Another year, another flood of social media pictures commemorating 9/11. I say this not out of trying to be persnickety or disdainful, but because those photos have a vastly different meaning to those of us who were personally affected by this. You can put up social media pictures, and you may well find me liking or agreeing. But pictures are pictures, and memories are memories. I’d r
I was in high school on 9/11, and to this day I remember that pervasive smell of something burning. I ran home that day, and from my school to my front door was a 30 minute walk that I made in half the time, only to see the footage of the plane slamming into the second tower.
My family came to New York to keep me safe. How ironic that on 9/11/2001, I lost any illusion of security.
I went to college not three blocks from Ground Zero, and started about two years after the attacks. I couldn’t bring myself to go there for another year. And if I had to be honest, I am starting to wonder if my health got affected by the proximity to the site. The dust may have settled, but my susceptibility to upper-respiratory conditions worsened while I was in school. My final year of college, I was coughing on an almost constant basis, summer and winter, worse when I drank something that was too cold.
The subway was not repaired for a long time. I wrote here once before about how the Cortlandt Street station of the R line was like staring into a time capsule. That station had since reopened, repaired and upgraded, and leading out into a part of NYC where the present and the past blend together.
I got a reminder of that when today, my train went express. My line is usually local; the express tracks go below the local set. There hasn’t been an actual full-time express service on that track since the 70s, so even the graffiti down in the express tunnels is dated. Whizzing by inside the air-conditioned train, it’s easy to stare out the window and not think about what’s on the other side of the glass. But sometimes, you get a reminder.
On my express tracks, there’s more than one abandoned station. When the express service was eliminated, the stations got locked up and chained up, but remained there for anyone with a window seat to look at as the occasional reroute would pass them by. The light fixtures in the stations themselves no longer work, so in the dim lamplight of whatever lines the tunnel, you’re free to look at the staircase adorned with graffiti that you can’t place, the layer of grime that coats the support columns and the platform floor, and some long-abandoned empty drink bottles upon which the label is so faded it’s nearly non-discernible.
Today, when my train got rerouted into express service, it rattled past the abandoned station, and in a flash of memory, I remembered catching glimpses of the old Cortlandt Street post-9/11 station past the blue plywood sheath put up to protect the work area as it was being repaired as I was on the R line. Movie and music posters so outdated that I’d have smiled if I didn’t know what the train was passing by. Glimpses of open air and street outside when the wall was knocked down, to give everyone on the R a look into Ground Zero.
No matter how safe I feel in NYC on a day-to-day basis, I don’t think I felt secure since 9/11. I got used to reflexively looking up if a plane flies a little too low. Manhattan is full of tall buildings, but I tend to avoid them if I can. I got used to thinking of my home as a target; that can’t be helped anymore, I’m afraid. If there will be any such similar incident in NYC’s future, I know us New Yorkers will react the same way: grieve, clean up, commemorate, keep it moving, but it was after 9/11 – and some may say after 1993 – that a part of me accepted such a possibility as a matter of course.
Part of me still wonders why I’ve not moved. I can save untold amounts of money if I move, that is a known fact. I’m sure that if I were on the other coast, or further south, I’d likely feel safer. But the answer is as simple as it’s ridiculously sentimental: even though New York will drain the wind out of me, there’s really no city for me but New York. I’ve been through 9/11 with it, I’ve been through Sandy with it, and I’ll likely go through more with it, but there’s no city for me but New York.
We’re New Yorkers. We take care of what’s ours, and always remember the city as it was, alongside how it is.