes, all I could think was, "How are they going to put out that fire?"

I guess now we know.