I found a short story/post I had written for myself several years ago about my personal experience as a New Yorker during September 11, 2001. Bin Laden’s death this past week brought back a lot of emotions for me, emotions that come from a place that’s hard to put to words. I vaguely recalled writing something about 9/11, and I was thrilled when I found it, buried in the dregs of my long-dormant Xanga blog. Oh…Xanga. I thought it appropriate to share, my way of bringing that chapter of my life into closure:
On the day of September 11, 2001, my classmates and I were hoarded from our concluded 8am class and into the student lounge, where several other groups had gathered. The atmosphere was odd – no one had any idea why we were directed into the tiny room, jam packed with students, or why the director of the floor was so intent on getting us in there. For the life of me I can’t remember the woman’s name. I recall that she was snarky and tough, and I hadn’t quite figured out if I liked her.
“We’re under attack.”
The first words out of her mouth were met with silence and strange looks from everyone in the room.
“Two planes just hit the Trade Towers. One hit The Pentagon earlier this morning, and another plane just went down somewhere in Pennsylvania.”
Oh. So this wasn’t some sort of theater school joke.
That last addition to her blunt statement is what really made my heart stop. My family lives between Baltimore, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia – all major cities. The room went from a buzz to a roar. The truth of her words had blindsided us all, and everyone in that tiny cramped room was running the gamut between being dumbstruck, to terrified, to angry, and other emotions in between. Try to imagine what hysteria would be like in a room filled with theater people.
Then there’s my psychotic roommate. But I’ll get to her later.
We were told to go immediately back to The Stratford, our “dorm.” No stopping. No sidetrips. We’d be safest in the dorm. I should make a note here that The Stratford Arms makes a brief but meaningful appearance in The Catcher in the Rye. You remember that dodgy “hotel” Holden goes to with his prostitute? Well, that’s my dorm building. We shared it with several grandfathered tenants, rumored to include the original Buckwheat from Little Rascals. It was irony in itself that The Strat was going to be our calm place, our safe house.
While walking back, I attempted to call my parents, but with every push of the send button I was greeted with the Verizon “bbbblllllllliiiiiiiiiinnnnngggggg…we’re sorry. All circuits are busy. Please try your call again later.” I tried almost everyone in my contact list but was unable to get through. No one was. Every one of us had our cell phones glued to our faces in vain hope of reaching the outside world. We were cut off.
The details of our trip back to our dorm were a blur. What I vividly remember is the weather. It was absolutely beautiful. It was warm, but not hot, and the sky was incredibly blue. I can still remember exactly what I was wearing (green cargo capris and a red Old Navy tank top). Most memorably, though, was the sight of standstill. The inhabitants of cars, taxis, and buses had taken to the streets, and people were just…hanging out. It was calm, which was incredibly strange. People were standing around listening to hand held radios, or the car stereo that the turbaned taxi guy had turned up to full volume. It was as if everyone who had previously walked with their eyes bearing down to the sidewalk, headphones on, or cellphone poised at their ear, had come out of their metropolitan-induced coma. Even the crazy homeless guy who would scream “FUCK YOU SUCK MY COCK!” on the corner of 71st and Broadway had lowered his voice.
At that time, I was living with three girls: B, D, and K. Apparently, our room was one of the only rooms that had clear reception of the news besides the crammed lounge of The Strat, so our room quickly became in-and-out central. People, mostly friends from each of our groups, would trickle in and out, bringing with them food and drinks, eyes glued to the lone standing Trade Tower (the first tower had already fallen by the time we got back to the dorm). There were people in my room that I didn’t even know. I didn’t care. I was just glad to be surrounded by beating hearts.
The second tower collapsed, and I had to step out of the room. I paced a little back and forth in our shared kitchen area, trying to calm myself. Some people were crying. Some were chatting. Some were silent. And then there was K.
“…where’s my Dr. Pepper?”
For some reason, I heard her distinctly through the buzz of the other commotion, and I turned to look into our room. A few others had heard her too, because their heads had turned to her in confusion.
“I can’t find my Dr.Pepper!” She actually got up, and began violently rummaging through things, including other people’s stuff, to find her blessed bottle.
The atmosphere had already stretched thin, and when our openly gay mutual friend H opened his mouth to respond to her I wasn’t at all shocked by his disgusted tone:
“Oh my God, K, we’re fucking under attack here, and all you can worry about is your Dr. Pepper?”
“Shut up, H. This isn’t even your room. You need to shut your fucking mouth!”
“Shut up? Shut up?! You are pathetic…”
This escalated into shouts of “faggot” and “whore” and other derogatory terms used in not so creative ways until K stormed out of the room in a rage. Or maybe H did. I don’t really remember.
This morning, however, while reflecting back on September 11, 2001, I remembered that I, in fact, was the one who threw away K’s Dr. Pepper. It had been sitting there on a table for at least a day, and I had decided to toss it when people started filing into our room to watch the news. Why did I suddenly remember it this morning? I have no effing clue. I was just spacing out, playing Zuma on my phone, and I got to thinking about the fall season, and college, and that made me think of 9/11. And then, I had visions of Dr. Pepper and the bottle that got away. I had never told anyone I was behind the absconding Dr. Pepper. I figured I should finally tell somebody, because looking back on it, it’s pretty damn funny.
Of course, I can laugh about it now because I realize that was K’s way of dealing with her fear. She was attempting to cling to what she knew, which was, in this case, her Dr. Pepper. She always was a strange one, that K. I still talk to her from time to time on Facebook. I sometimes consider fessing up to her that I was the thief, but it seems wrong somehow to go back to it. It’s like that period of our lives has been time locked and can’t be touched or altered.
Certain things still take me back to that moment: a beautiful blue, warm day; pictures of the Upper West Side; pictures of Ground Zero. The most startling one for me is a smell. To this day I can’t wear Armani’s “Elle” perfume. It was my favorite (and still sort of is), and I wore it all that time during that point in my life. A whiff of that perfume has me standing back on the corner of West 70th and Columbus, pacing the sidewalk while anxiously pattering on my cell phone.
I was barely a New Yorker before that day.