I was driving to work in New Jersey when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I didn’t even have the radio on. When I walked in the office building where I worked, the floor was nearly deserted. “What’s going on?” I asked someone passing by. “Come to the cafeteria, the TV’s on,” she said. “A plane just hit the twin towers.” I thought she meant a small private plane.
The cafeteria was full of people. I squeezed to a view of the TV screen just as the second passenger jet smashed into the second tower. Everyone screamed. The rest of the day dissolved into chaos, bridges and tunnels closed, phone lines tied up. Email was the only way to get word to anyone else.
My experience was inconsequential compared to those who lost family, friends and co-workers in that cataclysm. I went to a couple of wakes for family members of friends, and heard the stories–one family held a wake with an empty casket, and then weeks later a body part was identified, a friend in D.C. just happened to go to work on a later bus and got to the Pentagon safely after the plane had crashed there.
What amazes me ten years later is how the fear has diminished, and how New York has moved on. I remember being on a Circle Line cruise in New York harbor that October and being boarded by a Coast Guard patrol. I remember the smoke and the smell of the WTC site, and how long it went on. I remember wincing every time I heard or saw a jet overhead. Candlelight vigils, memorial services, the miniature twin towers built at the riverside park in Irvington, and the pervasive fear. But people soldiered on somehow. They went back to work downtown. They rebuilt their lives. Things would never be the same. But somehow a “new normal” evolved and went forward.
I never went to the World Trade Center site unless an out-of-town visitor forced me to go. That gaping hole gave me bad dreams. Even when I worked on Wall Street for four years, I avoided the place. Now the memorial is getting ready to open. Ten years later, the city is roaring with life, hectic, impatient, always pushing forward. The memorial will help us to never forget, even if we act like we have.