I moved to New York City on July 1, 2001, a few weeks after graduating from college. That means it’s almost my nine-year anniversary in this city and next year’s anniversary will make me officially a “New Yorker.” But I think that if you lived here on September 11, 2001 and stayed, you get to call yourself a New Yorker regardless of how long you’ve had a 212, 917, 646, 718, or 347 area code.
That summer I scored my first post-college job working as a listings editor for AOL’s local guide. It was tremendously boring, but the pay was decent for very little work. My job took up about two hours each day — the rest of the time I played Pop-It on my computer, surfed the internet, and flirted with one of my coworkers. The economy wasn’t completely in the s**tter and I made enough money to shop at Zara and H&M regularly. I still thought about the guy I loved in college every day, but other than that, life was pretty blissful.
I lived in the Dominican section of Harlem that summer and my commute to the office — down near Union Square — was over 30 minutes long. On the morning of Sept. 11, I woke up, took a shower, and turned on “The Today Show” like usual. The first plane had already hit the World Trade Center and Katie Couric and Matt Lauer were talking about it in front of a screen showing the burning building.
Huh, I thought. That’s strange. And awful. Well, gotta get ready for work.
Before I left for work, the second plane had hit, but it still didn’t seem like anything was incredibly wrong. It obviously seemed odd and of course awful that two airplanes had hit the city’s tallest building, but in those days, I had never really even thought about terrorism on our shores. How different things were then, though I realize how lucky we were and we still are that, for the most part, Americans don’t live in constant fear of dying on the way to work.
When I got off the subway that morning — yes, I still went to work! — I looked down 7th Avenue and saw the towers burning in the distance. By the time I got out of the elevator at my office, the first tower was falling on the TV screen in the conference room. All of my coworkers were gathered around it, everyone’s faces registering a strange sort of shock. One woman in particular stood out to me — she was bawling uncontrollably and I found out later that her husband and brother both worked in the WTC.
As everyone knows, the Twin Towers fell that day, thousands of everyday citizens died, there were bomb scares and anthrax mailings, the U.S. went to war in both Afghanistan and Iraq, thousands more soldiers (and innocent foreign civilians) have died, and, the world, our world, hasn’t been the same since.
I feel profoundly lucky that I did not lose someone I loved on 9/11 and haven’t had to deal with that sort of grief in the aftermath. However, as a resident of New York City then and now, I do think about that day regularly, and it has certainly had an impact on my life. In 2004 I met my now-ex fiance and the first year we were together, madly in love, he was strongly considering joining the armed forces. He had his reasons for it, which I don’t think I could do justice explaining, but I do know that I was adamantly opposed. It was the first time I had to consider the possibility of someone I loved walking directly into harm’s way and never coming back. It was awful every day up until when he decided not to enlist. I don’t know how the significant others, parents, siblings, and children of men and women in the armed forces deal with that fear, but I admire their strength.
The fear of losing someone else is still far greater to me than my fear of dying, let alone in a statistically unlikely terrorist attack. This weekend, a car bomb set to detonate in Times Square failed, thanks to a few brave cops and an observant food vendor. It is one of many threats the city of New York has faced since 9/11, and while I don’t think I will ever “get used to it,” I don’t live in fear. It’s weird, but the “what ifs” pass through my mind pretty regularly, as if I could possibly plan ahead for something so awful.
If my office building were to fall, could I survive falling eight floors? Should I maybe always carry a pair of shoes I could run or walk long distances in? If something were to happen, how quickly could I get back to my apartment and grab Lucca? Would the safest place to go be my mom’s apartment in Brooklyn?
Still, I’ve never asked myself, Should I just move somewhere else? New York City, with its bunk car bomb threats, heroic food vendors, crowded subways, tall buildings, bridges, tunnels, parks, and amazing people, is my home.