After September 11th     

The World Trade Center - After September 11, 2001


Sunday, October 14, 2001

I may not be able to write this. There may not be words to write this. But I need to try. So bear with me please.

I am sitting here looking at a film canister. There's no film inside. There's a dark brownish-grey ash, instead. After all this time, after all the rains, after all the wind, there is still ash from the World Trade Center around the streets and buildings of lower Manhattan. And that, in part, is what I went into New York today to see.

I can't even really say why I needed to see whatever I could see myself. For weeks now, I have been looking at the forever-changed skyline of lower Manhattan from my office window -- the window from which several of my colleagues watched as the north tower burned and as the second plane plowed into the south tower. (I will be forever grateful that my hours allow me to come in late; it has been hard enough dealing with the TV images -- I don't think I could have handled watching it in real time.)

In the days since the attack on the World Trade Center, I have often just stood and stared at the hazy smoke hanging over the southern end of the city. I guess, in a way, looking at it from a distance didn't make it real enough. I just needed to cement it all in my mind, to be able to say I saw it and touched it and smelled it and tasted it -- that it was real and is real and will always be real as long as I may live.
Smoky haze from Newark

No, I didn't go by myself. I don't think anyone should see this alone. Toni, a friend of mine, a New Yorker who works close to the WTC complex, offered to go with me. She had literally fled for her life as the towers came crashing down. Some of her friends and clients perished when the buildings were hit or when they collapsed. She told me it helped her to be able to talk about it. I know it helped me to have someone to hold onto, to cry with.

We met up at Penn Station, and spent some time in a pub nearby just talking -- and reminiscing -- and crying. I took my brother to dinner at Windows on the World one year. I took my cousin there the time she came up by train. She met the man she later married on that train ride. But I can't take anyone to Windows on the World any more. Toni's client firm at the WTC lost several people. She went to the memorial services. She spoke of her harrowing trip on foot from her offices to the East River.

Then it was down into the subways to get down into lower Manhattan. These days, you can't get closer by subway than Chambers Street. That's one thing that is deeply jarring. In the past, any time I needed to get in to lower Manhattan, I went in by the PATH and always to the World Trade Center station. It connected to any subway you might have needed. Now, well... whatever happens in the future, whatever is built there in the future, that will never be the same. That's gone, forever. And the reality starts to set in when you walk towards the end of the platform at Chambers Street... and the signs for the last stairways are covered over. The signs that read "To WTC." You can't go up the last stairways.

There are lots of people on the streets. Not as many as there should be for a warm Sunday afternoon in October. Most are there to see what they can see of what used to be the tallest buildings in New York. There are barricades (see photo, left) across many streets starting about two blocks from ground zero.

Police officers and National Guardsmen patrol the barricades (see photo, right). But no-one is pushing up against them, or pushing anyone else out of the way. People are politely stepping aside for others. People try to make sure they don't get in the way when others are taking pictures. Guardsmen on duty

Shop goods
On some streets there are lots of vendors, hawking flags, and flag pins, and pictures of the WTC. Even some shops are selling mostly those items now (see photo, left). But not right up against the barricades. At the barricades, on the streets closest to what's left of the WTC, the atmosphere is very much like a wake. Those who knew "the deceased" well are in silent tears, unashamedly weeping in public. Those who are there because it's "the thing to do" are still relatively quiet, relatively subdued.