The sky was a brilliant blue that day. Very little clouds in it. Autumn air came in through the windows of my sublet. The light was bright and generous. New York City has a particular kind of light to it. It's due, in part, to being so close to the sea. When I visited Amsterdam I noticed a similar clarity in the sunlight, even when it had to push through the clouds on a foggy day. It's a light that makes me feel rich. I feel beautiful just standing in it.
My roommate had left early that morning for her ongoing audition at the Trisha Brown Dance Company. I was left puttering about in our tiny sublet in Woodside, Queens, not quite knowing what I was going to do with my day. I'd moved to New York City a week beforehand. I had $400, one job lead, two big duffel bags and blind hope. I'd been told the world was my oyster. I went to New York City looking for my pearl.
When my Mom called, I thought little of it. She likes to call me often. When she told me a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center and I needed to turn on the television, I didn't really know what she was saying. It took me seeing it to really understand.
The television was one of those hand-held portable things the size of a boom-box. It sat atop the refrigerator. I had to look up at at, pulling my neck back and squinting to see. I remember thinking, I should run outside and stop my roommate from heading into Manhattan. But it was too late. She'd be on the train by now.
I watched as the first tower burned. I was so struck by the long veil of black smoke pushing into the blue sky. We knew very little of what was going on. An accident. It must be. My brother, though, was somewhere in Chinatown. That is where he lived at the time. My Mom and I started to worry about him. She hung up to call him.
My fear soon started to exceed the space of the sublet. I could feel how something much bigger than an accident was happening. When the second plane hit, as I watched it on the small screen, I needed to be with other people, my fear and sense of shock overwhelming.
I wandered out of the apartment and saw others heading up to the roof to watch. I would go with them. It was from the roof in Woodside that I saw the first tower fall, and then the second. I cannot describe to you the feelings I had then. Only that I am crying now as I write this out of the grief and fear for that moment - a moment that changed my life and the lives of everyone I know forever.
There were the moments afterwards when the Pentagon was hit and I felt we were at war. And that language has been used to describe the attacks, for we were attacked. I remember thinking, I don't know what war is but my life will be defined by it now. For there was the feeling in me that things had changed forever and the world was no longer an oyster to anyone. All the pearls were going to be kept from everyone.
Because I hadn't yet seen the footage of people falling and jumping from the towers, I hadn't fully felt the fact of people dying, so in shock I was, still. It took me into the afternoon and evening to fully understand the tragedy, the loss.
In those days afterwards, a wretched, palpable ash filled the air and obscured that bright and generous light. It smelled of burnt tires and trash and things solid, heavy and full of soul. I felt how the city was filling up, then, with those lives lost. I felt how in that first week I'd gotten to know one kind of Big Apple. And for the rest of my time there I'd be living in a very different kind of New York City, one marked and made by the tragedy of 9/11.
As I call it all to memory now, the shock and smell so unknown and at the same time distinct, I feel how it is all still in me. It rests in the bone of my being.
I write to rest in these memories. I write to let you know there is a pain in me planted on that day, a little round thing that orbits my heart. I write to honor and remember on this day, the eleventh year of 9/11, all those souls that are with us though lost to the living world and their loved ones. They are not forgotten.