Living Through the Surreal Days

Church Meets State: Roadside message in the Bronx, September 20, 2001
The world has changed this month. On Tuesday morning September 11th two hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Center. As I write this, I am among the many New Yorkers who cannot yet comprehend what we watched. SIAC is in downtown Brooklyn, directly across the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges from downtown Manhattan. I sat in traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens expressway and watched the World Trade Center towers burn and collapse in the distance. This surreal sight instilled a numbness that is only now, three days later, fading. Surely this was a disaster movie. Surely those towers under which I have passed hundreds of times, where I sat and had lunch a week ago, where my hairdresser has worked miracles on my hair, have not collapsed.

But my experience was insulated by distance and the safe cocoon of my car. For three days we in this city have sought out friends, the simple phrase "Are you okay?" crossing back and forth over the struggling telephone network.

Using Sprint PCSs wireless web service and my laptop, I returned emails from friends and family while sitting in my car waiting for a ferry during my arduous journey home on Tuesday. The difficulty and expense of setting up the wireless connection a month or so ago is completely justified by this single, timely usage.

The firestation near St. Bart's lost 10 men in the collapse.
Every firestation in the city received gifts of flowers, candles, and donations for the families of the lost from the community.

My call to a friend who is a New York City fire fighter on Wednesday morning woke him from much deserved sleep -- weeping with relief I apologized and hung up. Later I learned that he was on site when the buildings collapsed and barely escaped.

A friend with whom I spent the day sailing on Sunday was approaching the World Trade Center in an bus when the first plane hit. He screamed at the driver to keep driving, don't stop beneath the building. The driver went on over to the river where the passengers were able to get on a ferry to New Jersey. He was on the phone assuring his mother that he was all right when he watched the second plane strike. He spent the night in a stranger's apartment.

Another friend was dropping off her baby at the World Trade Center daycare center. When she heard the plane hit she grabbed her child and another infant and, along with the other adults in the center, started to run. She ran blocks into Chinatown, with the help of a stranger for a while, sharing a taxi with other women for a while. Eventually she contacted the other baby's parents, and after some difficulty managed to return their child to them. All of the children in the center, which was on the ground floor with doors to the outside, were saved.

Another American Express employee was running late for work. She was still near home when she heard the news on the car radio. She called a co-worker at the office, who did not know what the explosions she was hearing were, and ordered her to grab everyone in sight and run north. Immediately.

In the pool at Bally Total Fitness on September 13 a woman who was trying to summon the energy to swim laps explained that her neice's husband was missing. "I just don't seem to have any energy today," she sighed in understatement.

Within days of 9/11 truckloads of gravel guard the building housing NYC's 911 headquarters.

I returned a frantic call from Antonia, the Barcelona resident who is currently in Atlanta, and shortly received email from friends of hers in Spain who were aghast that this disaster in the US could reach so far as to touch them, too, by virtue of fearing for my life.

The stories you've heard via the national media are a tiny sampling. The reality here is virtually impossible to convey. As I write this, in the north east corner of The Bronx, the acrid smell caried on the southerly breeze makes my tongue tingle. I could claim that it is also what makes my eyes tear up, but that would not be the truth.

Copyright 2001 Mia's Mar Vista News. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction by permission only.