Every year on September 11th, I always remember and re-live that day.
I lived in Greenwich Village and worked in Rockefeller Center. That morning, I went to work as usual. By the time I got to work, one plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings, and the world would never be the same again.
In the little time I was at work that morning, another plane crashed into the other Tower, and then both buildings burned until they came crashing down. They evacuated my office building and we were left to wander the streets. Where would we go ? Our main concern was to walk away, quickly, from Rockefeller Center, as we suspected that it might be hit by a plane.
No one at that time knew how many other hijacked planes were still up in the air. The Pentagon had also been hit, so what was next ? We walked first through Times Square, then past Madison Square Garden. I ended up going to my friend's apartment on W. 23rd Street, and we watched television together, while friends were calling me to ask me about other people we knew who worked downtown. I didn't know where they were, I didn't know what to say.
Later that day, we walked by St. Vincent's hospital. Hospital stretchers waiting outside for the injured, the injured who never showed up. Mostly everybody downtown was killed, by being in the buildings themselves or being killed when the buildings collapsed. People in my neighborhood were walking around, in shock, most with tears in their eyes, all in deep grief.
My thoughts were with my friends who worked in the Twin Towers. Beth, who worked on top of Tower 1, was the HR manager of the famous restaurant Windows on the World, where had I dined many times. Phil, who worked in Tower 2, had been a friend since I moved to New York City in 1989. He was very generous and a fun guy to hang around with. Another friend John also worked in one of the Towers. Were they alive ? Did they all escape?
I did manage to go to my apartment later that day, and there was dust all over. I had left my windows open that beautiful morning when I went to work. I came to the realization that the dust was not dust, but ash and other bits from the buildings. Ash was still in the air the rest of that day, and it seemed ash was still in the air for the next couple weeks. The smell of fire was in the air for the next few months. That night at 2am, Beth called me, she was alive. She lived next door to the buildings and had been in her apartment when the first plane hit. Her building got evacuated and she was put on a boat away from the downtown, to New Jersey.
I went to John's funeral a couple months later. No body, just an empty casket. I also went to Phil's funeral. No body. Just family and friends gathering around to reminisce about a very good friend, brother, uncle, son. A guy you would be proud to call a friend. In early 2002, Phil's remains were found at Ground Zero. His family, at least, got closure.