Thursday, September 13, 2001.
The day after, the streets of New York City were silent, but the skies were choked with a light brown dust. It infiltrated every inch of the city, and the smell of something burning was unavoidable. As high as 34th Street, people were wearing respirator masks-some real, some made of shirtsleeves or napkins-to block out the putrid air. Looking down the wide, empty avenues, the buildings of downtown disappeared into the haze, almost obscuring what wasn't there from sight. But from a rooftop in Brooklyn, the change in skyline was horrifyingly apparent, and the plume of smoke a landmark of its own.
Many New Yorkers spent the day being evacuated from their offices, train stations, libraries, and neighborhoods due to bomb scare after bomb scare brought on by unattended briefcases and much-appreciated paranoia. Police officers stood in the major intersections, not so much to guide traffic as to guide pedestrians, and few people jaywalked across the larger streets. The occasional photographer darted into the middle of the road to snap a southward shot. The occasional police car zoomed past, lights blazing.
A man walked through the garment district, wearing a homemade sandwich board with two photographs, a name, and a series of phone numbers to call if you had seen his lost friend-the man was blanketing the city, walking north by degrees. His eyes were vacant. As I passed, he stopped to take a call on his cell phone.
Cell phones were omnipresent.
In Union Square Park, long rolls of paper had been put down, markers strewn about, and a makeshift quilt of remembrances and flowers and photographs was in process. Love will overcome, said one message. Don't give up, said another. No one seemed concerned with clich�. Somewhere, a group of people were singing the National Anthem. Hundreds of mourners milled about, reading the words on the ground. Several people left pictures of the skyline as it was. One person wrote the word Tomorrow and then drew a sketch of three tall towers rising over the island. Across 14th Street, National Guardsmen checked I.D.s and the bags of anyone needing to enter Greenwich Village.
Men walked up and down the avenues with armfuls of American flags for sale. People bought New York City postcards and air purifiers. There wasn't a Times to be found after 11am, and a crowd of fifty waited outside their Times Square office for the reprint to arrive. The first section was filled with images already pounded into the mind of anyone who had spent the past twenty-four hours watching television, and the feeling of past history and present moment being one and the same was overwhelming.
Televisions blared out of every window, radios out of every car.
Today, lampposts are covered with fliers begging for information, any information, about missing family members and coworkers. People are turning off the TVs and going out with friends instead, or simply walking block after block of their city, cameras and masks around their necks. Street corners are filled with people taking donations of clothing, money, time. Most relief organizations have put out word that no more volunteers are needed, come back tomorrow. The air has cleared somewhat, and downtown you can see the Woolworth Building, a proud survivor, standing strong against a bright blue sky.
Out of the rubble came survivors, buried for two days, but alive.
The city, too, is alive. People look at each other now, really see each other. Old friends meet by chance on the street and hug for an eternity, no longer squealing in fake delight at the sight of one another or promising to call, really, I swear I'll call-in fact, sometimes we say nothing at all. But we are together, and we are okay, and we grasp each other tightly in remembrance of those who are not.