9/11




I wrote this a few years ago for a members/review site that also had a section for personal experiences. It's about my experience of 9/11. It's hard to believe how much time has passed.



On September 11, 2001, I was at home in Scotland, where I had moved from New York City four months previously to live with my now husband. I, like many people, saw the attacks as they happened on television. Well, when I turned on the first tower had been hit, the second was yet to come. The sense of shock and confusion was so huge, and so minute I imagine to what my friends in NY must have been going through. I tried calling them but of course phone lines were down. I believed most people I knew to be o.k. though as I didn’t know many who worked or lived in the financial district. 

From May 1999-May 2001 I was living in New York, temping during the day and taking acting classes at night, like so many others who follow their dreams to New York. I had a few assignments in the World Trade Center, as did my roommate, in 1999 and 2000. I never liked working in the financial district, it was a pain to commute to and my least favourite part of the city. Being assigned to the World Trade Center also added at least another half hour onto my commute as you had to allow time to pass security and get up the building, which for me involved two elevator rides. 

My main assignment was for a few weeks filling in for a receptionist on the 79th floor (approximate recollection, I know it was somewhere in that range) of World Trade Center Tower One. I was seated in a windowless area not far from the elevators, and had to check people’s security i.d. as well as other reception duties. The security inside the W.T.C. was not to be faulted, most people expected to have to pass security at various points although occasionally I would get people who didn’t have their i.d.’s and would raise a fuss, in which case I would call someone who worked there regularly and knew them. It was probably one of my least favourite assignments, I would have a similar one in Tower Two in the following months.

Being inside the building, I can recall feeling quite claustrophobic. You could feel the towers shift ever so slightly when a strong wind blew; this was part of the design as to achieve their height they had to “bend” slightly. I did not enjoy this feeling, nor the isolation of this post, and would pass time writing letters and reading. Sometimes I would look at the photos on the desk of the woman who worked there normally. She was a middle aged lady, always smiling, and her pride of place photo was one of her and Samuel L. Jackson that had been taken during the location filming of Die Hard 3 at the World Trade Center. It struck me as such a NY thing, it was a cool thing and yet entirely common to meet famous people in your day to day life. I imagined she must have been quite a ballsy, friendly lady to have approached him for the photo.

Lunch in the W.T.C. and the main thing was to get out of the building and get some fresh air. I learned on my first day that a packed lunch was going to be a necessity, as while there were numerous food outlets inside the basement level shopping area, you were lucky to get a sandwich or salad for $10. I would venture outside to the large square between the complex, where there was a fountain and seating. Often there would be live music playing, which generally lifted my mood and made me forget about the dreariness of the job I was doing.

On the flip side, I also have a very happy memory of the W.T.C. At the top of Tower One, there was a bar/restaurant.: "Windows on the World". It was the sort of place I never would have thought to go, being a bit too “obvious” or touristy - but my friend, a born and bred New Yorker, patriotic and city proud, embraced this place. One night, the second night I had met my now husband, we all went there for drinks and to allow the Scottish boys an unparalleled view of the city at night. We laughed as they balked at the height, you could stand right in front of the windows, 107 floors up – not for the faint of heart! I remember feeling giddy and excited, of course to have met someone I liked, but also just happy to be in NYC, where such things were possible.

Sept. 11th is a date no New Yorker will ever forget. For me, it is mixed in with happier anniversaries as well. My husband flew into NYC for the first time on Sept. 11, 2000. We met on Sept. 14th, and married the following year in October.

When it happened, I received many phone calls from British and American loved ones alike, many of whom said to me “Thank God you got out of there”, “Thank God you’re not there now”, etc. And I appreciated the sentiment, but if I’m honest during that time all I really wanted was to be in New York. I felt so sad to be away from it at a time when it was under attack, and as though a part of me were missing. Yes, I was petrified, and horrified. I had sleepless nights, vivid nightmares of my own dread of what might have been and sadly what did happen.

I don't think we will ever get over those images, I know I haven't. I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the lost souls. I thought about the woman who worked there who I had temped for, and wondered if she got out. I know some people got out who were higher up, I hoped she was one of them, without ever having met her I rooted for her deeply.

It haunted me for a very long time what a horrific death so many innocent people faced. I still will watch pretty much any program about 9/11. It's not that I want to re-live it, but somehow I have to know everything there is to know. I think there is an unconscious desire for it all to have been a bad dream, that more people made it out than we thought, that somehow despite the years that have passed and the war it caused it still seems completely unbelievable that this could have happened. I still feel it is important to be aware and remember. I have been back to New York three times since 9/11, and find I love and enjoy it more than ever. New York is a city with a personality that not even the most horrific attack can wipe out. It is still friendly and obnoxious, dazzling and unique as ever. It defies belief how strong it is.

A month or so after September 11th, I went into the photo lab to pick up some prints I had taken a while to develop. The girl in the shop retrieved them, and then looked at me and said “Oh, we were looking at these, they’re amazing.” I  had no idea what she was talking about (and frankly was disturbed to find they do indeed snoop at your photos!). Well, I opened them and immediately knew. There were some photos I had taken during my last weeks in NY, the previous spring. I decided one beautiful sunny day in May to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, as I had never done so before. It was one of those touristy things that, living in NY, many people take for granted.

I remember the day particularly as it was one of the first hot days of the year. My roommate and I set out from the Brooklyn side (where we lived), and began to walk across. The bridge was packed with pedestrians - runners, cyclists, all at play as it was the weekend. It was not someplace I would choose to go normally, it was one of my "goodbye" moments with New York: things I felt I should do before I left. But it was, without doubt, the prettiest way to enter the city, at her feet, if you will. I stopped to snap some photos, aiming and shooting without a great deal of precision or concentration. I took the photos more out of a sense of duty than anything else. We walked north to Soho, where I bumped into a friend. We had a bite to eat and then arranged to meet in Brooklyn for dinner. I would often bump into friends on the street in NY, it is just such a surprisingly small city once you live there, really.

I opened the photos and there they were, the Twin Towers, perfectly framed like a postcard. They were so dominant in the downtown skyline that even the most careless photographer could take a photo that looked a decent capture of something more intentional. They were glimmering and huge, and I had not given them a second glance on the day. Like many people, I found them a bit boring and plain. They didn’t ripple like the Chrysler building or romance like the Empire State Building. They were tall and straight, and when I look at them now, I think my God weren’t they brazen. Like many things, I took them for granted, but of course now whenever I see an old  t.v. show or film and they pop up, my eyes are drawn to them. The skyline looks so empty without them now. If nothing else September 11th made me love and treasure NY even more, something the millions of people who live and work there I believe no doubt would say the same.

My experience of these events was trivial and pales in comparison to most, yet it did affect me deeply. I apologize if my own experiences seem shallow, but I think everyone should be encouraged to think and reflect about moments like these. I am sure it is not uncommon for people who have only ever seen NY on screen to feel some connection to it, and rightly so. It is one of the few places that lives up to fantasy in reality. It is a place that hopefully people still dream about visiting, because it deserves its’ status as an international tourist destination, as the best city in the world, period. I first saw NY and really dreamed about it watching films when I was a child. I dreamed of living there and somehow I did. I still dream of living there, and I hope that nothing ever changes that. Ryan Adams said it best: I'll Always Love You New York.

















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