Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11 - Revisited

Detail of the Twin Towers from my 
1980 New York Design Fair poster  
21 years later they would be gone.
It would be hard to write something that hasn’t already been said or written about the tragedies on September 11th.  Having lived in Manhattan for eighteen years, I’ve always considered myself a New Yorker, but my affinity with the city goes back to a time before the World Trade Center was built.  I was four, living in an apartment on Boulevard East in Weehawken,New Jersey.  Our living room windows overlooked the Hudson River and I thought the Empire State Building was our next-door neighbor.

Later, when we moved deeper into NJ, during high school, I traveled into the city by bus (on my own) two nights a week for Armenian dance rehearsals.  It is inconceivable to me now that at 15, my parents allowed me to go in and out of Port Authority on 42nd Street by myself and travel to Park Avenue midtown — returning home well after ten o’clock at night.  But times were different then. 

I loved going into the city — I felt so grown up in Manhattan.  So when I was away in Boston my first year in college (and miserably unhappy), I jumped at the opportunity to attend a small women’s college smack in the midst of the Upper East Side.

Though this next college experience had its drawbacks and disappointments, the best part was being in Manhattan.  I lived in the city from 1971 until 1989 and for the most part, adored every minute of it.  New York City was the only place I knew where at four in the morning you could go dancing, get a haircut, buy flowers, or eat anything your heart desired.  Not only was there every kind of food from all over the world — but it was being made by natives of that country and available in every price range!  For someone young and single, life there was a whirlwind experience of non-stop sensations.  But many years later, as new parents of young babies, those same exhilarating sensations became a constant bombardment of noise, smells, and an ever-present crush of humanity that flooded one’s life and made everyday-living-with-infants a real struggle.  The long-lasting honeymoon was over  it was time to move away.

So move we did but it was hard to be so far away from everyone we knew, especially with two-year-old twins.  My husband started working for an airline so frequent trips back were possible. We wanted our kids to know New York the way we did.  With free airfare and so many of our family and friends still in New York (offering places to stay), each visit we explored more of our favorite haunts:

Papaya King uptown and Zookie’s downtown for the greatest hot dogs [Unlike our first “Dog House” experience in the South where the hot dogs were actually red on the inside all-the-way-through!]; down to Two World Trade Center to wait on that enormous line snaking its way atop the mezzanine to get our half-price tickets to a Broadway show; across Canal Street over to Chinatown to duck in and out of shops and eat dim sum and dumplings.  Of course, there were the usual visits to the Metropolitan, Natural History, and Modern Art museums, trips to Ellis Island and the top of the Statue of Liberty and Rockefeller Center, the Thanksgiving Day parade and 57th Street and Fifth Avenue at Christmas.  Though we no longer lived there (my son said apartment living was just too crowded for his taste) we felt connected still and our children had a sense of the place where they were born.

For my entire adult life, the Twin Towers anchored the skyline in Manhattan.  Larger than any structure one could imagine, incredulously they rose upward almost farther than one’s neck could crane.  Whether flying in, driving over from New Jersey, or staring out from Broad Channel, Queens across Jamaica Bay, there they were  planted firmly for all to see.

It was unthinkable that they could be toppled.  But on September 11th, with many, many watching, they sank before our eyes and with them our sense of forever.  The brother-in-law late to work, stuck in the subway; the cousin in a hotel across the street; the friend ten blocks away — thank God, all safe and sound.  All in our circle accounted for and alive but so, so, many others lost forever. Reactions of disbelief, shock, sorrow, fear, and depression eked their way into the mainstream of American life. 

After the attacks, our neighborhood Association down south decided to have a luminary tribute to the 250 victims on planes. A white paper bag for each victim.  Each small bag had the name of someone’s son, mother, daughter, father or friend.  

Four of "my" names at the 9/11 Memorial

As we lit each votive candle in their fragile paper holder edging our neighborhood park, I tried to say every name aloud:  Albert Dominguez, Patrick Quigley, Sonia Puopolo, Alfred Marchand, Garnet “Ace” Bailey, Betty Ong, Jesus Sanchez, Wolfgang Menzel.  My neighbor Katherine and I were conscious that we were moving bags and not body parts  it was little to do, but our candles and tears honored each of them.

When it came time to remove the bags, we couldn’t throw them away.  I kept my eight. Then we went to the Farmer’s Market and handed them out to people who offered to light them on their porches and in their homes. 

As Americans, until that day we had a false sense that we were untouchable. We never expected that those committed to using violence to convey their message would visit terror on our doorstep, anymore than we could imagine those towers would fall. 

During the National prayer service just after 9-11, I heard this phrase from Corinthians,

“What cannot be seen is eternal.”

It’s been twenty-two years since I’ve lived in Manhattan. For me, the silhouette of those buildings will always be present. 

This piece first appeared in a local independent newspaper in 2002 and then in this blog in 2011 titles "Indelible."  I just returned from a week in Manhattan and despite the new skyscrapers punctuating downtown  including the not-yet-open-for-business One World Trade Center (formerly the Freedom Tower)  my eyes still scanned the horizon for the sight of those iconic and missing towers.  
The glorious eastside view of lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Promenade.
One World Trade Center is the tallest building with the spire.


  1. Thanks for sharing a personal memoir & tribute in remembrance of a day in infamy for every American. Yours is truly heartfelt as you had such a life connection with NYC. May the memory of this day not fade nor the American spirit of resilience despite tragedy. God bless & watch over America as we look to Him for our ultimate protection.

    1. Thank you Margee. I know the memory of that day will never fade for me.