Me and the Towers, September 11th, 2001
On September 11th, 2001 I was a twenty year old college student living in New York. My Mom had departed NY for LA on a red-eye the previous evening, and at 11am I had my first internship interview at Miramax Films. I had my own apartment for the first time ever. I was blissfully ignorant to what the next morning would bring. Life was just getting good.
It was a little before 9am, or maybe a little after when the phone starting ringing in my east village apartment, less than a mile from the World Trade Center. I just recall glancing at the clock and deciding I had plenty of time before needing to get up for my interview. By the fourth ring, I had groggily climbed down from my loft bed, and grabbed the phone.
It was Katie’s Mom, Janet – and she was near hysterics. I remember her words exactly: “Katie always worried that if there was an attack on America, it would be New York.”
I was fucking awake now.
“What? Janet? Slow down – is everything okay?”
She repeated herself. A plane had hit the World Trade Center. I assumed it was an inexperienced pilot in a prop jet – as I think we all did in those early morning hours. In the kitchen, Amy had scrawled on the chalkboard “Turn on TV – Plane hit Twin Towers – went to class.” I brought the phone to Katie where she was already listening to the news on Howard Stern. I climbed into bed with her and we listened for a while…as New York determined that this was no prop jet, my room mates and I eventually gathered in the living room – watching what looked like a scene from the action movies I so desperately wanted to make playing out on our TV. We could already smell the smoke creeping through our open windows when we decided to grab every bit of camera gear we had and hightail it to the roof of our building. A decision I’ll never forget. A vision I’ll never forget. As I zoomed in with my video camera, I realized that the “stuff falling off the building” I had audibly commented on just moments earlier wasn’t stuff at all. They were people…jumping to the lesser of two brutal deaths.
When the South tower came down – I remember thinking that the plane was falling out – I screamed it in fact – from my clear vantage point on the roof, I saw a wing start to slip down – not realizing that the entire building was coming with it. And even still – I turned to Sara as the dust cleared, the stench of loss starting to fill the already grieving city saying “I can’t believe there’s only going to be one now.” I just couldn’t fathom New York without it’s towers.
I still can’t.
By noon that day most of my friends had gathered in the basement apartment I shared with Katie, Amy, and Sara. When the North tower fell I remember all of us holding each other in silence on the couch as the city screamed in unison just beyond our walls. Newscasters choked on their words. They cut to a shot I can’t stop seeing of the firefighters on the Brooklyn bridge collapsing in rage and tears, knowing their Brethren had fallen.
Surrounded by death, we prepared to trek to St. Vincents Hospital to give blood – we only made it half way – my friend Danny found us in the street and stopped us – telling us people were being turned away – so many people came forward they had more than enough blood by then…the soot covered ghosts wandering up the 3rd with triage tags around their necks told a different story – eyes vacant from the horror, clothes torn, stained, covered in things I didn’t want to think about.
When Osama Bin Laden was killed, I shared a letter I wrote to my Rabbi that night. As I read your comments and tweets on what I had shared from my experience of that day, and the ten year anniversary of September 11th drew closer, I realized that there were so many many more stories to tell of how the World Trade Center attacks affected this generation. It’s worth noting, that some of my most articulate friends declined to participate because they haven’t quite finished wrapping their heads around the events of that day themselves.
In 2001, I was a twenty year old college student living in New York. But so was everyone I knew. And today, quite a few of the incredible people I was with that morning – some physically and some in shared experience – are going to do me the honor of letting me share their stories with you, here.
I still have more I want to tell you about my story – how I eventually destroyed that videotape and what drove me to do so – and why I regret that decision so deeply now. Was it my responsibility as a filmmaker and writer to memorex the events of that day, even at the risk of exploiting them so that future generations could learn? At the time I felt I’d crossed a boundary, filming death in motion, as well as the palpable devastation of a room full of terrified twenty year olds – some thousands of miles away from home – but in retrospect, I think that true human experience I captured would have been more valuable today than I possibly could have understood at the time…
And now…without further ado – my friends.
Dan Brown: Father, Author, Teacher
Amy Hunt: Speech Pathologist, Thrift Store Connoisseur, Romantic.
Lindsey Anthony: Playwright, Thinker, Documentarian
Keeley McNamara: Midwife, Mother, Lover of Life
Sara Moe: Mother, Photographer, Keeper of Memories
Neal Dusedau: Screenwriter, Wine Guy, Glue
Katie Notopoulos: Mad Internet Scientist
Melaina: Creepy Internet Friend (First Hand Account from Washington, D.C.)