Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thoughts on September 11th, 2001

Ten years ago, I watched the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapse from my roof in Jersey City.

The biggest adventure of our newly married lives had started just two week earlier, when Andrea and I had moved to the city so I could attend graduate school in New York. We had no idea how to get anywhere, we were frightened of our new urban neighborhood and we were very lonely.

To call it a 'strange' way to frame our introduction to living in New York City is an inadequate service to the magnitude of the day to the thousands of others more significantly impacted than myself, but strange it was. I had moved there on a risky bet that I could be an artist. We sold our two cars, Andrea had left her job (and her dog!), I took out tens of thousands in loans and then we left everything we knew for the city of possibilities.

Those possibilites and dreams seemed irrelevant as we stood with our entire apartment building that morning. To the left and the right, the roofs of every brownstone and high-rise we could see were covered with people just like us- transfixed, bewildered and scared.  Behind them, I could see the Statue of Liberty, clear as a bell.

Our television was out (the antenna signal we used came from the tower on top of the World Trade Center) and I had not brought a real radio with us from Kansas. The only radio we had was a small tschotske radio we got for free, ironically, when we had visited the World Trade Center a week earlier. We didn't go inside the towers, and we only stayed in the courtyard for about ten minutes. But, this was long enough to get a free radio from Bloomberg 1130am on which we'd listen to the news all day on Sept 11th.

I tried to work on some drawings that day, (after hours of news fatigue) but it was impossible. The very image on my desk at that moment was a promotional postcard that portrayed New York as The Emerald City from the Wizard of Oz, (my idea of a clever concept at the time, since we were moving from Kansas to New York). In the light of that day, this drawing seemed naive, even childish. I finished it anyway.

Andrea and I watched "You've Got Mail" that day, a romantic comedy that may be more about New York than it is about falling in love. It was one she and I would probably watch two dozen times that fall. It felt like an escape to a New York that might never have existed or never would again.

I feel grateful to have been in New York in the months that followed. This may seem counter-intuitive, but, to me, it instantly became a less intimidating place.  As every blank surface was covered in missing person flyers,  the town became a living memorial over-night, everyone was looking for some reassurance.

I have no significant reflections other than my own experience of that time. I did not know anyone in those towers, and had only one friend on my street who was inside ground zero when it happened. But, it started a new chapter in my life in so many ways, that I look back on that day with an unusual kind of greif and nostalgia.

I have no photos or drawings of September 11th. All I have of that day is a bottle of ash, above,  that I kept from a windowsill in lower manhattan.

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