Every year I wake up on this morning with the same experience. I start remembering the night before, my birthday, and then I'm immediately reminded of that morning 19 years ago.
It started the same way, I wake up, sleepily recounting the happy events of the night before, dinner at mom's with my brother and sister in law and my boyfriend at the time, Tim.
Out of bed, start coffee, it's a beautiful day, Tim is getting ready for work. I'm bartending so have nothing to do during the day. Tim leaves for work and I putter around.
A few minutes later, Tim comes back. He says "turn on the tv.".
Tim says he had a feeling something was up, everyone on the street was just standing, frozen. We were in the west village. Walking distance from the World trade center. He had headphones in and didn't listen to what anyone was saying but his gut told him to just come back and not get on the subway. Thank god.
We watch the first tower burning. I have never known such confusion. A plane has accidentally crashed into the world trade center?? A freak accident.
Then the second plane hits. We are watching it live.
Everything changed again.
Confusion to fear to sadness to confusion, then a constant cycle of the three that lasts for months following.
When the towers started to fall I put on my sneakers. I thought we might have to run. The debris was spreading so fast, coming into our neighborhood. I was ready to run. The phones don't work. We are thinking of all the people we can't reach who are in that area.
A friend of Tim's rings our buzzer and comes upstairs. Then another friend who is nearby comes. Later that day we go out to lunch, not able to be inside anymore, not able to rewatch and rewatch and rewatch the images on my little tv.
The smell outside is unrecognizable. We don't really want to know what it's a combination of. Burning bits of everything.
We sit at an outside table at a restaurant on Lafayette Street. Two blocks away from my apartment, on my route to the gym. The street I look down to see the twin towers looming and shading the whole wide street every morning.
People are walking by covered in ash. Business men in suits that look normal until you see their shoes, and their expressions.
For the weeks and months after that, I fell so deeply in love with my city. I had always been proud to be born and raised in Manhattan. In the midst of the grit and noise and crazy that makes a childhood no one else really understands. But this was when I fell in love with the humanity of my city. We all came together. we were all in it. In grief and mourning as one.
Months later I had to take a trip somewhere and as my taxi drove towards the airport, I cried watching Manhattan get smaller out the window, I felt like I was abandoning her. My city and my people.
In the following weeks and months the energy in the bar where I worked was different. We had huge buckets of cold water bottles and gatorade for the workers passing by, going to and from the site. They came in after their marathon shifts, smelling like that smell. Just wanting to sit and drink beer silently. We had to balance our atmosphere of party to more compassion, comfort, and positive support. Sometimes they told stories of what they had just done and seen. Sometimes they had souvenirs with them, gave us pieces of things they found. Mostly they were quiet.
Everyone has a role in a tragedy like this. I didn't lose anyone personally. I was in the privileged position to stand solidly for the helpers. It didn't feel like much, it didn't feel like enough. But I guess someone had to serve those guys cold beer and listen to their stories. Smile and touch their hand and just be there. Not knowing what they had just seen. Not knowing what they had just had to do. Not knowing if they had lost their best friend there or just had to pull pieces of a stranger out of that pile.
Every morning on this day, it all floods back. It always will, for the rest of my life. The way it can all change in a moment. And how lucky we are to have this moment.