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Being There

Written on the 10th anniversary


I watched the second tower collapse from a long wooden pier in Queens. Around me, a dozen or so strangers did the same. No one spoke much, at first. Then our solitude broke open. Inside we found anger. All of words were bathed in it. Only we didn’t know where or to whom it should be directed.

There were so many sirens wailing from across the river. Overhead a pair of F-15s were making a show of force while dodging the plumes that darkened the sky. A city in panic. This sensory chaos was reinforced by the bits of news being reported by a girl on roller skates via an in-ear radio. “The Pentagon…”, “A plane crash in Pennsylvania…”.

From this pier we could also view the stasis of sunken shopping carts collecting barnacles in the sway of the East River. Would they remain there forever? There was no smell in the air, yet. That would emerge in the days that followed, a stench of charred metal and bodies that would permeate our senses for months.

Later roller girl and I sat on a bench and talked, never taking our eyes off the horizon. She told me she was a grad student at NYU studying political theory. I learned the word, “Tal-ee-ban.” I never learned her name. 

I continued alone walking along the river, watching the sky, watching the neighborhoods watch the sky. I got a sunburn. The sun was so bright that day.

I wouldn’t learn of my wife’s car accident in Chicago until late in the day, the news of which was triangulated via my mother in Texas once cell service resumed.

I spent every waking moment in the days that followed glued to television. And waiting for her to return, which she finally did via Amtrak with Spike Lee in the seat nearby.



The Twin Towers once cast giant shadows across the narrow streets of the financial district, which is to say, those streets became much brighter post-9/11. Apart from the epic destruction, the change in light was the first thing I noticed.

Six months later that wreckage still smoldered, long after the military blockades had been lifted, after the news returned to its regularly scheduled programming. But in New York the conversation continued. You heard it in every restaurant, on the subway, on the street. And of course, it turned political, bifurcating along party lines with one camp promoting misdirected revenge and the other asking for peace. 



Six months earlier I had a 7am consulting assignment in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The lobby was humming with activity when I arrived. Shoppers. Suits. It took three elevators to reach the 85th floor. Inside the windows were narrow slits. It felt like a prison.

I would later learn that the employees from that office all made it out alive. Something about the ventilation system in their office differing from others down the hall. The jet fuel never reached their lungs.

A friend who took later worked in that same office happened to oversleep that day. He described watching the towers burn and collapse from the comfort of his SOHO terrace while getting shit-faced on gin cocktails. 



343 New York City Firefighters and EMTs died on September 11th: 343 really awesome men and women, heroes and fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. Mayor Giuliani attended funerals for 200 of them. [What happened to that guy??]

Less than 10% of the nearly 2800 people who died there were actually found in tact. The rest were among the more than 19,000 body parts recovered.

It cost over eight billion dollars to clean up the debris of the World Trade Center including the extensive repairs to the subways below. They removed 1.5 million tons of debris.

3051 children lost a parent.

They say never forget but really, how could you?

Rest in Power



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