5 years on…

by sam on 09/10/2006

Five years.

It feels like a million years.

And it feels like yesterday.

I live in a different place now. I work in a different place now.

But when I go back to that place, to the place where I could see the buildings on fire, I can still picture it clear as day. I was a “safe” distance away, certainly, but who knew what was safe that day.

I remember…

It was such a beautiful day. One of those perfect weather days. mid-70s, sunny, no humidity. The kind of day where people just have an extra spring in their step. Where we, even jaded New Yorkers, smile more at our neighbors on the street, because weather like this is so unusual and precious.

Leaving for work early that day. I had to go vote in the primary. Which meant that I had to walk over to 6th avenue.

Hearing a loud bang/crash/explosion as I walked from Park to 5th. Not realizing what it was. I kept walking.

I approached 5th avenue and wondered why people had stopped in their tracks. About 20 people at this point. Not a crowd. Just random people, stopped. staring. Of course I thought they were crazy. Of course I turned and looked.

I saw the smoke first. So much smoke that it was like an optical illusion. I thought it was the church at the corner of 5th avenue and 12th street on fire. Certainly terrible but nothing to miss work for.

Then the smoke cleared and I saw the hole. With flaming edges. A hole right in the middle of one of those towers. Not understanding what was going on. Not knowing that it was a plane.
Just thinking that it was a horrible accident.

I still had to go vote.

I think my mind was so unable to wrap itself around what was happening that I was on a bit of autopilot. I had tasks to do. vote. go to work. vote. go to work.

Continued walking.

The second plane hit while I was voting. They stopped the primary about 20 minutes later.

Walked out to 6th avenue. Now there were hundreds. thousands of people. All lined up on the west side of the street to see what was going on.

Random people leaving their car radios on. Tuned to the news. So that everyone could hear what was going on.

I still had to go to work.

At that point, I certainly knew that I wouldn’t actually be working that day. But there were no people in my apartment, and there were people who I knew at work. I needed to be near people I knew.

My cellphone certainly didn’t work. kept trying to call my dad. my brother had moved to London 5 days earlier. He couldn’t get through to the US.

Got on the bus going north.

The bus made it 10 blocks before it was taken over by the police.

Helped a blind lady find the next bus.

Took 3 buses to make it to work. All those police who were trying to get downtown. There were buses in the debris.

Someone on the bus had a walkman. Told us that the pentagon had been hit too. That’s when we really started freaking out. We became a “we” instead of a collection of “I’s”.

Got to the office. Got off the elevator on the 25th floor. Could hear a radio blaring through the halls. Blasting the news.

It was my radio. Someone had gone into my office and turned it on to hear what was happening.

We all just stood there around the radio.

Then someone found out that they were dragging TVs into the conference rooms.

Went to the conference room. More people. Saw the towers collapse. People around me were screaming. I was screaming. One woman was screaming about her son (he survived. barely. the firefighters who carried him out on a gurney, because of his asthma, did not).

Attempted to donate blood. The line wrapped around the block. They didn’t have the capacity to handle that many people. They were only taking type-O people. They didn’t need any of the blood.

Met up with some co-workers. King Cole Bar. St. Regis Hotel. It was a central enough location. A good place to wait for others.

Stayed there until 3 or 4. Decided to try to go home. Instead of south being demarcated by two tall buildings, it was just a giant cloud of smoke. It was still a really clear day.

Finally got through to people on my cellphone. Dad was OK. Got stuck at the train station upstate because they shut down the trains. The car radio was broken and there’s always spotty cell reception, so he didn’t know what was happening until he found someone else. Got through to my friends. My best friend’s husband, who worked downtown, was fine. A picture he took ended up in one of the many photo retrospectives.

Everyone I knew was fine. Lawyers don’t get to work that early. they were all still on their way. Didn’t see any sense in going into their offices.

Found out later than a colleague’s roommate died. The roommate worked in New Jersey. He had a meeting.

My brother finally got through that night. I was home. I could smell the smoke (no, it wasn’t smoke. I don’t want to think about what I was smelling).

Spent the next week going to work. Not working. Just being with other people.

That’s what I remember.

I feel a hole in my heart for people that I never met.

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