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I have relived the story many times and probably told it here too.
On 9/11/01 I was sitting at my dining table reading the morning paper and enjoying a cup of coffee when I heard/felt a mighty crash. I live(d) in Brooklyn Heights, two blocks from the waterfront, and my first thought was that it must have been a horrendous crash on the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway. My partner Mary called from work and told me to turn on the TV, something terrible had happened at the World Trade Center. Some thought a small plane had crashed into one of the towers. I turned on CNN, and I saw the smoldering tower. I rushed out the door, ran the two blocks to the nearest point to view the harbor, and as I looked up, I saw the second plane hit the second tower. I saw it. I still see it. The first tower was burning, now the second was burning. I stood there with about half a dozen people and we were speechless. I ran home to listen to CNN and hear what they were saying. They were saying “Terrorism.” I ran back to the harbor front, but now there was a dense cloud of smoke coming my way. Soon, I could see nothing at all.
Mary came home. We walked to the nearest hospital to offer blood, but they said they weren’t accepting any. We saw streams of people walking from Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge, looking dazed. They were covered in soot. Some carried briefcases, some were shoeless. We wanted to help. There was nothing we could do.
Soot from the fires began to drizzle down on the neighborhood after the wind shifted our way. The cars were covered in soot. There was an acrid smell in the air, the smell of burning plastic, burning…steel, bodies, something awful. The smell lingered for weeks. The memories, forever.
In the backyard of our brownstone, tiny pieces of paper fluttered to the ground. It was a blizzard, almost like snow. Tiny pieces of paper that once had been in someone’s files, on their desk. One of them was intact, except for burn holes. It came from someone’s desk. I covered it in plastic and saved it. I don’t know why.
Soon, there was silence, eerie silence, punctuated only by the sound of jets overhead and sirens, endless sirens. All traffic, all subways, all buses, all movement stopped. Just sirens.
In the silence, everyone whispered. We learned what was happening by watching television, even though it was happening within our sight (when the wind shifted).
People stood along the Promenade, the beautiful walkway in Brooklyn on the Harbor with a full view of the Manhattan skyline, to see what could be seen. People brought candles and flowers, and left them there. Someone hung a photograph of the Twin Towers, preserved in hard plastic, and hung it on the fence along the Promenade. It remained there, undisturbed, undamaged, for over a year. One day it was gone.
On my block, a young couple with a child had recently moved to New Jersey to be in the suburbs, the leafy suburbs. The mom died in the Towers.
Everyone knew someone.
Mary’s niece worked in the second Tower. She got out before it collapsed, thank God, but she and her co-workers–in shock–started walking north and didn’t stop until they reached Harlem, where one of them lived (miles away). Her parents didn’t know if she was alive or dead for hours.
The neighborhood fire company was one of the first to respond. Most of them died.
It was a day I will never forget.
It was a day New Yorkers will never forget.
The fire stations in New York City have tributes to and photographs of the men who died that day.
I saw a bumper sticker a few days ago that said, “There is one hell of a fire department in Heaven.”