Anniversaries are strange. At once vitally important and arbitrary, they purport only to mark time, but immobility bind us to our past. With that in mind, I want to share a piece I wrote in New York on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The dawn jackhammers across the street, my usual, rude wake up call, went on as usual. But today wasn't normal. Not at all. I lay there, in that tiny Manhattan room, forcing myself to stay in bed just a little longer.
I'm from Southern California. I didn't know anyone killed in the attacks. I didn't even know anyone who knew anyone. But I realized that every time I turned on the radio, television or looked at a newspaper, I would be reminded of the worst day of my generation.
And trying to ignore it, like so many of my friends are doing, isn't really possible. Not only am I here, seven miles north of Ground Zero, but I'm in journalism graduate school — something that, by definition, means you are involved in, and part of, the madness that surrounds this town.
My job today is to go out and find how people in the Bronx are doing. Easy assignment: They're doing lousy.
The beautiful and strange New York Post showed up at my doorstep this morning. The Post had a picture of the Twin Towers on the cover, and I almost broke out in tears.
When I went into the living room — at the far end of the apartment and down a long corridor, a Morningside Heights shotgun shack, if you will — my roommate, Hideharu, had the television on. Groups on a podium, down in the dust of what used to be one of the world's tallest buildings, were reading names.
Names. Thousands of names. The tears, held back, now began to flow. It took nearly a minute to read through all the people whose last name was “Kelly,” for God's sake. All ages. Firefighters, investment bankers, chiefs, young and old, rich and poor, African American, white, Asian. You name it: They were dead.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. That cold, clear morning, I was jerked awake by a call by my friend Kendra, down in San Diego. Turn on the television, she said, we're under attack.
I had just learned to ride a motorcycle, and took off to work on my 1983 550cc Suzuki. If the world decided to go Mad Max, I thought, a motorcycle would be far preferable mode of transportation.
The rest of the day was a blur. I rode around public transit, asking mothers, San Francisco Giants administrators, accountants and cops about how they felt. I quizzed National Guardsmen on preparations. Everyone was terrified.
That night, the Bay Bridge, usually packed with traffic between San Francisco and Oakland, was nearly empty. Speed limits, seemingly by acclimation, had been lifted.
All of us in the country suffered that day, but the pain was clearly in New York City. Some say it's made it a better place, that people are friendlier than they used to be, that they don't worry as much about the little things.
But not everything, obviously, is for the best. Firefighters say they are watching one another closely, waiting for the next one to break. I think they're mostly tired of my type, the journalists who call them heroes. But at the same time, all the firefighters seem to want to do is talk. Maybe that's all anyone wants to do.
Start the Presses: Memories of New York
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