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I Remember ...

It was the most gorgeous morning, remember?

It had poured the night before, and I’d been out drinking in the Village with Dr. Duncan and his new beau. The storm passed and the morning was a little crisp with the most amazingly clear blue sky. Remarkably, my head was just about as clear. I grabbed my new blue zafu, wiped as much cat hair off it as I could and placed it right on the railing of the sliding glass door leading to our balcony. 30 minutes every morning to center myself. It was a new habit that had taken me awhile to settle into (and one I should settle into again).

I just sat, soft focus on the blinking red light atop one of the towers … I don’t remember if was the north or south. Counting breaths. 1, 2, 3, 4, … repeat. The cats would rub up against me and then plop down on the warming cement, which was beginning to soak up the morning sun. We lived on 23rd street and the balcony faced south. From all our windows, we could see just the top few floors of the World Trade Center, as well as the white aerial spikes that rose above.

My meditation timer went off and I was in a really good zen state. It was about quarter to nine and promised to be quiet day at the office. Cool. Off to the shower.

The phone started ringing just as I was toweling off. “Hello?”

“How fucked up is your back yard?” my sister asked.

“Um, whaddya mean? I was just out there and it’s beautiful …” I walked to the living room and saw the smoke.

“Is the Tower on fire?” I asked, interrupting myself.

She told me she’d been watching Today and it looked like a plane had crashed into one of them.

I switched on the TV and found a very solemn Katie and Matt, with an image of the ripped tower in the background. “Oh my god.” I was expecting maybe a little hole from a tiny commuter plane, or maybe a helicopter, clipping its wing against the side of the building. Not an open gash that ripped across most of the building. “I’ll call you back.”

I pulled on some clothes and ran upstairs to the roof. We lived on the 9th floor of an 11-story building. From the top you could see the damage.

Totally surreal. It looked like a matte painting for the backdrop of a disaster film. Like somehow the folks at Lucas Entertainment dropped a huge scrim in front of the Towers. And then I looked down towards 9th Avenue and could see people running north.

I went back downstairs to check on the reports. I hadn’t been there very long when there was an explosion in the second tower. That’s fucked up, I thought.

Katie and Matt were all stoically aflutter (in hindsight, they were no doubt shittiing their pants on national TV and yet trying to look cool, calm, and collected) and started showing replays of the 2nd explosion. That’s when we realized it was a second plane. The video replay made it clear … a jet plane had flown directly into the tower.

“This is on purpose,” I said out loud to no one. I lit a cigarette and started crying.

Smoking and crying. Pretty much how I spent my day.

Larry was in Toronto on business, scheduled to fly home that night. I called his cell, which he never has turned on (it runs down the battery), and was surprised to hear him answer.

“Have you checked out of your hotel yet?” I asked.
He had, and I told him to find a new one or call friends/family, ‘cause there was no way he was flying home tonight.

“What’s going on?” he asked. “People are hearing all kinds of stories and we’re trying to find a television.”

I told him all I knew. I it looked like two commercial jets had flown into the WTC and there were reports of others in the air. I was fairly certain that more were coming to Manhattan (none of us really knew what the hell was going on, did we?).

“Just stay up there where it’s safe.”

“No, I want to come home. Are you okay?”

I said I guess and lit another Marloboro Light. What’s a little lung cancer when the world’s ending?

I remember going back up to the roof. By then you could barely see the gash for all the smoke. The WTC had turned into a factory of billowy grey clouds, blowing up and to the left. I just stood there, watching in some sort of suspended animation. It was real, and yet this could.not.be.real.

All of a sudden there was a huge upward burst of smoke and what looked like a huge cloud of dust. I couldn’t see the tower anymore for all of the smoke. Was it even still there?

“Oh god, did the building just collapse?” I thought, maybe even said out loud. I ran downstairs to check what the TV said.

The tower had collapsed.

As we all know, the second one followed suit not long after.

The rest of the day is pretty much a blur. Phone calls to the office. Trying very hard to get hold of friends who worked downtown. So much fear. So many what-ifs? Phone calls to and from friends and family. Service was sporadic, but it seemed I could get lines out more than people could get lines in, so every time the phone rang and I answered I was greeted with an “Oh thank God.”

My next clear memories were that evening. I was in group therapy at the time. I figured it’d been cancelled, but hadn’t heard to I walked down to the Village anyway.

Eight Avenue had been transformed. There were handmade signs in almost every window. “Give Blood”. “Call the Red Cross at xxx xxx xxxxx”. “God Bless NY”.

Most everything was closed, but the places that were open had throngs of people standing outside. Talking. Consoling. Hugging. I was pretty much cried out from the afternoon, so I just took it all in and kept wandering down to 5th Ave and 9th St. Nobody home at the shrink’s, which wasn’t too surprising. I hoped everyone was okay, but would have to wait to find out. Turns out they were.

I walked around and found myself on the southwest corner of 7th Ave and Greenwich. Diagonally across from St. Vincent’s. It was the most horrific thing I’d seen all day.

The street outside the hospital was lined with gurneys. Perfectly made, pristine white gurneys. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals were at the ready. Just standing there. Under the bright lights. Next to all the empty gurneys and beds.

They’re not bring anyone back. There’s no one to save.” was all I could think.

Fuck. Just when you think you’re all cried out.

I ran into some friends heading back up north on 8th. In the two hours since I’d been there, more signs were up, a couple bars/restaurants had opened and people still needed to be fed. They asked me to join them, but I said I’d just been at the tragically quiet St. Vincent’s and needed to go home and have a nice, quiet meltdown.

:: :: ::

I woke up the next morning. Surely that was just a dream, I thought (knowing better). I rolled over to look out the window and saw, as I expected, the towers of gray vapor, reminding me that this was in fact, the new real world. Seems the wind had shifted overnight. Now I could smell it. The remnants of a very ghastly barbeque.

:: :: ::

Turns out we were very lucky. Larry got home a day or so later via a series of taxis, rental cars and trains. Nobody in our immediate circle was too badly involved. Michaud the journalist had been on a stalled subway train, underwater, when the tower went down. He felt the rumble. How scary would that have been?

He emerged somewhere near Wall Street where they told him to “run” as he got off the train. He was chased by a wall of smokey debris from the second tower collapsing. He was supposed to be covering a fashion event.

Another friend, who worked down the street, saw a wall of glass come crashing towards him. I still don’t think he’s over that, bless. I don’t think he’s quite over that yet, bless him.

I don’t think any of us are. I just wish I didn’t have to be force fed the photo images over the past few weeks, and especially today … and I’m not even in NY anymore.

Condolences and blessings to anybody out there who lost someone, or who still hurts from the day’s events.

Never forget, they tell us. How could we?