September 11, 2010

Impossible to Forget

I originally wrote these words in 2006… but felt it only fitting to share them again with you today…

I was not feeling well that morning.

I couldn't quite figure out what was wrong with me, but whatever it was, I decided to call my doctor and see if she could fit me in. Unfortunately, the office was not yet open, and I decided to head into work anyway, and called the office to let them know I might be a few minutes late. I ran out of my apartment and headed for the subway.

Looking at my watch, it was 9:00 on the dot. I was going to be late, but not by too much. I was only two blocks away. The thing about living in New York is that people are always on their cellphones and talking loudly, and nobody really pays too much attention to the people around them, especially when you're in a hurry.

Still, I couldn't help but notice that EVERYONE was on a cellphone and all were looking in the same direction, and pointing, and standing still. I turned around to see what all the commotion was about and saw a large plume of dark smoke pouring out from a ways behind Chase Manhattan Plaza. From where I was standing, only the South Tower was visible, and I merely assumed there was a large fire in a building somewhere. So, I kept walking and reached the corner of Pine Street and ordered my usual morning bagel and coffee from the street vendor.

That's when the world changed for me.

It was 9:03.

First came the sound.

Take a piece of paper and tear it in half. Now magnify that sound by about one hundred thousand and have it increase in volume as it comes closer and closer to you.

My arm fully extended, my hand still held one end of the dollar bill. The vendor held the other end of the bill, as our heads turned in unison and watched the plane fly into the building. The explosion. The bits of paper falling from the sky. I remember standing there for a minute or two trying to wrap my head around what I had just witnessed. And then I walked towards the water, following a little voice in my head that told me that the building was going to fall.

Cellphones were now useless, and I could not get through to my wife, who was working in what was now the tallest building in the area that wasn't already on fire. I circled back towards the subway station and heard President Bush on a car radio saying the country had suffered an "apparent terrorist attack". It was 9:30, although I could have sworn only a few minutes had passed.

The conductor came up out of the subway station to the street and screamed, "Last train to Brooklyn" and I instinctively got on. Standing on that particular street corner was not going to be a safe place to be.

I got home in time to watch the first tower collapse on TV. That video of the giant cloud of smoke and debris surging around the corner of a building… my wife's building… time stood still.

The rest of the day, the week, is a blur. We had to leave the city for a time because the smoke from what was now called Ground Zero was constantly seeping in under our apartment door. Even when we returned to our jobs weeks later, the air was thick with the acrid smell and the twisted charred metal served as a constant reminder of the tragedy.

We were not sleeping. We needed to leave. We put a bid in on a house in South Jersey in December and moved away at the end of February.

These were the lemons we were dealt.

Five years have passed. But today, it feels an awful lot closer. Had it not been for that day, though, my wife and I would probably still be in New York, and most likely would have decided not to raise a child in that environment.

As I look here now at my sleeping son, I can truly say, he is the sweetest lemonade there could ever be.

Hug your kids. Call your parents. Take a moment to reflect. Then make yourself some lemonade.

"A man builds a city with banks and cathedrals. A man melts the sand so he can see the world outside. A man makes a car and builds roads to run them on. A man dreams of leaving, but he always stays behind."

Dedicated to the memory of Craig Staub and Gopal Varadhan, two of the many who died that day.

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