9/8/11

Remembering 9/11: One New Yorker's Reflections

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Smoke billows from where the Twin Towers once stood.
Photo was taken at 8 am the day after 9/11/01 from my
high rise apartment in Greenwich Village.

Photo: Maria Adcock

New York City forever changed after 9/11, driven not only by its altered landscape, but also by its resilient citizens. In an otherwise poker faced metropolis, people started greeting one another. With offices closed, residents roamed the streets and created makeshift memorials at public parks. Taxicabs meandered down the roads, their chorus of honking horns stunned into silenced.

I photographed scenes of 9/11 from the city that I called my own after recently moving from the Midwest. I recorded the events not to sensationalize the tragedy, but to show my future children how the world shuddered that sunny September morning.

With most public transportation at a standstill, residents traveled by foot or bike
and protected themselves with face masks. I took this photo on 9/12/01
outside of my apartment on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village.

Photo: Maria Adcock

In 2001 I lived in Greenwich Village, two miles north of the World Trade Center. I enjoyed fabulous unobstructed views of downtown from my 36th floor apartment. In the morning, the twin towers greeted me hello through my living room window, in the evening, their twinkling lights welcomed me home.

Immediately after the attacks my company sent their employees home. The city shut down the subway system, so along with thousands of stunned New Yorkers I walked miles to my apartment. Tired from walking in heels, I stared at the public buses jammed with people trying to rush back home to their loved ones.

The streets filled with an exodus of dazed refugees. People clutched cell phones to their ears hoping the next call would connect. An eerie quiet blanketed the city pierced only by the occasional siren. People stared with long faces as fire engines and police squads rushed by.

At my apartment dump trucks and barriers lined Houston Street. Police blocked residents clamoring to return home. They lived on the south side of the street, the off limit area due to its proximity to Ground Zero. Living on the north side I was allowed into my apartment.

From my living room window I stared at the unbelievable sight unfolding before me. Long arms of choking gray smoke grasped at the sky like a drowning swimmer.

When night descended police issued a 10 pm curfew. The winds changed, blowing thick dark smoke north toward the rest of the city. With my eyes glued to the television, I noticed dust on my glasses.
I cleaned the lenses and returned to the news, but within minutes they were dirty again. Curious, I felt them. A silky dust covered my fingertips. I jumped up and opened the apartment door. The acrid smell of scorched metal and concrete overwhelmed me.

Shutting the door I hustled to the linen closet, grabbed blankets and towels, and covered the vents. Soon the apartment became hot and stuffy. Heavy smoke enveloped the neighborhood. With the strict police curfew and lack of transportation, I could not leave.

I retreated to my bedroom and climbed into bed. I covered my face with a handkerchief to minimize breathing the fine dust and wondered, “How did this happen to my city?”

New York City residents expressed their grief through art and words on
paper taped to the ground in Union Square Park. Photo taken on 9/12/01.

Photo: Maria Adcock

After a sleepless night, I packed a small bag and headed further north to stay at a friend’s apartment. Fallout from fear ensued. A turbaned middle aged man drove the cab I had hopped into. Each window prominently displayed stickers of American flags. The driver caught me staring at the decals and proclaimed, “I am an American citizen!” We passed an Afghanistan restaurant, its “Afghan Food” sign hastily covered. Further up the road, nervous Middle Eastern shopkeepers stared at the sidewalk behind the safety of closed doors.

I saw how tragedy strengthened humanity. People stood along the West Side Highway cheering support to emergency workers as they drove by. In record numbers residents flocked to donate blood. Children sold cookies and lemonade to raise funds. Friends and families told one another how much they loved each other.

Thousands of people tragically lost their lives on 9/11, each leaving a legacy. My story cannot compare, but it is the one I will recount to my children and grandchildren. I will tell them how Americans gathered strength that day and put truth into the words, “The United States of America.”


Note: I originally wrote this essay two years ago, but never published it in Bicultural Mama because this website did not exist back then. For the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I am posting this in remembrance and reflection of that tragic day.

13 comments:

  1. I got goosebumps and tears reading this. You nailed it so well in the last paragraph that this sad sad tragedy will have to be passed down to our children and their children so they will know how their country stood up and pull together to survive such terror. Thank you for this post.

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  2. I can barely imagine what it must have been like to physically be in New York at that time. You describe such a tangible experience. You may not have lost anyone but you were personally impacted in an unforgettable way. Thanks for sharing your story and thanks for visiting my story too.

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  3. Maria - Thank you for sharing a very touching and personal narration of a very difficult time. The twin World Trade Center towers were among my personal favorite landmarks in NYC. I was on the visitors deck on the roof on Aug 8, 2001. In my many visits to NYC since that fateful Sep morning, I felt... I sensed the pain and sorrow of the city. Though not a native of NYC, I felt a personal loss from the tragic incidents of that day and the ensuing after shocks.

    To this day it's hard to imagine those towers are no longer standing. I can't wait to visit the new towers once they are standing again.

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  4. What a touching story! Thanks for sharing.

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  5. @Deepak
    Deepak, I think no matter where you lived at the time the Twin Towers fell, you felt the horror. We're all united when it comes to this tragedy which is a positive sign of hope. BTW, Tammy C. and I visited the WTC roof deck, too, a couple weeks beforehand. Glad we had the chance to view it. I'm sure you feel the same way.

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  6. Incredibly moving post! Thanks for sharing your story.

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  7. @Bicultural Mama
    Maria - Yes, though it wasn't my first time, I am glad I made it to the roof top that day. Of course, little did I know it would be the last.

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  8. I can't even imagine what it was like to live through it. Love that you documented it for your kids. It will be an important lesson for them.

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  9. Thank you for sharing your personal 911 experience. I will never forget that day as long as I live.

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  10. My grandmother used to work for the Port Authority. I remember going with her and feeling the building almost sway. The cafeteria was above the clouds! Thankfully, she left there after the first bomb scare a few years earlier.

    I remember listening seeing jets flying around Long island. Crazy day.

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  11. I never got to go up the towers but remembered their awe inspiring view from your apartment. Thanks fir republishing your essay.

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  12. Great essay Maria. This really brings back the memories of 9/11. I didn't realize you lived downtown-- I can imagine how having the toxic dust and smoke in your apartment must have added to this already scary situation.

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