Ten years ago today I woke up earlier than usual. My sister and her new husband had flown into NYC the night before, and I was uneasy and unable to sleep. I had given them my loft bed, and I was sleeping on a futon (there were 5 of us in about a 600 sq foot apt on St. Marks Place). The night before I had gotten into a silly fight with a friend, and typically I would have been getting ready for work., but I had decided to take the day off to show my sister and her husband around the city that I had just recently moved back to after 2 years in a doctoral program in Minnesota. So I was restless and anxious.
I turned on the TV and was at first confused by what I was seeing. It was as if my brain could not compute the images on the screen. At that time everyone thought a small commuter plane had hit the tower. Reporters sounded as confused as I felt. And, then the second plane hit. At that point no one could argue that this was an accident. I had worked in One World Financial for two years at Dow Jones and had taken the N train into the WTC every morning for years. I had many friends that still worked there, and one of my good friends worked in the World Trade Center. I went and tried to wake my sister up. She couldn't understand what I was saying, but they came into the room to watch.
When the second tower fell, all the live reporters thought that they were seeing re-broadcasted images. I can't remember much about those next couple of hours. I kept hoping that because of the time most of my friends may not have been in the towers (all of their commutes took them there), but I knew my one friend Cira was at work. She always got to work early. I convinced myself that she would have evacuated and in my mind I kept trying to remember the exact floor she worked on. I had only been to her new offices once at KB&W since she had left Dow Jones. I kept thinking it was in the 40s even though later when I was thinking clearly I knew better.
I called my roommate at work and while on the phone we heard about the Pentagon, and I told her to leave her office immediately and walk back to the apartment. At this point we believed it was a full attack on the U.S. We couldn't get calls in our out....so, as the coverage continued and no new reports were coming in about additional attacks, we decided to leave the apartment and do what New Yorkers do best, go to a restaurant. Weirdly enough the restaurant was packed although there were no cars on the streets. Everything below 14th had been shut down. When we left the restaurant, I saw the one image I will remember the most from that day. There was a group of us standing outside the restaurant and we saw a lone bus slowly coming up the street, massive amounts of ash rolling off it into the air. There were at least a dozen of us that stood there transfixed as the bus crawled up the empty street with no passengers.
My sister and brother-in-law were both doctors, so we went to the nearest hospital so they could volunteer. They went to ask if help was needed, but as we walked up all we saw were scores of doctors and nurses standing there waiting for the wounded which never arrived.
It was days before I heard about my friend Cira. I had sent her and many of my colleagues at Dow Jones emails. Finally I heard her story. She was in the second tower to be hit. They had begun evacuating, but security came on the loudspeakers and told everyone to stay put. She was on the phone with her family when the second plane hit. She was on an impact floor.
Cira was one of those people that absolutely loved life. She loved her family, she loved to have fun, she knew everybody, and she had been my guide to Wall Street. I had taken a temp job at Dow Jones as I was finishing my Masters and had expected everyone to be holier than thou. When I first met her at Dow Jones, I didn't know what to think. I was a quiet Southern girl, and she was so loud. But, as I worked with her more, I saw her heart and how big it was. Everyone that knew her couldn't help but love her. We would go out together after work and hang with all the traders she knew by name. Her loyalty to her old bosses and colleagues was always evident and when I was with her I barely remember having to pay for anything as someone was always buying our drinks. She told me stories of her family and her fabulous Sunday sauce. And, whenever I was with her, I couldn't help but smile. She was always trying to make others happy. I remember her trying to fix me up with a coworker without me knowing it and she helped arranged my going away party the first time I left New York. We pulled a few capers together that I will never forget....she introduced me to the city I love.
After that day, the city I knew changed. For almost six months after the towers fell, you could still smell burning. I had to show my drivers license just to get into my neighborhood. The subways were filled with soldiers with machine guns. On any given day we would be evacuated from the subways to have to walk the many miles to work. We were a city besieged. I remember going home that year for Thanksgiving and feeling so out of place. To my family, it was over. To me I lived it every day. The restaurants I loved were empty, fear was pervasive.....I stayed in New York for four more years. It was not the city I had known before. I recently went back and mentioned this to someone who lived there then and now. They didn't quite know what I meant. A couple of hours previously, the security team had come across the loudspeaker telling us we might need to evacuate because of a possible incident. Everyone in the meeting room laughed (the same people who were confused by my statement) as this was something they had become used to. This didn't happen with such normalcy before 9/11.
I still love my city, but it is different. Every New Yorker knows where the exits of their buildings are, and they know the way they will get off the island of Manhattan if necessary.
In a few minutes, they will read the name of my good friend Cira Marie Patti at the remembrance ceremony. I know Cira, wherever you are, you are feeding thousands with your Sunday sauce and laughing as hard as you can.
To all of you that have lost someone, to Cira and her family, to my friends who ran for their lives that day and to the city I love -God bless you for your courage and endurance.
Freeing Sisyphus (aka Melody)
Putting the shoulder to the boulder and taking small steps each day to achieve freedom from the mundane.