9/11: A New Yorker remembers a dark day

This is what I remember about 9/11, the day it happened, 10 years ago. I was at home with my wife Sheila in our apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Our building was situated about five miles north of the World Trade Center.

The day broke beautifully — brilliant sunshine with a slight breeze coming off the Hudson River, which was only a few blocks to the west of us. It was the start of Indian summer, a good day to go to the beach, I thought.

My daughter Lisa was visiting us from Seattle. She and a friend had gone out early for a cup of coffee. When she returned, our doorman told her a plane had crashed into the Twin Towers. I remember thinking that was odd because the visibility was so good. As a boy, I recalled a military bomber had flown into the Empire State Building shortly after World War II. I can still remember the photograph in the New York Daily News of the front of the plane protruding from one side of the building and the tail from the other side. The pilot had tragically miscalculated his elevation in a thick fog.

I was sharing this irrelevant fact when another of Lisa’s friends arrived and said the doorman told her a second plane had flown into the WTC. George, the Dominican doorman, was replacing Dan Rather as our source of news. I switched on the TV, and we watched in horror, along with the rest of the nation. Friends called to find out if we were OK. We called others to reassure and listen.

News on the TV was mesmerizing. We kept switching channels for new information. After a couple of hours, Sheila and I left the apartment and started walking along Broadway. The subways and buses had stopped running, which might explain why there were so many people walking on both sides of the street. It struck me as directionless walking, almost sleep walking. A psychiatrist friend later described it as collective shock. That seemed a little strong, but I do remember we broke the city taboo, making eye contact with each other as we passed. It was a reach-out of sorts. Something had happened to us and we looked into each other’s eyes for some kind of assurance and acknowledgement.

Sheila saw some neighbors we rarely socialize with having a cup of coffee at an outdoor café. We stopped and joined them. Others stopped as well. We gathered in the company of each other. There was a comfort in that and also a bonding among us. Our city had been hit and we were shaken.

Fire trucks and ambulances continually raced downtown. People on the sidewalks cheered as they went by. Police helicopters swirled overhead.

Some of us carried portable radios. We listened and looked in the windows of bars that had their televisions on. No ball game today. There was an announcement that blood was needed for the survivors and we should all go to the nearest hospitals to donate.

Sheila and I walked up Broad-way to St. Luke’s Hospital about a half mile from where we were. We walked eagerly toward the hospital. We had purpose. This was something we could do. It felt good to be walking with others in the direction of the hospital.

When we got to St. Luke’s, long lines of people were already there. Nurses and doctors were reporting from all over the city. I saw a celebrity plastic surgeon who was featured on television as the go-to guy for facelifts and wrinkles. Yet there he was. Cynical me was moved.

We were divided into lines by blood types. Sheila and I stood in the A line for an hour or more, trading stories and speculating on the attacks. At some point it dawned on us that the lines were not moving. With that came the realization that there were no survivors. Nor were there going to be any survivors from those incinerated buildings. There was no one to give blood to. It was all we had to give, and there was no one to give it to. It hit me suddenly and clearly. The victims of 9/11 were gone and there was nothing we could do about it. Sheila and I walked home in silence.


— Brian Brown and his wife moved to Vashon six years after 9/11.



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