Some Thoughts On September 11th

I have a friend, he was a roommate at the time, J, who walked out of the  second tower from around the hundredth floor on 9/11.

After the first plane struck they told people to remain calm and stay where they were. J worked, as I said, on the hundredth floor of the second tower. A buddy of his said to hell with it. Let’s ignore the messages to stay put. Let’s look like idiots. Let’s get made fun of tomorrow for walking down one hundred flights of stairs for no reason. J and his buddy rounded up a few others who agreed and they started walking.

J was in the stairwell when everything shook. That was the second plane hitting the building he was in, luckily about forty stories higher than where he was.

This isn’t exactly about him. But there are certain anchors for my thoughts about 9/11 and he’s one of them. It’d be impossible for me to talk about that day without including him.

Five of us, all in our early twenties, were living in an apartment on Thirtieth and Madison. I was home with one of the other roommates watching on TV. At first it was a novelty. There was talk on the news when word first got out about a glider that had hit some building years earlier in a freak accident and how it looked like maybe that had happened again. Nobody had quite gotten a sense of the size of the flaming gash the first plane had made.

The second plane got everyone’s attention. All the cameras were on the towers at that point and most people can remember seeing it bank in, the size of it all disproportionate because planes weren’t supposed to look that large flying against the skyline.

When J finally managed to call us and let us know he was okay, I asked him if he needed me to do anything for him, or if there was anyone he wanted me to call. Had he gotten in touch with his family?

He still pokes fun at me to this day for that. “Sure, Joe. My roommates were the first people I called. I hadn’t thought of calling my mom yet. It’s a good thing you reminded me.”

I let him have that. Now. In the years right after, though, I would try and explain.

There were five of us in one apartment. If you pool that many people together you can get a good amount of space in New York, something unheard of for people our age. We also lived on Thirtieth. I think everything below fourteenth was shut down. Tunnels and bridges were closed. So we were pretty far south as far as things went.

And with five of us, everyone had friends and family or whomever that were slowly streaming north in a weird dazed exodus from utter confusion.

Our living room was full of people I didn’t know. It was full of people I did know but hadn’t seen in years. One cousin came in and hugged me and sat down and realized she had walked from some ridiculous distance away in her heels, and she pulled her walking shoes out of her bag and changed, talking about yet another friend who had been stepping over bodies on the sidewalk on her way north.

This was eleven years ago. We had one land line. We had one computer in one of our bedrooms hooked up to the internet. Cell phones were common enough, though I didn’t have one at the time, and even then the cell towers were over capacity. Most people making outgoing calls on their cells just got a recording saying that service was down. Our land line was constantly in use by the swarm of people in our apartment to call loved ones and let them know that they were safe. And a lot of those calls were met with recordings of service being down, so they’d move on to the next number on their mental list and call that, just to get word out to somebody that they were okay and let that person spread the word from there.

I didn’t get in touch with my parents until I remembered about email later on in the day.

That was eleven years ago.

God I hate saying that. That’s one of the most annoying parts of today. Big events, huge events, they don’t come along in life that often. But every year on the eleventh of September every outlet of communication is flooded with reminders of today, of how long it’s been, of how much time has passed.

I do that anyway.

I mark time.

Or I used to. I would take careful stock of what happened when and tie events together and say, “Oh right, B must have happened after A because I was dating Soandso during A, but not B.”

And I hated it. I try not to think like that anymore. It’s annoying constantly being reminded of how much time has passed. Counting years like that. It’s depressing. It never fails to make me feel like I’ve wasted the year. I’d much rather spend my time than mark it. But that was something I used to compulsively do, mark time, and every year this damn day would come along and remind me that another 31,557,600 seconds had gone by.

Did I use them correctly?

Not that I’m saying there shouldn’t be markers for this day. I understand the notion of “Never Forget.”

It’s just, you know, I have to imagine that there are plenty of people like me who wanted to do nothing but forget. Or maybe get to a place where it could be remembered without being relived. The phrase “Never Forget” doesn’t have a lot of room for that concept.

I walked outside and looked down Fifth Avenue at one point that day. I had been sitting and watching the news for what seemed like forever and the notion that all of the shit happening on the screen was actually happening nearby flooded my head and I wandered outside to Fifth Avenue and I looked south. I could see smoke and dust and clearly something happening. And sirens of course. I could hear sirens. I was still about fifty blocks away, mind you. But sirens were everywhere. Sirens haven’t sounded the same since.

I watched and it was real, but it was jumbled and made no sense.

I went back to my place and the news was saying that one of the towers had collapsed. My mind immediately rejected that notion. I can remember saying to anyone who would listen, “Oh, they must mean the foundation has somehow shifted or something like that.”

That the towers would fall wasn’t even a possibility. The story was supposed to be winding down, not getting worse.

That’s what I remember, though. One of the things. Back when I would have given anything to forget. Me standing on Fifth Avenue looking s0uth and seeing all that chaos, and then coming back inside and hearing that a tower had collapsed.

I had stood on Fifth Avenue and watched a few thousand people die.

Back when it was still alive in my head I would think about that the most. Now that there’s some distance, I still think about it plenty.

I think about how all of my friends and I went wandering around that afternoon to try and give blood, but everywhere we went was already packed.

I think about J, making fun of me because I offered to call his mom, like he hadn’t thought of that yet. He was one of a handful of people at his firm that had opted to leave. The number of funerals he attended in the next few weeks was well into the double digits and a lot of them were combined memorials. He had just avoided plummeting one hundred stories to his death on a whim.

I think about waking up that night on my couch to the worst sounds I’ve ever heard. I had fallen asleep with the TV on and the news had just received footage of the first plane hitting from some pedestrian with a video camera who was only a few blocks away. They didn’t edit it or anything, the news just let it play. The planes look like they’re almost going slow in a lot of footage shown. Planes do that. You look at a plane in the sky and it seems to be lazily moving along. It’s hard to get a sense of the fact that it’s travelling at five-hundred miles per hour. I woke up in a panic to the noise of a plane shrieking into the first tower and then everyone around screaming and crying. It took me a long time to realize it was only on the TV. My girlfriend at the time came out a few minutes later and plucked me by the hand and wondered why I wasn’t in bed.

I went to a wedding the next weekend. People were still grounded and unable to fly so the crowd was small. The band played forever while everyone danced like crazy and then thanked they us at the end. It was the first time they had smiled in days.

I went to work at the piers where the steel and debris were being offloaded from the island later that month. Though that’s probably another post.

It just goes on and on.

Hell, navigating the city suddenly made no sense. When you pop out of the subway, you look around for a landmark to get oriented. I still walk the wrong way getting out of the subway downtown.

When it’s on my mind I look at pictures of my nieces and nephews and find it hard to believe how old they are, and yet they weren’t even born yet.

Something that big, it touches everything. The bad parts of it can touch everything if you let it.

It’s best not to let it.

I don’t know. I have no point here. I didn’t set out to write a post with some big point.

I just see a lot of other people’s thoughts on this day and I guess they never seem to quite match up with my own, so I thought I would add mine to the mix.

No point. Just thoughts.