Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I’ve been introduced twice in the past month as someone who was in New York on 9/11 (of the many things I hate about this, one is having robbed us of the lovely word "September").

This is strange to me for many reasons. First, I worked from 7:45 to about 9 p.m., so I was one of the only people in the world who didn't know the World Trade Center was gone. Imagine not knowing that for almost 12 hours. I remember learning this and weeping in front of the Time Life building.

Friends from New York, California, and even Australia tracked me down. I fielded calls all day from worried spouses, parents, and assistants to the prominent CFOs who had a Finance Committee meeting with my boss that morning.

Second, I was one of the fortunate few to suffer no loses that day. In fact, one of the most surreal moments for me came the next afternoon at my building about a mile from the WTC. It seemed crazy to me that everything had changed overnight, but the soda dispenser worked. Nothing in my life had changed, exactly. Although I lived in the West Village, around the corner from St. Vincent’s hospital, where many of the wounded were taken, my neighborhood was spared of the debris and dust we saw on the news.

Third, I moved back to New York two months before the attacks, fully expecting something awful to happen. I expected an earthquake. I just preferred to die in NYC than live in the suburbs. Actually, as someone who had majored in Political Science, a terrorist attack wasn’t a huge surprise. American foreign policy since World War II has fomented hatred of our country on nearly every continent. If anything, it’s amazing that it took so long for something so big to draw our attention to it. Unfortunately, it lead us further down the same path.

What I remember is what a beautiful day it was. The sky was a deep, bright blue, full of fluffy, white clouds. Afterward, there was the smoke, the smell of fire, death, and destruction making its way up Manhattan.

Flyers with photos of the missing appeared everywhere.

Winter came almost overnight. Fall finally came in January and we New Yorkers were finally ready to come out. After months of hibernation, it seemed like everyone was walking in Central Park.

Flags appeared everywhere. As Jen Fu wrote at the time, New Yorkers looked you in the eye; New Yorkers never look you in the eye. Everyone asked how you were, if you lost anyone. A friend took me to New Jersey to see friends and later to Vermont to see his family; everyone took care of us, fed us, loved us. I took tremendous comfort in kids and animals.

In the next year, there were anthrax attacks (and, as a secretary to someone fairly prominent, I was worried), a plane crash in Queens, that earthquake I expected (I’ll never forget how the 12th floor of my Art Deco building swayed), and an explosion half a mile from where I lived. To say we were a little jumpy was an understatement. But, miraculously, by the time of the great Northeastern blackout two years later, I found myself in a better job with better people and a life balance I’ve been struggling to regain ever since.

In those years, I fell in love with New York over and over again.

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