I woke up to the phone ringing. It was my dad. He was on the roof of his office building in New Jersey, watching smoke pour out of the World Trade Center. A plane had collided into one of the towers.
I tried to go back to sleep. I couldn’t. By the time I had the tv on, the second plane had hit the towers. A terrorist attack on native soil. 2.1 miles away from our dorm.
I woke my roommates up. Bobby had to leave. He had a class, He wasn’t sure if it was cancelled.
The pentagon was hit a few minutes later. Classes were cancelled.
My memory from here is hazy. We spent most of the next hour running between our TV and our friend’s dorm room with the southern view. Back and forth. Back and forth.
And then the first tower fell.
Silence in the room. I wasn’t alone. Matt was next to me. But if he gasped, if I gasped, I don’t remember it. Just shock. Silence.
And then the second tower fell.
Bobby was back. He had been to the park. He had seen things falling from the towers. Pieces of the building? People? He wasn’t sure. I wasn’t going to press him.
Too much Wolf Blitzer. It was time to go outside.
We headed to our friends’ basement apartment. Two blocks away.
The streets were filled with panicked people. A woman with a medical mask. Talk of anthrax.
Our friends’ place was more of the same. TV and panic. But with more people. More panicked people.
Morgan was planning to take the Long Island Rail Road to her cousin’s house. Did I want to come?
Matt did. He was in. Leave NYC and get safe. Who would attack Long Island?
I didn’t want to leave, which sounds strange. Here’s how I felt: This is a momentous, special, horrible time. I should experience this. Do I want to leave New York right now? No. No I don’t.
It felt important to stay in NYC. To be part of whatever happened in the next 48 hours. New York was my city.
And as the afternoon went on, staying in the city changed from a choice to a forced reality. Morgan and Matt got out, most other people didn’t. The bridges, tunnels and boats were closed and shut down. More panic. Soon, even the dusty cans on the shelves of our local bodega were gone.
We were trapped.
The day finished the same way it started. Watching the news replay planes flying into buildings. Over and over. Planes flying into buildings. Two planes for two buildings. Rewind and play it again.
At some point we learned there was a guy named Osama Bin Laden. Wolf thought he was responsible.
While September 11th is vague and fragmented in my mind. September 12th is about one clear memory.
The streets were abandoned. It was time to walk around.
A wall of military and police at 14th Street. Later, A tank on Third avenue. The first and last time I’d see one outside of the Teaneck armory.
The United Artists Theatre on 13th and Broadway was free all day. Great. We narrowed it down to two movies: Apocalypse Now Redux or Jeepers Creepers.
What were we thinking? In any event, fifteen minutes into Jeepers-fucking-Creepers, I was done with it. I left and hit the streets to walk back to my dorm alone.
I didn’t plan to walk by the fire house on 13th Street, but that’s where I ended up. Parked on the street was a ladder truck covered in thick white ash. The sidewalk was already littered with piles of flowers. The large door to the fire house was open, but there were no firemen visible. The only “fireman” I saw was a large Dalmatian. He was alone. He sat at the front of the house, waiting.
I have trouble with this memory because it feels so cliché, but it’s what happened. A dog patiently waiting for his owners to return. From what I later read, not many of them did.
The numbness of the previous day disappeared and I let myself feel the emotions of the moment. Of this stupid, movie-cliché, pull-at-your-heartstrings moment. Wolf’s images were informational. This image was real.
I don’t remember a thing that happened the rest of the day.
A day or two later (I don’t remember), the bridges reopened and, with Danny and Lindsey, I escaped to New Jersey to my parents’ house.
Within a few days we were back in our city.
Neal Dusedau lives in Los Angeles with his kick-ass wife Jodi and their cookbook collection. Actually their book collection in general is pretty daunting. And organized by color. And they’re funny. You should probably just get yourself invited to a dinner party at their house.