9/11 Stories

Amanda Highfield

I just moved to Jersey City, right across the river from where the Twin Towers used to be. I’m between jobs this week, so when I woke up just before 10 in the morning on “Black Tuesday” to the endless ringing of the phone, and the voice on the other end of the line said, “They’ve blown up the Pentagon and the World Trade Center!!” I thought she was either fucking with me because I’d just woken up or she was making a big deal out of another bombing like the last one. But I leapt out of bed, stretching, and went to the window, where I can usually see the towers, looming pale and silvery against the Long Island sky. Instead, I saw one tower, and a lot of smoke.

As a compassionate person and a photographer, the first things I felt were: I’ve got to get there, I’ve got to help people, I’ve got to be in my damn city, and: I’ve got to get up to the roof and take a picture of this. So I ran around the house throwing on clothes, turning on the news, finally back to my room, put on my shoes, put my foot on the window sill to tie one, and looked up, and before my eyes, the antenna tilted and fell into the smoke. I nearly threw up. I remember my exact words: “OH SHIT, OH SHIT.”

I got my pocket book, and as I went for the door I heard the tv: The PATH was closed. And NJ Transit, and the LIRR, and Metro North, and the MTA buses and subways. So, I sat down and watched the news, helpless, and panicked, and I cried. I cried while I tried and failed to find out the safety of my friends, while I tried and failed to call my mom, and even tried to call my recent ex-boyfriend to find out if he was safe.

When I finally got into the city, Thursday, it was like a parallel universe. It was not the City that Never Sleeps. It was so quiet…I saw missing posters, candles, flowers everywhere. I saw people making no effort to hide their tears. People smiled uneasily at me on the street. If there are two things that New Yorkers aren’t, it’s smiley or uneasy! The usual smell of NYC - all the incense and the smell of the stores and restaurants, air conditioning drifting into the street, ocean air and pavement all mixed together - it wasn’t there. Instead I smelled the smell of an abandoned building - old smoke, wet ash, synthetic things burning. It was like some big, horrible, twisted christmas.

Now it’s been a week. Nothing has healed, nothing has gone away. I spent three days at hospitals, saying, “I’m O+!”. I had drinks with a soldier on friday night, and I like to think I finally did something to help by letting him tell me what he wanted to get off his chest, and then taking his mind off of things. By being a friend. And he didn’t believe me when I told him he was a hero. I think the first police officer I said “thank you” to thought I was taking an attitude for a moment, but I’ve been doing it since then.

I’ve always been awed, driving towards the river, at how massive the Towers were, and how it seemed like I could drive right up to them. The view from J. Owen Grundy park, on the water, was absurdly beautiful… they rose straight up, glittering, into the night sky. But I never fully realized how much I loved our Twin Towers, or how hard I could feel the deaths of a lot of people I don’t know, or what really lay inside of a lot of New Yorkers’ hearts until last Tuesday. It didn’t just teach me something about terrorism, or about NY, it taught me something about myself.