As we mark the 10 year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, we all remember where we were when this tragic incident occurred. We all have a story. And this is mine...
I was in New York City for the U.S. Open. There was really no reason for me to be at the U.S. Open, as I am not particularly knowledgeable about tennis, but my dear friend and student at the time, Helen Hunt had planned a trip and wanted me to go.
The week was very interesting in New York. It was fashion week. The weather was moody. A random thunder shower on Sept 10th, got me drenched, because I could not catch a cab. This was our last night in NYC and we had decided that we wanted to get up early before our 11am flight on Sept 11th, so that we could have breakfast at Bubbie's, the deli downstairs. As we walked downstairs at 8:30am,Sept 11th I remember saying "What a beautiful day" aloud. It was so clear out. Not a cloud in the sky. Where should we sit? By the window, so we can see the view. My view was facing the World Trade Center. I heard a sound above me in the background (in retrospect, a plane) and I heard what I thought was thunder, before remembering what a clear sunny day it was. Then I saw what looked like confetti and glitter exploding everywhere. "What's going on?" Was it an explosion? Or maybe a celebration? The shattered glass and papers that filled the sky almost looked like a parade to my unknowing eyes. We went outside to see what was going on. Simultaneously, the TV in the deli was turned on, and the two towers stood there, one seemingly punched in with a hole.
I went out to witness it with my own two eyes. There was a hole in the side of the WTC. People could be seen waving out from the top story windows. The buzz of people talking on the street informed me that there had been a plane crash. "You can see the tail", said one man, as he pointed it out to me. I could see it. I saw the tail of the plane. When I heard that it was a plane crash, I thought good... it was an accident. And, disoriented, we went back to our breakfast, with this happening in the background. Matthew, the third person in our trio, decided to go check on our car to the airport while we spaciliy ordered breakfast.
I was facing Helen, with the World Trade Center in the background, when I witnessed the second hit. The explosion on the other side of plane crash #2. The waiter buckled to his knees, and it was clear that this was more than an accident. We exited the restaurant. I remember talk of "why doesn't someone come to save the people at the top?"... "Forget it", I thought. Somewhere, I knew. We darted off to get our luggage and get out of NYC.
While we gathered our things, we turned on the TV, and got the word that the Pentagon had been struck, and then a call that the airports were closed. We were in shock. I watched as both buildings burned. Don't ask me why, but I knew as I watched that we would witness these buildings coming down. I later heard that considering the structure of the buildings that this was an unlikely outcome, and noone expected it, but for some reason I knew. I was spooked that the entire city had bombs planted underneath it, and that perhaps this was the end for me. Our trio decided to stay put in the loft where we stayed. With windows closed. I was reminded of my ancestors and relatives who had not survived the Holocaust, and those who had spent time locked in attics and closets, etc. I felt trapped.
I began preparing myself. Praying. Literally at the edge of the bed meditating and praying, saying "Please let me be safe. Even in my death, let me be safe". And I began to visualize a shaft of white light protecting me.
When the buildings crashed down, we could feel the rumbling, like a rocket ship taking off. This was 3D TV for sure, being able to feel physically what I was viewing. We remained in the loft for the next 6 hours. Lucky for the city, the wind was blowing in the other direction, so we could still see out, but what was happening for the next several hours had me on edge. I could not relax. It felt like any second more of the city would be under attack.
We were 9 blocks away from the scene of the crime, and the entrie neighborhood was covered in a layer of dust, and death. There were pieces of the building and bodies found 2 blocks away from the scene. So 9 blocks is about as close as I could handle. I wanted to get the F out of there. I did not own a cel phone at the time, but I kept my running shoes on, and my credit card and cash in my hip pocket. I was ready to dart.
Towards the afternoon, I was looking out the window, when building 7 went down, and a group of people went running by our place. At the same time the doorman evacuated our building, and I was down those stairs so fast! (Thank God for being in shape!.. By the way, another great argument for being physically fit.) We found ourselves outside in surreal chaos. I managed to obtain a mask (asbestos poisoning, i thought... but do those things really work. Was it aleady too late?), and we started running Uptown.
I noticed that as we got farther away from the scene, it had an eerie feeling of this billowing smoke in the background, but not the same urgency. No others around us were wearing masks, and I was a bit embarrassed, not wanting to scare the children in the park on the swings. So I put it away. We saw a Hum V military truck, and men with camouflage and guns ride by. Is this what it was going to be like from now on?
Some friends of ours let us come by their place, and we sat together in trauma, fear, relief and shock. Not the least of which was some televised retaliation that resembled 4th of July. We went out for dinner that evening. It felt sweet to be alive, among the community. Later a friend of Helen's, Bill Gerber, took us in and nurtured us. It seemed like we had awoken to a kingdom of riches when we got to the Upper East Side. The incident was no longer visble, but you could smell it. The air traffic was shut down, and so the island of New York City felt like some haunted house. Every several hours there was another scare. I was glued to the television, which I had not watched in 20 years. Suddenly it seemed very important to see what was going on and to hear each individual's story. It took us 2 days to hit a clearing where we jumped a plane and had the shortest plane ride of my life. I was intent on getting back to Los Angeles, as my father was dying of cancer in the background, getting his first chemotherapy treatment.
We arrived home to LA on a Thursday night, and I had a 7am spinning class scheduled to teach. I taught my classes in my pain, and shared that raw 9/11 moment with Santa Monica as best i could. The only 2 musical artists that I could tolerate were U2 and Peter Gabriel. I believe it was my personal pain, and the understanding of this incredible mass pain that dictated my limited musical preference for the next several days. This collective wound that is shared among all people who have been both sheltered from and devastated by war crimes created by governments.
When it happened, I didn't care what it took, I didn't even care about my own freedoms in that moment - I just wanted to feel safe. I so wanted to feel safe again, but in that moment, I felt that a veil had been lifted from my American eyes. This is what much of the world goes through, and it had never happened to us. Not here. It had certainly never happened to me. Not in the global sense. And the words: "what was I thinking?" echoed and wailed in my heart/mind. "what was I thinking? what was i thinking?" I wondered that day how many more would have to see tragedy with their own eyes. I wondered how I would ever go back to feeling safe. Somehow I knew that in time, this would just be another story.
And this is it.
In rememberance of the families that still suffer and the women and men who lost their lives on that random Tuesday ...may we all be free.