I was not at Ground Zero. I had no family members immediately impacted. I was just one of millions, listening and watching in horror as the events unfolded that morning. I was in my office at work, when I heard it on the radio. I was 31 years old, single, and the first thing I did was call my dad. Funny, some things never change I guess. I didn’t need him at my side, or for him to tell me everything would be OK. I just needed to know he was fine, my mom was fine, and my sister was fine. They lived in Northern Michigan. Of course they were fine. Still, I needed that reassurance.
I had a Nokia phone: the one “everybody” had back then. Mine had this ridiculously ugly multicolored foil faceplate and a hanging antenna with a light on it. I haven’t thought about that phone in years. Weird how that detail sticks in my mind. I can picture the little blue radio/CD player, with a Barbie sticker on it, and the paper-clip antenna attached with a magnet to my credenza. I just remember staring at the radio, thinking, “This can’t be. This is America. We don’t get bombed.”
Flash forward almost five years, and I am standing at Ground Zero, with my 22 year old sister. She’s old enough to remember that day very clearly. We traveled to New York City, just the two of us, to go to MoMA and the Met. It’s a five day-four night getaway, and we are having fun. She has just graduated from college, and I’m getting married in a few months. Despite our fourteen-year age gap, we are established traveling buddies, and have promised ourselves more trips later in life. We stand there, just looking. There is a big hole in the ground, and construction work is going on in the bottom of this big hole. Take away all the 9/11 memorial information, and you might not understand what had happened here. Until you turn around. A tall building, a skyscraper by its own rights but most likely overlooked in the shadow of the twin towers, is blackened from the blast. Windows are still blown out. Five years later, and windows are still gone.
We were both awed by that building. We were also amazed by how close the firehouse was to the towers: the infamous Engine Company and Ladder Company 10. It is technically INSIDE Ground Zero. Somehow, I never understood just how close they were. As we are discussing this, one of their trucks goes by, emblazoned with a memorial to their lost brothers. Life goes on. It’s been five years. Their house has been repaired, their friends buried, and there are jobs to do.
As much as I’ll always remember September 11, 2001, those memories are linked to the day I stood there, with my sister, attempting to take it all in, to make sense of it, to understand it. I’m not sure I ever will. I don’t really want to go back. I’m glad they are rebuilding. I’m sure the memorial will be amazing. But I saw the hole, and the blackened building. I think sometimes you need to see the devastation more than you need to see the repair, to really understand.