Why Did I Take The Train Into The City After Seeing The Plane Hit The Building?
It was a bright Tuesday morning, and as always I was in the living room, hurriedly preparing for work after a extra short shower. I was running late, which wasn’t a good thing because it meant that the bus taking me to Journal Square would get me there right before the train to 33rd street would begin to pull away.
I was a twenty-eight-year-old sales associate at a clothing boutique on the Upper East Side that catered mostly to a crowd that were privileged enough to drop $200 on cotton shorts with crabs all over them, while also considering the silk capri pants with embedded lobsters for $350.
2001 had proven to be a very bad year because of the sudden death of my only surviving grand parent — my beloved grandmother, who I had seen two years before, when I made the triumphant journey back to Nigeria as a college graduate.
There were also the intense emotions of feeling inadequate and under accomplished as I desperately tried to make my way as a wannabe writer in a landscape that was rife with disappointments and uncertainty. None of my queries were accepted, rejection letters filled my mailbox, and the years were piling up to nothing.
The only saving grace was music and my boyfriend.
Music, because Missy Elliott’s “So Addictive” was my point of contact, and while I overdosed on Kate Bush because how can you not add more dramatics to fragile sensors, there was a healthy array of options that provided “The Blueprint” on how to survive your life as an “Independent Woman.”
Boyfriend, because the Sunday before 9/11, we had an awesome reunion when we met up at the World Trade Center. I got there first because the train from Jersey City made it so easy, and while I waited for his arrival from the Bronx, I entered the building with the shops, and looked around in Banana Republic.
When we finally linked up, I made him promise that we would come down there more often.
The object entered the strikingly tall building just as I was getting my shoes on and the sight was breathtakingly violent, but even then, there was denial in the voices of the anchors who were assuming that a private plane had tragically lost its way.
By the time, I was ready to dash out, it had been confirmed that a second plane had struck, and this was the sign that perhaps the United States of America was under attack.
How do you process the unthinkable?
You don’t. You just switch off the TV, gather your shit, and head out as if what you witnessed and heard will sort itself out. You can’t bring yourself to consider the worst case scenario, because you have a job that you need to get to before your lateness greets you on arrival. You need the steady pay check, and you’ve been programmed to get up, get dressed and head out to your source of income — no questions asked.
There were no alarm bells on the bus ride to the station, and that had everything to do with the lack of social media and the gadgets that connect us to real time emergencies. We knew what we knew, but it was a different time and that meant that processing information was reliant on the expertise of the reporters on the ground or in newsrooms, who were tasked with internalizing and relaying simultaneously.
The calmness of the pair that delivered the news to me that sunny morning were also doing their jobs in the midst of growing chaos, and so it made sense that I would venture out to fulfill my duties, despite the threat on the horizon.
As I sped my way down the stairs, I could see the train to New York City, still parked with doors open and throngs of passengers desperately hoping for the doors to close. We all stood waiting, and there were whispers about the plane and the World Trade Center, and whether or it was a commuter jet or the property of a private pilot who couldn’t fight the wind.
Nobody really knew shit until we pulled up into the 33rd street station in midtown Manhattan and the announcement made our hearts sink.
Our train would be the very last one allowed into the station, and until further notice there would be no rail service between the city and anywhere.
Something horrific was unfolding, and for those of us who robotically exited our homes and made the trip to the catastrophic scene, we had to contend with the juxtaposition of an unbearably gorgeous day with the ashes of war and the screams of souls and spirits.
When the anniversary comes around, I always look up at the sky and make the notation of how fitting it is to see gray. I resented the glorious blue on that day, and the way the fluffy white clouds seemed to move with a sedate tempo — that rejected the ugliness of our plight.
There were false alarms that made us run in any direction that the lone jet in the sky was drifting to, and it was then that I stumbled upon the shows at Bryant Park that seemed to be happening, as fashion and beautiful people drowned out the noise of burning flesh.
I was able to call work with a pay phone, and they sounded normal. They appreciated that I made the effort, but of course they lived in the area and were able to casually trek over with no expectations of my arrival. My boyfriend had frantically stopped by to see if I was there and was relieved to know that I was most likely safe at home.
I didn’t have a cell phone and so that call would have to wait until I really was safely back home.
The time spent at 34th street and Herald Square was quintessential New York.
All we could do was talk and strategize for later, in case there was no way out and we had to spend the night under the bedazzled sky with stars serving as torch lights, and the echos of fighter jets zooming by. The bonding of minds and hearts at a time when the world is ending is both primal and human.
We think alike, share the same concerns, hurt the same, expect the best during the worst times, and encourage each other with promises that we don’t believe, but have to for the sake of ourselves.
The silence stunned us as we could smell the blackening sky and honored the period of being intertwined into the story of our lives.
The trains began to function again hours later, around dinner time, but it was just one massive train for those headed back to Jersey and so passengers had to pile in and hold on to each other.
My new friend and I did just that, and as we passed the zone of death and patriots, the blazing structures gave the sky above a tint of blood red, as the sun finally bowed to the evidence of infamy that didn’t need its rays for highlights.
I didn’t call my boyfriend when I got home. My brother was happy to see his exhausted roomie, but he was busy with something that couldn’t involve me.
I went to my bedroom and sat on the floor as I wondered why I took the train into the city after seeing that shit on TV?
I did it for New York.
When you love somebody, you want to be there. You don’t think twice. You just do what you gotta do.
I didn’t save lives that day, but I empowered mine with the silent support and mourning that couldn’t have happened anywhere else.
Once a New Yorker, always!