At 8:46am, as flight 11 crashes into the North Tower, I am still asleep. My basement apartment window looks out onto an airshaft, keeping my room in a state of perpetual dimness that I have come to love. It takes a hard shake from Morgan and a call from my Mother to get me up.
At 9:03am, as flight 175 crashes into the South Tower, I stumble into the living room. Katie and Morgan hover around the television in a state of disbelief. There is a note from Amy on the chalkboard. Someone suggests we go up to the roof. From there, we have a clear view of the smoking towers. What appears to be debris is falling from the top floors. People are crying. My camera feels awkward in my hands.
At 10:00am, we watch the South Tower buckle and collapse. The explosion might as well be in my brain. I watch Morgan frantically trying to call Los Angeles, to reach her (then) boyfriend Scott. She dials, hangs up, dials again. People begin filtering into our apartment. Avi, The Gube, Elizabeth Jones. Someone takes a massive dump in our toilet that renders it useless. We will speculate for years about who is responsible. [Editor’s Note: Confession – it was me. IBS FTW.]
At 10:28am, the North Tower collapses. We watch on a small TV in our living room. The terror in the room is palpable. People are talking about anthrax and we wonder if we should close the windows. Avi spouts conspiracy theories and Morgan screams at him to shut up. We have lived together for over two years, but this is the first time I have heard her scream.
By 11:08am, Canada is shutting down its airports and the desire to get out of the house is overwhelming. I fight the sea of soot-covered people surging uptown and head toward the void where the towers used to be. Triage stations have been set up in the street, colored tags sorting the injured. Restaurant owners hang out their windows, calling offers of free food and water to those in need. A shirtless man holds a briefcase in one hand and a small girl in the other. I make it to Houston before turning and heading towards home.
At 11:26am, reports of flight 93 crashing near Pittsburgh emerge. People are making plans to leave Manhattan, talking about walking the 30+ blocks uptown to reach mass transit that is actually running. I realize I have no desire to leave the city. I am the staunchy captain refusing to abandon his ship, strangely afraid of missing something. Instead, I take a shower and hug my friends goodbye.
I have recently broken up with my boyfriend, but he stays at our apartment for the next 48 hours. No one wants to be alone. As rescue workers search tirelessly to locate survivors, the movie theatre in Union Square shows free movies and we see Apocalypse Now: Redux. We ride our vintage bikes down the center of the empty streets through the fog that envelops the East Village. We rent movies from Kim’s Video on St. Marks. We drink Doc Otis and sleep curled together in my bed. Sirens howl in the distance.
A week later I am back in class at NYU. My teacher, a new father, hugs each and every student in his class. Slowly, life goes back to normal.
And then, in no time at all, it is late October. My Mom is driving Morgan and I back to our apartment from a weekend location scout in upstate NY. It starts slowly, a creeping feeling, but it grows until I am consumed with panic. A bomb in the subway. A plane crashing into our apartment building. Anthrax. Bioterrorism. I don’t want to die. I have to remind myself to breathe. In. Out. BREATHE. Over the next few weeks, I cry all the tears I couldn’t muster on September 11. I feel all the fear that I saw on everyone else’s faces. I get out of Manhattan every chance I get.
It is lonely thing to experience tragedy two months after everyone else. Too late for solidarity, too soon for anyone to want to reminisce.
I still dream about it sometimes. I wake up sweaty and shaking and panicked.
And then I roll over. I kiss my husband. I check on our boys.
And I BREATHE.
Sara Moe is a born and raised New Yorker and film industry dropout currently breaking my heart by taking leave of Los Angeles after nine years two marriages and three babies between us, whisking her amazing husband and children off with her, and returning to New York, the city of her youth, for keeps.
She’s also taking her freakishly meticulous records with her. I can’t find a single picture from college and yet look at this insanity: