I wore a grey shirt with three-quarter length sleeves and a black pencil skirt with black mary jane shoes. I didn't change for hours because there was something in me that kept expecting that I would need to go to work soon. Nothing felt real that day.
I looked out my window this morning and was greeted by the same brilliantly blue sky devoid of clouds I marveled over 5 years ago. The sky which seemed not to mourn with the rest of my city and my country that day. The sky seemed unaware of the tragedy and added to the surreality of the day.
Five years ago I thought the only variance to my routine was my house guests - my mother and my aunt. I was lingering with them that Tuesday morning, making French toast for breakfast as they planned out their day's activities, reluctant to go to work. The night before they met me downtown near my office in the pouring rain - across the street from the World Trade Center. I had advised them not to visit Monday night but to wait for a clearer sky before going to the top. Maybe tomorrow. It was decided, if the rain cleared up they would go on Tuesday, September 11th. But they didn't go. I don't come from a family of early risers. We are late night talkers. So we were in my new home, making breakfast and watching the weather on the Today show when the story broke. We had no sense of the tragedy that was already in progress as television reporters speculated over the whys and hows of what was believed to be a private aircraft gone astray that was smoldering in the side of one of the towers. My dad called and as he talked to my mother my aunt and I started to eat the breakfast we never finished.
The second plane hit.
We abandonded our plates and forks and uneaten breakfast at the table, staring in disbelief at the television. We went to my roof where I could normally see the top of both towers at the end of the City skyline. I could only see one tower and a little smoke. One of my neighbors who had also gone to the roof to see for himself informed us one tower had fallen. In disbelief we returned to my apartment and the tv that remained on for days. It was true. I returned once again to the roof and strained to see with my own eyes what was happening a few miles south, a couple of blocks from the office where I was supposed to be. Soon there was nothing. The wind pushed all smoke and dust toward Brooklyn leaving midtown Manhattan sunny with an eerily clear sky - no clouds, no smoke, just a vast expanse of endless blue.
Wanting to escape the tv and the tears we left the building and were greeted by streams of dazed people returning home before noon on a Tuesday - unsure of what to do with themselves. I had lived in the City just over a month, I barely knew anyone. But on the steps I saw a familiar face - a guy I had met on Labor Day at a stake beach activity who later became a good friend. He also worked downtown. He told us his story. Watching the towers collapse from his office window, helping people escape, tearing his undershirt into pieces to cover his mouth and nose and to give a piece to a woman who didn't have anything to protect her lungs. It was the first time I saw the dust. The "dust" that covered downtown Manhattan where I worked for months. The "dust" the EPA reassured as was fine to breathe.
This morning as I crossed 9th Avenue walking to work I remembered the trucks, the giant construction vehicles and empty buses driving downtown toward what would forever after be known as Ground Zero.
We wanted to give. We wanted to help. What could we do? We wandered. I saw my new city as I had never before seen it and in a way I doubt I will ever see it again. It was a beautiful Tuesday and the streets were full of the displaced. Those walking home, those escaping their television sets, those wanting to do something. We were a bonded group. But with all the people, things were missing - there weren't any cabs, there were very few cars on the street at all. Stores were closed. It was quiet. The usual cacophony that fills the streets and seeps in your windows was silenced.
There was respect.
Central Park was full of other wandering souls like us, wanting to find solace, shaking their heads in disbelief, hoping this didn't feel real because if it wasn't they could return to their homes and the television would no longer be full of tragedy. We were all hoping and praying together for miracles large and small. Their faces belied their actions. Parents pushed children on swings. Dogs were being walked. Frisbees were tossed. Bicycles were being ridden. All the paths were full of runners, walkers and rollerbladers looking to escape. You saw it on their faces, the hushed tone of their voices and the way they kept their heads down. When eye contact was made restrained smiles were exchanged as if to express sympathy for the shared loss.
A friend of mine had joined us that day, she, like me, was new to the city and had nowhere else to go. I had my mom, she had me. I walked her to the subway station at 50th Street and Broadway that evening, a short distance from Times Square. When we reached Broadway the emptiness renewed the sense of tragedy. Drawn in by the novelty of an empty Times Square, we walked down Broadway and shook our heads at being 2 of only about 15 people in all of Times Square. A once in a lifetime experience. A building construction site was towering above us with a giant white sheet with the words "God Bless America" in spraypaint. More tears fell.
Other than catching myself in my own reflections of the day and pondering the personal effect that tragedy had on me, today was not out of the ordinary. Until I arrived home this evening and looked out my window - there, rising above the parking garages I normally look at and throug the sky are two blue pillars of light memoralizing the twin towers. A reminder that were they still standing, I might be able to see the top floors from my window.