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.
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.
Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist, performer and TucsonCitizen.com 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 RynRules.com and Rynski.Etsy.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
BONUS: Ryn also wrote the weekly TucsonCitizen.com editorial, slated for the Monday, Sept. 13 issue of the Arizona Daily Star – different topic, of course. Stay tuned.
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Where were you on Sept. 11?
Was it the biggest tragedy that occurred in your lifetime?