New York, Always in My Heart

September 14, 2001

Perhaps one of these days I will write a proper love letter to New York, a love/hate affair that lasted four years while in college at NYU. But today I wanted to share a story, my "Never Forget" story. This week marked 12 years since 9/11/01. And 12 years later I'm afraid some of the details of that day have faded from my memory. Can you believe I never wrote down my thoughts in a journal or anything?

It was the second week of classes my junior year. Three friends and I were sharing a student-housing apartment in Union Square, along 14th Street. I had finally declared a major, Spanish Literature, and was nervous about taking Spanish again after a two-year break. I was getting ready for my intro to Spanish lit in Latin America class at 9:30 a.m. when my mom called from California. A plane had hit one of the twin towers. I let out a small gasp and said a prayer for the pilot and any passengers, but mostly dismissed the whole thing. I just thought that it was a little Cessna or something that flew off course. 

I can't recall if my mom called back to tell me about the second tower or if I learned about it on the street, but by the time I started walking down University Place toward campus, traffic was at a stand still. People had basically abandoned their cars, delivery trucks, and vans and we were all just standing in the middle of the street staring up at the towers. Two gaping holes, billowing smoke, orange flames. I kept wondering how the people in those buildings would be rescued. I ran into a friend on the street. Do we go to class? we wondered. He decided to skip class, but I didn't know what else to do, so I went to class.

When I arrived, my instructor was really shaken up. She had been sitting in her office staring out the window at the first tower when she saw the second plane hit the other tower. We tried to focus on our work as much as possible, but it was obvious we were all just going through the motions. I showed up to my Italian class immediately after my Spanish class but it was cancelled, so I headed back to the dorms. I walked back up University Place and kept glancing back over my shoulder trying to catch sight of the towers again, but I couldn't see them. By the time I reached 14th Street, where I knew I had seen the towers just a couple of hours earlier, it finally hit me that they were gone.

The rest of the day was such a blur. Once my roommates were all back home, we just kind of wandered around Union Square. Could we help somehow? All the blood banks were packed. People were eager to donate blood, but we worried there were no survivors who needed the blood. We all felt so helpless. HELPLESS. Friends who lived in dorms in the Financial District all had to be evacuated and could either stay in hotels or with friends in other dorms, so we did have a couple of my roommate's friends camp out on our floor. That at least felt like we were doing something. Meanwhile, my poor sister didn't know I was OK until my parents called her high school and sent a message to her through the school office. 

Classes were cancelled for the week, and the next few days were just surreal. All roads 14th Street and below were completely closed to non-government cars. An army tank and a humvee were parked just a couple blocks down from our dorm. Movie theaters played movies for free. The missing persons signs plastered all over Union Square broke my heart. After a few days of this, we felt so useless and helpless that it just made sense to leave town. Jen and I went with Lauren to her hometown of Wilmington, DE for the weekend. We made a day trip to Philly, hence the photo of us eating cheese steaks, and just enjoyed being spoiled by her parents. Then it was back to New York, and somehow we pressed on.

As scary as that day was for me, my friends, and my family, it never crossed my mind to leave New York for good. I finished out the semester and stayed through my senior year. In fact, none of my friends dropped out or transferred to other schools. There was one boy I knew from San Diego (whom I met during an internship back home) who arrived in New York that year as a freshman. I don't think he came back to school after winter break.

That day and the weeks and months after 9/11 showed me how resilient we New Yorkers (I considered myself an honorary New Yorker during my time at school) could be. We soon went back to eating out and shopping. My cousin's twin babies were born just two weeks later. We dressed in costumes and paraded around the East Village on Halloween. My dad and sister came out for Thanksgiving, and we attended the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. We didn't do these things to try to forget what happened. We can never forget. Instead we went back to living because we felt so blessed to be living. 

In a city that can leave you feeling pretty lonely at times, we came together. Strangers were so nice to each other. United we stood. Eventually things went back to normal, but for a brief moment, we were family because we were New Yorkers.

November 20, 2001

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