Our Recollections From 9/11: Amelia

It’s been 10 years since the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and we continue to feel very real aftershocks. In the hours, days and weeks following the tragedy, no one could imagine how much our world would change — how our concepts of peace and freedom would shift and morph, and how our sense of national security and global terror were irrevocably changed. The Frisky staff took the time to share our personal experiences of 9/11, and hope that this will inspire you to recall your own feelings and experiences in the comments. We see this as an opportunity to remember, memorialize and come together, and we hope you’ll join us.

I think it was incredibly surreal for everyone. When people talk about how we lost a certain innocence that day, I think that’s what they’re referring to, or at least what it means to me; on 9/11, when the planes hit, as the towers fell, and my new city was in a panic, chaos swirling around me, it still just didn’t click that such a horrible thing had happened. Now, when there’s a “mysterious package,” or the ground quakes, my mind immediately wondersif something horrible is happening again.

I had just moved to New York about 2.5 months before. I was living up in Harlem and was almost ready to leave my apartment for work when I heard Katie Couric and Matt Lauer talking about the first plane hitting on “The Today Show.” I watched them discuss it for a few minutes and then saw the second plane hit. It was strange because I don’t think I understood what it meant — that we were under attack. It’s not that I thought it was some weird freak coincidence necessarily. But my mind just didn’t go there. Running late for work at this point, I left my apartment as if I was going on with my day. On the train no one seemed aware of what had happened; a lot of the commuters on my train line had been coming from the Bronx and had probably been underground for awhile.

When I got off the train at 18th Street and 7th Ave, I looked south and saw the Towers burning. I walked three more blocks to the office and by the time I got up to my floor, the first tower had fallen. Everyone — my coworkers, people on the floor I’d never met, etc. — was watching the news in one of the conference rooms and we were together when the second tower fell. Some people were crying, some people were exclaiming that we were all going to die, some people were just silent. I think I was one of those. I was pretty new to this job and hadn’t really made many friends yet.

When we were evacuated from the building and told to go home, the one friend I did have at work, a girl named Amina, suggested we go to her friend’s apartment in the East Village. This was after we discovered that the subways were not running (especially the line that would have taken me home, as it traveled underneath the WTC) and the only way for me to get home — about 125 blocks away — was to walk or take one of the few buses which were A) packed and B) moving extremely slowly due to the insane traffic and chaos outside.

I have to tell you, at that point, it still hadn’t quite registered with me what had happened. Amina and I walked to her friend’s place and the air, even that many blocks above what we now call Ground Zero, was sprinkled with ash. Otherwise, the sky was so goddamn blue. It was a gorgeous day. I called my mom back in California. It was around 7 there so I knew I could catch her just before she left for work. It took multiple tries — the phone systems were super jammed — I finally got through and told her what happened. She hadn’t been watching the news and it was so early in California that I think many people were only just finding out, so when I told her, I know it didn’t register with her either.

“Wow, really?” she said when I told her what was going on. “Listen honey, I’m running late for work, I’ll call you back in a little bit, okay?” An half hour later, she called me in a panic, the severity of the situation having actually dawned on her. I think it was incredibly surreal for everyone. When people talk about how we lost a certain innocence that day, I think that’s what they’re referring to, or at least what it means to me; on 9/11, when the planes hit, as the towers fell, and my new city was in a panic, chaos swirling around me, it still just didn’t click that such a horrible thing had happened. Now, when there’s a “mysterious package,” or the ground quakes, our minds immediately wonder if something horrible is happening again.

I spent the rest of the day huddled at Amina’s friend’s apartment watching the news and trying to make phone calls home. One of the calls I made was to the guy I had been madly in love with in college; if I’m being honest, I used it as the perfect excuse to call him. That’s what I mean when I say it hadn’t hit me yet — thousands of people had just died a mile from me and I saw it, in some way, as a good reason to CALL A BOY. I shake my head at that.

Honestly, outside of those details, there is very little I really remember that day. There’s even less that I remember feeling. I don’t remember being particularly scared. I think I was kind of numb. I didn’t know anyone who died. I remember feeling weirdly relieved that I lived so far uptown, away from the places that were seemingly symbolic of capitalism, the things that “made the terrorists hate us” or whatever. But as close as I was, as sensitive of a person I like to think I am, I’ve always felt a little bit removed from the tragedy. Possibly out of a strange sense of gratitude that I was fine, everyone I knew was fine, and I felt lucky in comparison to so many. That maybe it wasn’t my tragedy to feel and grieve and fear to the fullest extent.

September 11 had a far bigger impact on me personally over time, in my relationships with other people in particular. I come from a very liberal — radical, frankly — family; I grew up going to anti-war demonstrations. So the days, months, and years post-9/11 and the various actions that were taken as a result produced major confusion both internally and externally for me. I think the biggest was probably when I met the man who became my fiance (and then ex-fiance) a little over two years after 9/11. (I’ll call him M. from here on out.) M. came from a much more conservative family than mine and was, at that time, especially, rather conservative himself. Some of our biggest arguments in the early days of our relationship were not about us but about ideas, the way we saw the world, how we thought it should change, and how to go about bringing that change. Our differing opinions were both related to and heavily informed by what had happened on 9/11. We were so different, but we loved each other fiercely. About six months into dating, M. told me that he was seriously considering joining the military and wanted to fight “the war on terror” in Iraq. First, let me say that I have so much respect for our armed forces, truly, and for the families who are at home waiting for them to return; but I was utterly overwhelmed by fear and anger and sadness and vehement opposition to him making such a choice. I know there are people who make that choice every day and are proud of it and I commend them; I know there are families who live with that fear every day and I am in awe of their ability to handle it, as the very thought of this person I loved, who loved me, being in harm’s way and causing harm — admittedly for a cause I did not believe was just — produced so many complex, conflicting emotions that I didn’t know how to handle. M. ended up not joining the armed forces, but for a few months, it was a serious topic of conversation and disagreement. I think, in a weird way, it deepened our bond, even though we did not see eye to eye. For the first time, the things I considered my values were called into serious question and given a more personal face; they became less abstract.

A few years later, M. and I actually moved into an apartment only three blocks from Ground Zero. I walked by the site at least five times a week. I hate to say it, but I became weirdly desensitized. Maybe in order to live there, to pass by it so much, you have to be, because to think of what happened there, so close to where you eat and sleep, is horrific. I personally never felt a distinct connection to the space as a place to go to remember, though I certainly understand why people — New Yorkers, tourists, survivors, the grieving — do. What happened on September 11 was felt far and wide for years and for many years still to come. Living near Ground Zero didn’t make that any more apparent to me than it already was. When M. and I broke up, I was glad to move.

But I never once considered moving away. The day I moved here, July 1, 2001, I knew that New York was meant to be my home. On September 11, 2001 that didn’t change. And on September 11, 2011, I will feel the exact same way.

Photo: Getty