Nine Eleven Remembered

In 2002, I read the following accounting of the 9/11 event by my colleague and friend, Kathleen Wyer Lane. Now, as back then, I am moved to tears reading this and am so missing New York City and the old World Trade Center. _George Geder

Like so many Americans I naively believed that massive destruction and death could never happen in the US. Yes, there was the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, but it was a concept; it didn’t affect me. When the Oklahoma City federal building was blown up, it was a concept; it didn’t affect me.

When the terrorists plowed our planes into the World Trade Center, it was no longer a concept; it affected me and I will never be the same.

A client’s call saved me from the horror that would take place a half an hour later. Normally I would have been at the World Trade Center between 8:45 and 9:00. I would have followed my daily ritual of buying coffee and the Times and grabbing the Path train to New Jersey.

Instead I was on the phone with the TV tuned to New York1. The sound was turned down so I couldn’t hear the reporter’s words when the screen suddenly switched to a long view of the World Trade Center. Its upper floors were on fire. I watched with one eye and finally interrupted my client and told her about the fire. When we rang off, I turned up the sound, and like everyone throughout the country and the world I watched the horror unfold.

Early interviews of eyewitnesses said that a small plane had hit the building, others said that it was an explosion. I knew in my heart that whatever caused that huge burning hole, was certainly not an accident. When I saw the second explosion I screamed in horror. After the Towers fell, I thought about the years that I worked there, visited clients, attended meetings and corporate functions, and hung out on “Latin Night” at Windows on the World. Thousands of people must have passed by me. I wondered if some of them died. I tried to remember the night before when I walked through the Center’s concourse for the last time. All I could remember was its red tiled floor and a group of 5 or 6 policeman. They were on the opposite down escalator searching the faces of the crowd around me. Maybe they were looking for a purse-snatcher, I thought. I gave a New York mental shrug and kept going.

When I heard of the hijackings and death in Pennsylvania and Washington, I ran to Broadway to buy food, candles and water. The streets were practically empty. It felt like 6 AM on a summer morning. The usual traffic and street noise for a Tuesday workweek was gone. Overhead I could see and hear military planes and helicopters. Throughout the day the only sound was the incessant whine of sirens from fire trucks, EMS vans and police cars.

The subways were shut down, all the bridges and tunnels leading from Manhattan were closed. The banks closed, many ATM’s wouldn’t or couldn’t dispense cash. The telephones weren’t working and the Internet worked sporadically. At one point I was able to log on and respond to the questions of “… are we at war?” I logged off once and couldn’t get back on for 2 hours. Worried that there would be other attacks, I stayed indoors, watched TV and talked with my neighbors. We New Yorkers were shut away, isolated from the rest of the world. We felt like prisoners. We were scared that some of our fellow “inmates” were terrorists trapped with us on Manhattan Island. Our landmarks were shut down, our museums, schools and libraries closed. Shops, businesses and restaurants were closed. The bars were wide open. The night was filled with the constant wail of sirens and the roar of fighter planes. (This is New York, this doesn’t happen here). In the middle of the night my phone began to ring. Friends from as far away as Corsica were concerned about my safety. They’d been trying to reach me for hours. By then the whole world had seen the instant replay of our terror.

One or two nights later the winds shifted and the air was filled with the acrid stench of burning metal and electrical cables. It was the World Trade Center a few miles to the south.

“Where are all the people?” asked hospital workers on emergency standby. I was heartbroken when I read those words. There were few lives to save. Most perished in the World Trade Center.

The next day the front page of The Village Voice showed the Twin Towers on fire. The stark headline read “The Bastards”. Even New York’s favorite “lefty” newspaper was outraged. I didn’t visit Ground Zero until April. I saw it from a city bus. It was just a massive hole. Acres of nothingness. People from all walks of life, all colors and religions were lost, gone, evaporated. A population the size of a small American town had died in my city. I echoed the headline from the Voice over and over.

In those first few days we sat paralyzed in our homes as news stories juxtaposed victim profiles with images of jeering Third World crowds celebrating our destruction. The gleeful, gloating, foreign terrorist -hugging press described the victims as the Wall Street establishment. Their reports along with those from local and national media got it wrong. The innocent victims were you and me. The New York Times began to tell another story. I read its feature “A Nation Challenged” every single day. It faithfully reported a balanced mix of “suits” and working class people. Their black, brown, yellow and white faces were from Bed Stuy, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, and Newark. They were immigrants from the Caribbean, India, Central and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central and South America, Mexico. Their families papered the subways, commuter terminals, office buildings, light poles, fast food chains, newsstands, with photos pleading for news about their missing loved ones. Their pain was unbearable.

New Yorkers wept openly on the street and were comforted by strangers. We rode buses, trains and subway cars in silence, lost in our thoughts. We hid our faces in The Times, the Daily News and El Diario. Sometimes the only sound was the rustle of newspapers. We furtively scanned the faces of fellow passengers looking for the enemy. From midtown we looked south searching for the Towers but only saw smoke. We were now living in the shadow of a graveyard.

Everyday New Yorkers are reminded of September 11th. I shift from deep sorrow, to fear, to anger. I still duck or wince when a plane flies too low. When a siren screams I freeze and think please not again. For months I would only travel by bus or taxi. The fear of being trapped on the subway still haunts me. But I still had to return to work and take a Path train under the Hudson. Each day I held my breath until the train reached the other side of the river. I wasn’t alone in my terror. People around me tensed up when we left 33rd Street and relaxed and smiled when we made it to the first stop in New Jersey.

Sometimes I rail at the men who hid behind their religion to justify killing so many of us. I’ve become very defensive when people spout the tired mantra of “how horrible you must feel, but your country deserved it”. I’ve become defensive when people outside of New York pin little flags on their lapels and want to “professionally” mourn and heal with us. This ain’t Columbine. They mean well but their understanding is a “concept” of horror, not the reality of what New Yorkers experienced. I’m angered by foreign countries that point their finger at the US, massage history and blame us for the attacks. How adept they are in their selective amnesia of their colonial past. For centuries they exploited the land and people who brought us 9/11.

Most of all, I am angered by the left white liberals, political opportunists and so-called Arab comrades (still enslaving our African cousins) who bent our African-American history to work their propaganda. Their “benevolent viewpoint” only allowed us to be a passive, ignorant, victimized race. To them we were a group that couldn’t think for ourselves and could easily be duped into supporting their see-through agenda. We were pained by their callousness. They deprived us of our grief when we needed comfort. They blocked our solace and made our dead a pawn in their game. “You need more time to mourn?” “Look I’m sorry, that’s the breaks, tough luck, well we all gotta bow out some time; now put down that empty casket and let’s get on with more important things; like keeping my name and my agenda out there on CNN every night.” “First, we’ll start with how the imperialist racist money grabbing nation of Amerikka has kept you down and segue into our platform.”

I shift from anger and remember the cherished years I spent in Egypt. I still love the friends that I made there. They and their fellow Muslims around the world have been unfairly and indelibly marked as the enemy. I try to understand why and what shaped the thinking of Egyptian terrorist “leader” Atta. Right after September 11th, I pulled out my books about the history of the Middle East, about present day Islam, and heatedly discussed possible solutions with friends. We finally agreed that there were no solutions.

So while I muse over an apologia for America, I wait with other New Yorkers for the second wave of hatred that may take our lives.
_KWyerLane © 2002

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