Remembering September 11th

September 11, New York

©iStockphoto.com/delihayat

September 11th changed the course of my entire life.

At first, it was too much to take in, although writing helped. Then, it seemed better to not think about it.

For years.

I don’t want to organize my thoughts, really. I just turned on the TV and saw it. I see the towers on fire, and it is a wound, an open wound. I feel like someone is about to come at me with a knife; it is scarier than anything I could think of happening to me. I will not turn on the TV again today, although I have the newspaper to read and will be thinking of it all day.

A reporter at the local paper here in Las Vegas recently asked me exactly how I learned about it, as if someone delivered the news of September 11th in an instant. It wasn’t that simple. Watching TV as I got ready for work, I started off thinking that someone’s plane had somehow, a freak accident, hit a building.

Then, slower than I can comprehend now, everything dove into darkness.

My morning, September 11th 2001:

I woke up for work, and my roommate had NY 1 on. An airplane had hit the Twin Towers. Amie was a reporter, too; we were driven, curious, optimistic young things. We ran up to the roof to look. The smoke was unbelievable — but hadn’t spread yet, like that awful image I just saw on the television. A minute later, an hour later, time meant nothing, but I was in the bathroom or my room, getting ready for work, when Amie came running in. A second plane had hit the other tower.

Was it not an accident? Back up to the roof. That’s the image I can recall now, will always be able to: two towers, each smoking. It was when I realized that this was bad. I tried to call my mom. How was it possible that I couldn’t get through? I finally did, and Mom was a wreck; her wise intuition had kicked in way before I realized the gravity of what was going on.

Amie and I finally understood that there would be no work to go to. As we were deciding what to do, the first tower fell. I can’t put into words what it felt like to run up to the roof one more time and see only one tower. These towers were enormous, twin landmarks that were supposed to be indestructible.  The impossible had just happened, as unthinkable as the sky turning green. All I kept thinking was, there are, were, people in there. There are PEOPLE … in… there.

So much of the next few weeks are a blur, but that next hour will stay with me forever.  We were down on the street walking south as fast as we could. It had been a beautiful sunny day, but as we walked the sky got dark, because of the ash. There were no tears yet, no groups of friends huddling. People were walking alone, in shock, covered in ash. People were starting to talk in hushed voices, to strangers, when everyone started to trail off, mid-sentence. The second tower had fallen. We knew only by the enormity of the silence. I have never been able to describe it. Not knowing I had written a word of this post, Amie wrote me today to ask me if I remembered that silence. Remember it? Yes, I can feel it. Still. Always.

I wasn’t sure I was going to write about the tenth anniversary of September 11th; even though it’s been heavy on my mind, it didn’t occur to me that I’d post about it.

But when I did my interview for the paper, I was asked how September 11th changed me. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it. But looking back now, I stopped doing news reporting shortly afterward and left NYC within two years. I swiftly went from a news junkie who had worked at Reuters and AP, for newspapers and New York magazine, to a reporter in the world of entertainment. It was as cutthroat, but in a different way. Soon, I was living in sunny Austin, Texas for a year-long break, freelancing and laying out at the pool, ambitions of covering news, of getting as close to stories and tragedies as I could, gone.

I will never take anything for granted again.

I wasn’t going to write about the tenth anniversary, because I can’t do it justice. I just can’t. But I can acknowledge it.

It will always be with me; I will never forget.

 

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I'm a life-long travel junkie journalist who works hard to find adventure in everyday life after two years of travel and expat living.

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Comments

  1. I remember watching the coverage of New Yorkers running from the buildings and just walking along in shock. I could only imagine how it was to be there. You know first hand and it is good of you to share your story with us. Thank you, Abby.

  2. Thank you, Cathy! Reading your post actually is what made me realize I couldn’t let today go by without acknowledgement.

  3. I’m glad you decided to share this Abby. Maybe it seems like you can’t do it justice, but to me the personal stories of actually being there in New York are much more meaningful than trying to make sense of it in a commemorative post. No one can do that. I think it changed many many lives in our generation.

  4. I really appreciate this first hand account. As we were staring at the TV in disbelief I could only imagine what it was like to be in the midst of it all.

    I think I would have reacted the same way you did.

    In fact, that day molded me into the person I am today. I was an impressionable, young, 18 year old girl starting the University of Texas and ready to take on the world of opportunities, only to be crushed by the wars and recessions after. It is phenomenal to think how differently everything would have turned out.

  5. Thank you, ladies! Yes, Laura, it did change so much of this generation, that’s true.

    Erica, young women are so impressionable, like you say. Thinking about the difference between a freshman in college and a young woman one year out of school… That mini-recession that happened after 9/11 changed the course of my career. Strange to think if it had hit while I was still in school.

  6. I’m glad you wrote about this and you being in New York on that day, I can only imagine how difficult it was for you to decide to post your memories. But I think it’s good to remember and never forgot a piece of history, both personal and international.

    I actually posted up my thoughts, short but sweet on where I was.
    http://nearafar.wordpress.com/

  7. Thank you Abby for sharing this. What you have written is perfect.

  8. What a nice thing to say. Thank you so much, Pete.

  9. I think you have in fact acknowledged it in such a way that does it justice. Thanks for sharing this with us. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have such proximity.

  10. Thank you, Phil! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your saying that.

  11. I remember this day tragic day like it was yesterday, it is now etched into my mind forever. I will never be able to comprehend what happened that day, either to the poor people who lost their lives, their families or you who had to witness it first hand. I pray for peace, I don’t want my young sons growing up in fear of an invisible enemy hell bent on destroying our way of life.

  12. I was talking with someone today about how this has affected us so, although so many other tragedies have killed so many more people. You say it so well — that this was evil based on a somewhat invisible (but HUMAN) enemy. This could have been prevented.

  13. This is powerful, Abby. There are things for which I have no words. None. Things that are too big, too enormous, for me to try to get my arms around, and this is one of them. So I’m glad you wrote about your experience. Thank you.

  14. Thank you, Gray. I feel the same way. It was too enormous. I wish I could write more.

  15. whoa abby!!! my heart sank reading this, but i’m so glad you shared it. your first-person account, and how it impacted you so profoundly, is the most beautiful way i can imagine to honor those who died that day. must have been hard to write. good for you, and for us abby. 🙂

  16. My cousin lived in New York when this happened too…. he had gotten off at the subway station between the towers that morning just like every other day and went to work. His girlfriend at the time worked on the other side of the towers from him and with the phones not working, they ran towards each others buildings in the smoke and debris trying to find one another and found each other in the mess of it all.
    I remember being in high school and learning about it from a teacher.
    All around the world I think everyone will remember this day, some more vivid because they were there like yourself. But it definitely has changed all of us in many different ways. Being able to just share a little bit of it won’t remove the memories but will hopefully take some of the weight off your shoulders from the burden that that memory has put on you. thanks for sharing Abby! 🙂

  17. love it all

  18. My prayers goes out to the 3000 over people and their families on this tragic day. I still remember how over here in Malaysia, we were all dumbfounded when it happened.

  19. Yes, Cailin, I know that subway stop. My (other) roommate also used it. I can’t believe your cousin found his girlfriend. It was so chaotic… Thank you for letting me be comfortable with sharing. 🙂

    David, thank you so much. It is comforting knowing how so many around the world cared for how brutally innocent people were attacked….

  20. *tears* That day is etched in so many of our minds… hearts in ways many don’t know..

  21. This is such a good post. You give a very personal insight into the event and I read back through again. You took us with you as an observer.
    I have a question.
    How could you think about not writing this?
    It is so valuable, you’re now part of the history of this event for all of us to remember.

  22. Beautiful post, love.

  23. beautiful, I am glad that you shared this. Gives an entirely different prospective, one of love.

  24. Thank you. Thank you so much. Like so much about this day, all of these comments have left me speechless!

  25. Aw Abby, this post is absolutely beautiful. I could never imagine what you must have felt that day as a reporter, as a New Yorker. I wish I had been older at the time to understand better what was going on but as the years have passed I have gained more and more of an understanding of not just what it meant to Americans but the rest of the world as well.

  26. Jim brandano says:

    This was really well written To read what a reporter in NY was feeling that day is fascinating. That moment hurt this country is so many ways, we need statesmen and all we have are politicians. I stumbled this and tweeted following you on both!!

    http://jpweddingphotograpy.blogspot.com/2011/09/faces-of-ground-zero.html

  27. This is the most beautifully written anniversary post I’ve yet read. Thank you for sharing.

  28. Thank you so much for reading…. It means so much that you guys stopped by on a day like today!

  29. Wow Abby I had no idea you were there, incredible story.

  30. It seems like a lifetime ago, but yes… I was so uncomfortable writing it, but now I wish I had spent more time on it…

  31. I feel the EXACT same way post 9/11! I NEVER EVER take ANYTHING for granted!!!

  32. Oh, Andi, that is an understatement!! You are the most positive person I know haha

  33. I just want to give you a big hug after reading this. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in New York not just that day but in the days following.

  34. Thanks for sharing your story Abby. I will never forget what I was doing on the day that it happened. It still seems raw (in a lot of ways) and I can’t believe a decade has passed since the tragic event.

  35. Thank you, Emily! It felt like a war zone during the next week, showing ID to go home, the stench, not being able to turn your AC on because of the ash in the air. It was awful!

    Samuel, I’m with you. I can’t believe it’s been ten years.

  36. I’m glad you wrote about this. I think it’s important to tell and listen to each other’s 9/11 stories. Remember when The New Yorker did the plain black cover? Your story reminded me of that. What I find interesting about all our stories, is that as stunned as we were on that day — nothing would really surprise us anymore. This makes me very sad for my children, who have grown up feeling this way.

  37. Nicely written Abby. Will you go back to see the memorial?

  38. Margo, I can’t imagine what it must feel like worrying about your children’s view on this horror!

    No, Steve, I’m not. By a strange coincidence, I was actually in NYC on the fifth anniversary.

  39. Thank you for sharing this story! It can’t be easy looking back on it… I was watching the coverage on Sunday and was sick to my stomach all over again, and I wasn’t even there. Glad you’re safe & sound!

  40. So many emotions stir up in me about this. My family were there on the day that it happened, although I was thousands of miles away. What I notice on this ten year anniversary is just how many people I have had the pleasure of meeting since who were ALSO in New York that day. The attack on the World Trade Center really was an attack on the world. http://www.insidethetravellab.com/september-11th-what-do-you-think/

  41. while it sure is a tough topic to write about and recall, really glad you shared it. Having many friends/family in NYC on this day, for some reason these are the accounts I can and want to read and hear.

  42. nice post abby… i remember seeing it on the news and i couldnt believed it myself… i have some friends in the US and got worried for them… no one knows whats gonna happen next after the towers fell during that time…

    crucial times like that make us re-think about what we’re doing with our personal lives and im with you when you said “I will never take anything for granted again.”

    thanks for sharing us your thoughts…

  43. Ten years later it is still so hard to grasp the enormity of such an attack…

  44. It still seems like a very bad dream. Hard to believe it’s been 10 years though. Thanks for sharing your story.

  45. i can’t imagine how horrifying it must have been to see all this. I agree, this day was something that I will always remember…

  46. It was an awful, dream, yes! I think often of how I wish that were true…

    Thank you, Jen! Yes, we will never forget…

  47. This is amazing Abby, brave and beautiful it is!
    I still remember being in yearbook class which is weird because I don’t have a great memory for many things.

  48. Isn’t it wild how searing it was? I, too, have an awful memory… But the little details from that day stick. Even though part of me wishes it were all a blur.

  49. Very moving post. It is important to acknowledge and remember it. I did not realize you were there. Impossible to imagine what it was like.

  50. My “boss” on the ship was also in NYC at the time, during the first week of class his last year at NYU, and had crazy tales to tell about running out from class into Washington Square Park and looking down 5th (I think?) and seeing the second tower get struck. *shiver*

  51. Yes. “Shiver” is right…

  52. Thanks for sharing a story with a healing photo… As years continue to pass, I believe the stories of change, and remembrance are important to share and personally easier for me to read with a powerful, positive photo… hope you are well

    stay adventurous, Craig

  53. Thank you, Craig. I was searching flowers and coming up short. It wasn’t until I added the word “grief” to my search that I found this. I thought it worked.

  54. Abby, I’m just now getting to this…wow. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like to see that in real-time. I watched the towers fall on live TV and that was horrifying enough and will always stay with me. That must have been so insane to see that unfold in front of you. But you’re right…it taught us to appreciate each day we have here! And I think the new memorial is so beautiful. I can’t wait to see it in person next time I’m in NYC.

  55. Such a beautiful post. I read this while I was on the road, but didn’t get a chance to comment. Well done.

  56. Awww so sweet to stop back by just to read a note. I knew you were in Thailand. 🙂

  57. Wow. This post really affected me, Abby. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be there, but your words gave me more of an idea than anything I’ve ever read about 9/11. I’m glad you shared your story with us.

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