Remembering in Silence

The first time I visited New York City, I was nineteen. I was with my parents and we went around on one of those tourist buses and saw all the sights. I loved Striver's Row in Harlem and I adored Chinatown. I laughed with the rest of the bus as the tour guide loving referred to the Twin Towers as the "washer and dryer".

As my family left NYC for the D.C. area, I watched that washer and dryer from the back window of our car. I watched till the buildings disappeared from view. I promised myself then and there that I was going to move to New York one day and come back for a visit.

I kept my promise and moved to New York six years later. I remember thinking back then how architecturally inferior the Twin Towers were to 99% of the buildings in the Chicago Loop. But there was something captivating about them, something beautiful that drew me there. I liked to go over to the buildings, stand at the bottom and just stare up, particularly at night. It made me a bit dizzy but I got a kick out of doing that.

I only went once to the observation deck of Two World Trade Center. I'll never forget the feel of the breeze on my face as I gazed out over New York City.

That September morning six years ago, I got up around 5:00. I took a shower, got dressed, made my lunch and got my stuff ready to go to work. I got my almost nine month-old baby up, changed him and dressed him. I remember sitting on the couch to nurse him and I flipped to the local news stations to see what was happening in the world.

I was just shocked by what I was seeing. I couldn't believe a plane had crashed into one of the towers. I figured one of the pilots must have had a heart attack or been drunk. I had no sense of possibility that anyone would survive such a horrible fire. I remember thinking that there was no way for firefighters to be able to put such a huge blaze out.

I think I'd only turned on the TV a couple of minutes before the second plane hit. And when that second plane did hit...I will never forget that sick, horrible feeling.

Matt Lauer and Katie Couric stopped speculating about whether air traffic controllers had screwed up. I yelled for my husband to come out of the bathroom. I called my mother and told her to turn on the TV. Then I remembered that my friend Mikelle was flying to NYC that morning. I called her cell phone over and over again and she finally answered. Her plane was sitting on the runway at LAX waiting for takeoff. I remember telling her what was happening and screaming that she needed to get off that damn plane no matter what. Then I called my boss who told me she wanted me to come into work regardless.

She actually told me, "It's not like it's going on here in LA."

I refused to come in. I was terrified and absolutely convinced that something was going to happen in LA. I started talking to my husband about how we were going to get out of the city given LA traffic. I was really certain those were the last moments of our lives together. The world seemed out of control. Something had happened at the Pentagon, but it seemed unclear what it was. The news people seemed so calm, so controlled. I didn't understand how Tom Brokaw was managing to keep his voice so even.

And then Two World Trade Center, the building I'd once stood on top of, came down.

I still can't explain what I felt in the moments after I saw that happening. I know that I cried a lot but I don't know what I said, what I did. I do know that by the time Tower One came down, almost a half hour later, I felt numb with grief. The loss of life, the loss of the buildings...the fruits of mankind's disunity were manifesting themselves and it hurt so much.

In the hours after the collapse of the second tower, I continued to watch the news. I prayed. I talked to relatives around the country and friends here in LA. I watched my baby crawl around on the floor. He was smiling and laughing, completely oblivious to the tragedy that had taken place.

Now, six years later, that baby is now a healthy 1st grader. Sometimes he tells me he wants to be an airline pilot, but mostly, he wants to be a pediatrician.

I also think about how after the attacks George Bush told us all that we should go about our lives as usual. He told us to go shopping. Essentially, he told us to embrace the religion of materialism and shut off our brains, our hearts, our very souls.

Today as I ventured around LA, I heard lots of people talking about Britney Spears' performance on Sunday night's MTV Video Music Awards. Not one person mentioned anything to me at all about today being the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. In fact, this morning, I thought out loud to a woman at my son's school. I told her I couldn't believe it's been six years and I wondered if the teachers were going to do anything special in the classrooms with the kids."

The woman asked me, "Why would they do anything special today?"

I felt simultaneously sheepish and angry as I said, "Because it's September 11th."

She merely replied, "Oh, yeah, that's right."

Earlier this evening, I found myself thinking again about that feeling of being on top of the observation deck of Two World Trade Center. None of us will ever do that again. But, about a year ago, while poking around on YouTube, I came across a promo video that Depeche Mode shot in 1990 for the song "Enjoy the Silence". They filmed it on that observation deck. It makes me cry, but it helps me remember what once was.

Truly, there is too much pain, too much lost beauty in our world.


Anonymous said…
Wow, the video gives whole new meaning to that song. Thanks for sharing it.
Mamita Umita said…
I really liked this post a lot. I remember being 13 the first time I went up to the Towers to look out the observation deck while having my regular family visits to NY and NJ during the summer. It seems unreal to think that a building we once stood in is gone, not by a shiny new and improved building, but that it fell after a plane hit it, and thousands of lives lost as a result.
I too was home with Imani who was about to turn 1. The thing I remember most was seeing people jump out of the building, in desperation. I felt completely helpless, and paralyzed. I did go to NYC that February, visited the site and heard stories,and saw the memorials up at the hospital. I will always love New York, it will always be my second home.
Dena said…
thanks for sharing your experience.

i don't have a direct connection to the twin towers....seeing that my very first visit to nyc was in 2005. i didn't even go to the sight while i was there visiting. however, i feel very connected to the loss...even 6 years later. like you and sonia, i was also home, watching the today show, in absolute disbelief (like many many others). my heart goes out to those who lost their lives and to those whose lives were brutally changed by this tragedy.
When I was growing up in New York, the Empire State Building was the tallest in the world. Then the Towers were built, and New Yorkers didn't like them very much. They looked like giant tombstones, which as it turns out, was prescient.

Six years ago, I was asleep in Southern California when my daughter called me. She said, "Mom! we're under attack! Turn on the TV."

I watched in absolute horror a video clip which I would see again and again hundreds of times over the years.

I just kept saying "Oh, my God," over and over. I yelled for my husband to get up, and we watched what was surely the end of the world together.

I called relatives in NY, who were all safe, but life changed for me that day, and I will never again feel completely safe. That was the day Americans learned the horrors of war as we never had before because it was always somewhere else, not where we lived.

Your post is beautiful, Liz. Do you think maybe we focus on all the Britney Spears so we won't have to feel the intense pain of remembering 9/11, undiluted, and the fear that accompanies such recollections?
ryan said…
Beautiful post, indeed.

I used to work in the twin towers on and off when I was a temp on Wall Street, and every day my husband and I would take the ferry back home to Staten Island and watch them grow smaller as we left the shore. We both thought that they looked like escalator stairs. My father lost one of his good high school friends when they fell.

My husband and son and I had moved upstate, after living in NYC for seven years, about four months before 9/11. Usually my husband commutes into the city, but that day was the first day he stayed home, so he could help me take our baby to the pediatrician's office. He woke me up early that morning, and said that a plane had hit the tower, and, like you, I just figured it was an accident. But soon enough we knew saw what was really happening. We frantically called a friend who we knew was working down in Soho. He answered as he was running up Broadway, and the first tower fell as we were talking to him. I'll never forget the sound of his screams as he watched what was happening while we watched it on TV. He was okay, thank god.

I remember being so scared in the days and weeks that followed. Feeling like we were suddenly facing a different world. Feeling like my boy was going to grow up in such a dangerous place. It was hard to stop panicking and take solace in anything. I had nightmares for weeks.

I think maybe we don't all talk about it on 9/11, but I bet most of us think about it. I know I did. I'm sure all New Yorkers did, too. Since that day there has been so much tied up in that moment - the way our current administration has warped this tragedy into something they could gain from, the rescue workers who are now getting sick in droves because proper care wasn't taken when they went in there to help, the way that Giuliani is using it as a platform to run on... that sometimes it's hard to just remember that single day - those terrible moments, the weight of it all. Thanks for writing something that encompassed all that.
Liz Dwyer said…
The location does give new meaning to such a beautiful song, doesn't it? I still love the official ETS video, but this one really captured my heart because of where they were.

I ended up in NYC that November and I remember going down to Ground Zero and seeing all the pictures of the dead and missing on the fences. What the site looked like was unbelievable in comparison to my memory of the area had been before then. Yes, I'll always love NY as well. I love the walking, the small quirky shops in the Village, the people...I wouldn't mind living on the Upper West Side again. But I don't know if I could afford it, you know?

There's the pscyhological impact of what happened, and that connects us all to what happened. Even though I saw the footage on TV, I can't imagine actually being there, how terrifying it must have been. But, I think we've all been changed socially and psychologically more than we know.

The focus on the superficial/celebrity does seem accelerated since September 11th. All the gossip sites and shows, all the crassness and coarseness. It wasn't at this level before. But I think what we see even moreso is the breakdown of any kind of social mores because people are so money and fame hungry. People will do anything for money and fame these days. They think if they have money and fame then they are somebody. It's the celebrity that says, "Don't you know who I am?" I think there's a spiritual deadness to our society because people think they're the sum of their appearance, their possessions, their educational level. But, as evidenced by Britney and so many others, those things do not bring happiness if the person is not actually rooted in anything. Even all the arguing about what to put at the WTC site is evidence of the clash between people who just want to throw up more retail and office space (money makers) and those who want to build a true memorial, something that generates no income but remembers the spirit and legacy of the innocents murdered on that day.
Jameil said…
i never went to ny pre-9/11. i never saw the towers in person, but i sat w/the person who was then my closest friend as she pointed out the building where her grandmother used to work. i called around to all my ny friends in college to make sure their friends and family were ok. miraculously, they all were.

my journalism professors had us all sit together and told us tom brokaw and peter jennings were examples of how we would have to be in the face of enormous tragedies.

i remember believing they would pull more people out. i was just so baffled in the days following that there weren't more people pulled out alive. the magnitude of that event still escapes me in some ways.
Lydia said…
Heart-tug post!
I remember the entire day from the time I woke up and saw the planes fly into the buildings, the whole day at school with my 8th graders watching the news ALL DAY, talking, crying, explaining...and then the night. We sat out in the back yard and watched the still, dark Los Angeles sky. Our house is in the landing path for LAX, so I have always enjoyed sitting out with my cup of tea or glass of wine in my own plane watching meditation. But that night, the sky was devoid of flickering plane lights. Silent,empty.

In 2004, we went to New York for my 40th. I had been wanting to go for years. I hadn't been since I was 25. I was so excited. The cab took us directly to the Millenium Hilton a sparkly new hotel that sat respectfully like a beautifully chiseled headstone directly across from the huge chasm in the street that was once the The World Trade Towers. Each day in New York began and ended with a moment of silence and reflection on the enormous and senseless loss.

This Tuesday, we began our day, at morning affirmation with our students and a moment silence in remembrance for those lives lost and those that were left behind. The reality of our need to remember for me came when I began a discussion with my new class of 8th graders about the importance of bringing their emergency kits to school. I remember when I used to just say "in the event of an earthquake" which for Los Angelenos is the natural disaster that lives in the backs of our minds. But I had to pause and add "emergency kits are so important not just in the event of an earthquake, but we live in a time when terrorist attacks are a constant possibilty". We had good deep discussion after that, they knew I was not trying to scare them needlessly, just keeping it real
Liz Dwyer said…
Goodness, your story about your husband deciding to stay home and then your being on the phone with your friend gave me chills. I also had nightmares afterwards but I can only imagine what it would be like to hear those screams over the phone. Thanks for sharing.

I think you're probably right about most folks thinking about 9/11 yesterday. I know I think about it quite frequently. It makes me so sad that such an opportunity to make peace in the world out of such tragedy has been totally co-opted by politicians and war hawks. That alone probably makes folks disengage, at least out loud.

I can definitely see why your journalism profs used Brokaw and Jennings as examples. Actually, if they'd freaked on air, that would have probably made people panic even more. Staying calm is a weighty responsibility.

I am actually still amazed that deaths weren't in the tens of thousands. I sort of thought no one would survive. I was not hopeful at all...and I'm so grateful that people did survive.

Thanks for sharing your memories. Wow, staying at that hotel and seeing the large holes that are the remnants of the buildings...that must have really been something. And, it's so important that you took the time to talk about emergency preparedness with your students. We do have to think about more than just earthquakes here and I wish more teachers and schools took it seriously. It can really save lives. I can't remember his name but I know there was a director of security at Morgan Stanley and he managed to evacuate almost 3,000 employees from 2WTC because he'd made them practice emergency evacuations every three months.
velvet said…
What a wonderful post.

My husband called me from work to tell me that something was happening. I remember standing in front of the TV in my apartment with my young son, holding him so tightly and staring in horrified disbelief. Later in the day, we walked around the town like everyone else, all of us shuffling around in a quiet daze, saying nothing. Between the shock and sorrow and the complete lack of air traffic over the city, it was so quiet.

It's amazing how soon we forget about these things and how life has gone on, yet somehow things are differnt. Are we more jaded? A little more suspicious? A touch fatalistic? A little more cynical? I can't put my finger on it.

It seemed odd that Bush wanted us to go out shopping. I suppose that he knew that the terrorism could really affect the economy which would be quite a victory for the terrorists, so I suppose that I could understand the deeper meaning behind it. Still, it seemed so shallow.

I figured that the terrorists are going to go directly after our economy next given Bin Laden's last speech about capitalism. Shopping malls, perhaps? What better way to make our economy collapse? I've seen two very strange things happen in local malls that made me feel very uncomfortable, but perhaps I've just become too suspicious. I hope that I'm very wrong.
Anonymous said…
Thank You for writing such a moving post - Lance and I watched the video together in the office and he said "thanks for making him cry at work"

Love you
Liz Dwyer said…
Thanks for sharing your memories. It seems like a new shopping mall goes up around LA every year. I always wonder, do we really need more stuff? One of the worst things is not knowing what's going to happen or if something even will happen, and when it might happen. Bin Laden could try to blow up LA, the center of entertainment or Vegas or the Mall of America. I pray to God none of it happens. But it's that fear that probably makes us all act a little crazy, a little jaded.

I cry when I watch that video too. Tell Lance that it's better to cry at work than to have a hard heart and suck it up about these things.

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