Sunday, September 11, 2011

Another 9/11 post

I can't believe I'm posting about 9/11. Unlike most other days in my life, though, I can remember it well, which is sort of an executive excuse to write about it.

It had been just over a year since I had moved to NYC from Los Angeles. I had been working at HarperCollins Publishers for a little less than that. I was 25 years old and was already a jaded New Yorker—and then some. I hated my job, felt little connection with my co-workers, and had just excised myself from a collective of college friends, having lived with them in a dank warehouse in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. I opted instead to live in a proper apartment with an affable pothead acquaintance, at least 10 years my senior, in Astoria Queens.

My office was an negatively exotic place. It was very corporate and beige and entailed endless meetings that felt like public floggings. And almost everyone was older by at least 10 years. I was hired as a design assistant for children's books and as the office's 'on call' computer tech. I knew next to nothing about computers. It had been a humiliating and rough first year, surviving a co-worker's plot to get me fired, among other indignities. Thankfully my boss was indifferent to my ineptitude and took my bumbling efforts to be charming, if frustrating, to the rest.

The vindictive co-worker had just quit not long before the planes hit, but on that morning I had arrived to work with the exhausted, beaten spirit of a skinny pup, as the improvements of my life had yet to take hold.

The first plane must have hit on my walk from the train to the 6th floor. When I got through the glass doors, a few people were gathered around the conference room TV, watching the footage of a gaping hole in the WTC tower. Without question, I assumed an idiot had crashed a small propeller plane into it. In the grand narrative of NY, it seemed like a "Whoops" kind of moment and I proceeded to my office to work on my breakfast. More people gathered around the TV. Having finished my breakfast, and having nothing else to do, I joined in. About two minutes later, the other plane hit on live television. Hushed gasps enveloped the room. It was at that moment we all knew.
Then, the news cut to the Pentagon. Then, the crash site in Pennsylvania. I felt like I had entered the Twilight Zone.

Until the first building collapsed, the possibility of that happening seemed impossible. Modern man, (Americans!) could not build something like that and let it fall. It sounds creepily jingoistic to say that, but it must have been my core belief, because when the building did go down, I immediately intuited that our world was never to be the same again. It was as if a heroin-soaked gauze was ripped from my eyeballs. My life seemed stable only occasionally, but until that day, at least those buildings would always be.

Security announced that we should all leave, but would have to go by foot, since all the subways had closed. I walked 7 miles home, over the Queens Bridge with a co-worker I did not know that well yet. I don't remember talking much on our long walk back to Queens, but I remember her awkwardly breaking the silence here and there by remarking on the obvious: "This is surreal". And boy, it was. Thousands of NYC'ers, some covered head to toe in soot and dust, were trudging home together, smoke billowing from lower Manhattan. I occasionally stopped to take pictures.

Out of some kind of determination for things to be 'normal'. I went to work the next day, even though most did not. On the way to work, the train made a very sudden jerky stop. Everyone in the car gasped and clutched their chests. It had been the everyday jerky stop and the train quickly moved on. Everyone in the train laughed uncomfortably and breathed again.
Never before had I felt so embedded in a collective emotion. It felt good, even if I knew the world would not be the same, or that the gravitas of this moment might not repeat itself, for better or worse.

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