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Sept. 11 haunts former New Yorker in Tucson: Nine years not long enough to forget

Nine years is a long time, but still not long enough to forget how I felt that morning on Brooklyn’s 69th Street Pier while I watched the first of the Twin Towers burn.

I hoped the smoke was pollution, clouds/Thinkstock

Incredulous sums it up.

Disgusted, enraged, horrified and heartsick would not come until later. Not until my mind finally let me believe it really happened.

Out there on the pier, on my usual bike ride to work at my usual stop with its unobstructed view of the World Trade Center, nothing so atrocious could be going down right across the water.

It was sunny. It was Tuesday. It was right before work. Bad things don’t happy on a sunny Tuesday right before work.

The smoke – thick white piles of smoke billowing from the side of the tower – must be pollution. Or clouds. Or a very strange trick of the autumn morning sunlight reflecting off the bay.

It was not until I got to the office and everyone was screaming and running in zigzags did I find out what all that smoke was about. A plane crashed. A tower burned.

Still later and we heard it crashed on purpose.

Then we heard more news and read more updates and saw follow-ups, investigative reports, victim profiles, tribute announcements, scale illustrations complete with points of impact, a bar graph counting the dead, scores of stories and more stories and photos and more photos and that godawful image of the towers collapsing that stayed prominently displayed on front pages for months.

I stopped reading the papers.

The city stank of death for weeks. Debris washed up on the Coney Island shore.

My parents, as New York City tourists, wanted to see Ground Zero when it was finally open to the public. We walked on covered planks they called walkways, jutting over the barren ground that once steadied the towers then cradled the wreckage.

I did not bring my camera.

The immediate aftermath made New Yorkers lovey-dovey. People helped their neighbors, hugged strangers, carried packages for little old ladies, paid cab fare for little old men. Trees out front were wrapped with American flags, yellow ribbons.

Then the paranoia set in.

Sidewalks and streets were lined with police barricades, yellow tape.

Officers in full regalia – complete with automatic weapons – became fixtures on the subways.

Bomb scares were everywhere. Trains were rerouted, closed down. Blocks were evacuated. Abandoned backpacks were weapons.

The Empire State Building installed metal detectors. Every building installed metal detectors.

It took a couple of years before I could again ride my bike to the 69th Street Pier. I still walked the Brooklyn Bridge, but always brought ID as I figured it was next.

The city never recovered.

Something had shifted deep beneath the pavement, a rift that can never be healed. A hollow permanently blasted in the skyline, a hole permanently blasted in our hearts.

It would take four more years for me to finally leave the city – but more than a lifetime to forget how I felt that sunny Tuesday morning.

Manhattan skyline seen from Brooklyn 69th Street Pier in 2007, view that used to include World Trade Center/Ryn Gargulinski

Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist, performer and Ryngmaster who lived in NYC from 1988 to 2005. She lived and worked in Brooklyn in 2001. Her column appears every Friday on Rynski’s Blogski. Her art, writing and more is at and E-mail

BONUS: Ryn also wrote the weekly editorial, slated for the Monday, Sept. 13 issue of the Arizona Daily Star – different topic, of course. Stay tuned.

What do you think?

Where were you on Sept. 11?

Was it the biggest tragedy that occurred in your lifetime?


What do you think?

0 thoughts on “Sept. 11 haunts former New Yorker in Tucson: Nine years not long enough to forget

  1. Why would we want to forget?????

  2. Wow Ryn, I had no idea you were there. Must have been creepy wondering what could happen next after two jets crashing the towers. Was it as dusty as the films portray? I couldn’t imagine being there with all of the chaos, I would flip out.

    1. yeah, it was creepier than heck…and still creeps me out. like i mentioned, i was figuring on the brooklyn bridge going down soon after, while others were placing their bets on the empire state bldg, subway system and other fine or necessary landmarks and structures. i don’t think anyone bet on the statue of liberty.
      couldn’t tell you about film portrayal accuracy, as i have not seen any of them – nor do i plan to. dust was a factor, although i was in brooklyn where the permanent haze in the sky was more prominent than dust on the streets. and the stench. the acrid burning stench.
      people did wear a lot of surgical masks around town at the time.
      and it wholly defined ‘false sense of security.’

  3. Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that Osama Bin Laden probably has his own banner that says, “Mission Accomplished”.   He got just the reaction he wanted from the 9/11 attack:  America went to war against Islam. America has spent a trillion dollars (and counting) on two wars. Americans are fighting among ourselves over religious freedom, freedom of speech, and whether or not people should have health care. America is broke and the American spirit is broken. Osama must be celebrating in his cave (or his mansion) wherever he is.

    1. i would bet it’s a cave.

  4. We watched from the safety of Flagstaff on television.  It was more confused outside than in the city as we knew some plane hit the WTC.  It wasn’t until the second hit that all of a sudden we realized that we (all of us) were under attack  from someone unknown.  We did not feel the immediate danger, but we knew our lives were changed from that moment.

    1. hi alan in kent wa, and yes – life will never be the same after that one. in the city, even, people didn’t know what was going on for some time. just that a solid piece of new york suddenly was gone.
      like i mentioned to farley, ‘false sense of security’ became truly defined – and then the question in many heads if we want to continue to believe in that false sense in an ignorance-is-bliss kind of way – or hide in the corner (not that the corner makes for much safety, unless it’s the corner of a cellar during a tornado).

  5. I lived in eastern Connecticut in 2001 and worked at the University of Rhode Island.  Staff of the College of Business were gathered around a television set after the first plane hit wondering what was going on.  They were talking about one of the top business students who had graduated just a few months before.  He had gotten a great job in a firm at the World Trade Center….. He didn’t make it out.
    As I drove home to Connecticut I learned that I-95 had been shut down for a time so the nuclear submarines based in Groton could head out to sea.  They had to pass under I-95, so for security reasons the highway bridge was shut down while the submarines passed underneath.
    I knew a couple whose son worked at the World Trade Center, and they left their dog with me so they could head down to NYC to find him. They didn’t stay long when they realized their efforts were hopeless.
    Nine years later, we’re still at war (though it is generally invisible to most of us). The kindness and generosity of that time has turned to anger and hate.  Imagine, an American burning a Koran to piss off billions of people around the world – in remembrance of 2001!  And the press is covering this nut!  Osama must be very happy!

    1. sorry to hear you were personally connected to some of the victims. i am so sorry for all the victims, but it’s even more difficult when you knew them or knew of them.
      and yes, it is amazing that the kindness and generosity of that time made SUCH a 180. amazing and sad.

  6. Hard to think that Osama is still in that cave. It gets cold and its dark. But I bet he moves around a lot. One of these days the last thing he wll hear is the whishhh of one of our missles and then darkness. I am happy that some of my tax dollars paid for that missle. Hard to get DNA off of 3 oz of fried goo.
    I have a son who joined the Army after 9/11. He has seen combat in Iraq in three tours. Plus a tour in South Korea all in combat units.

    1. good for your son and his willingness to join the military. may he stay safe.

      1. Thank you. He is on his way home in a couple of days. He will be in the Army until May 2011 then to the U of A  for school. Then to be a Physical Therapist for the VA or an Army Hospital.

        1. very cool. please wish him well!

  7. Ryn:
    Excellent first hand insight into a very sad day in our lives. Let us hope nothing like that will happen again.

    1. thanks, oldwest2.
      dandy to get a fine compliment from ya!
      and yes, ONCE is MORE THAN enough for such a tragedy.

  8. Interesting read,  I hope this post appears and I am not censored like I am at Hugh’s blog.

    1. yes, your comment is there – hope the other commenting problems clear up soon.
      also thanks for ‘interesting read.’

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