Something Just Broke
Written at approximately midnight on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
When I woke up this morning, there was only one tower left. I just flicked on the tv to watch the weather, and there it was-the World Trade Center on fire. At first it seemed little more than an inconvenience, a little fire thing, and I didn't even turn the sound up because my roommate was asleep. It only took a few seconds of really comprehending what was going on for me to yell at her to get the hell up because something was very very wrong. And as we stood there-her in pajamas, me half-ready for work-we watched the second tower of one of the most famous buildings in the world fall to the ground.
It didn't occur to me until about two o'clock today that when I turned on the television at 10:15 am, half of the World Trade Center was already gone.
I have an apocalypse plan, generated back in like 1995 when New York Magazine published some sensationalist article on earthquakes and Manhattan's location right smack on top of a fault line: I decided that in case of citywide destruction, the two key elements for survival would be rollerblades and a kayak. I never did find a practical place to store the kayak, but the blades I own, and the blades I used today to get from my home in Queens to New York University, where eighty-five freshman drama students were attending their first official day of class at my theater school. While perhaps it was ridiculous to think I should go into work, I knew I couldn't stay at home, and so I skated, through Queens, over the Queensboro Bridge-thousands of people were walking out of Manhattan, clutching briefcases and rolling suitcases, no one saying a word-and down the island of Manhattan, until I got to my office on Lafayette Street. The kids had mostly dispersed-a lot of them went to donate blood-but those that were left gathered around a tv we'd rolled into one of the studios and tuned to CBS, the only station we could get without cable. We ordered pizza, people came and went, sharing stories and comparing experiences. One student had walked out of the subway at the very moment the first building collapsed; others lived in a dorm five blocks away and watched the entire thing from their terrace. Thousands of NYU students are without homes tonight, their dorms having been evacuated.
Thousands of NYC residents are dead.
This is what gets me: the people hanging from the windows of the 90th floor of what at one time was the tallest building in the world. Firefighters speechless, stunned on the sidewalks of downtown New York, waving away the television cameras. Lines at payphones, in pizza parlors, delis, McDonald's. The tireless, endless stream of people walking uptown, nowhere in particular, just uptown, soot coating their shoulders, makeshift gas masks around their necks.
So there's nothing to say. Really. Even those of us who live here, even those who saw it happen in real time, from apartments or train platforms or construction sites, are completely awash in a world of clich�, conjecture, rumor: you can't give blood if you have a tattoo! The pilot of the plane down in western Pennsylvania crashed it on purpose! New York City is closed! I am not drunk, but pleasantly happy, having just spent three hours at the beer garden with a few people I love, making jokes and immediately regretting them because the post-modern ironic clever-cleverness doesn't work right now, and god, what if it never does again?
I pray for the people who are buried under rubble tonight making desperate calls on their cell phones, for the firefighters digging through two feet of soot to get to them, for the families waiting at home for someone to walk through the door. I pray for our world leaders, in this time of catastrophe, that they can rise above our expectations. I pray for doctors, nurses, surgeons, EMTs, and anyone responsible for taking the injured and making them better. But most of all, I just pray in general, for understanding, for compassion, and for guidance. I want to help and I don't know how. I want to grab a shovel and start digging until the last victim is free. I want the director to say, "cut." I want this day to end, and as melodramatic as it sounds, I'm not sure it will, not for a while.
I never went up in the World Trade Center. Never even went in the lobby. Never will. I also know that I never experienced real terror before, and I probably never will again. My pictures from today were taken on a disposable camera, long shots of billowing smoke and empty sky; they will serve to remind me forever of what I take for granted. But my two best friends in the world are asleep in my apartment right now, and it is my sincerest wish that everyone out there can place theirs as well. We are-thank you Dubya-strong as fucking steel. We are terrified, but we are fine. And we are drunk. And tomorrow, whatever it brings, can't be much worse.
God bless America, now more than ever.