Ten years on …
My first memory of the Twin Towers was of watching their construction caught in snippets while walking downtown. It wasn’t until construction was completed in April of 1973 that the buildings became something special to me.
I was walking in the village on a foggy evening. One of those late spring nights with a warm dusting of rain that permeated the air with hints of the summer to come. Walking down Bleecker Street crossing Sullivan I happend to look south and literally did a dead stop as I took in the magnificence of the two towers alight with a soft glow as they rose up into the mist. There was something about the image of these two remarkable modern edifices set against the low buildings of the Village that created an indelible picture in my mind; one that I sought out over the years standing on that same spot to reclaim some of the magic of that first vision.
And those buildings did have magic. The kind of magic that brought Philippe Petit all the way from France to walk between the towers if for no other reason than because they were they.
They were there — a seeming touchstone to my New Yorkness; to the New York I had created for myself all those years ago, standing on Sullivan Street at the threshold to my adulthood.
The towers stood there when I saw them from my grandmother’s kitchen window in Far Rockaway or every time I flew into Kennedy airport or walked across the Brooklyn Bridge or the day I shot several rolls of film photographing them, or the days I’d go to grab a sandwich there after I started working at the Woolworth Building. All are memories that live as separate pictures in my mind. Of seeing the buildings in the distance or as enormous edifices that seemed to rise forever as I stood at their edges staring up.
My last vision of them was seeing them on fire through my daughter’s window. And then they simply disappeared in clouds of terrible smoke and ash that lingered for months in our mouths and in our clothing. A soot and smell that sickened us and killed our hearts.
That ash contained all of our memories and like a sacred fire, the tiny fragments of all of those lives that had been lost.
I truly can’t look at downtown without feeling the hole in the sky. Even ten years on, I ache for those buildings as a lover who mourns the loss of an old dear friend, only in this case I also feel the loss of friends, colleagues and friends of friends who perished. I feel the special pain that all New Yorkers feel for the people who died trying to help others escape. That too is a hole that will never really heal — especially since day by day, those who came to help get sicker and sicker.
Perhaps I reserve the biggest hole in my heart for the lose of the America I loved — we weren’t quite as mean and angry then, and didn’t carry the outward signs of terrible vengeance. Maybe we always did harbor a streak of Old Testament wrathfulness, but it just didn’t seem as apparent. I’m sorry for that loss too.
My New Yorkness has had to adjust itself to the new skyline — just as my Americanness has had to adjust to endless war, Guantanamo Bay, financial meltdowns and the realities of the Tea Party. None sit easily with me, but ever the optimist, I hope for a better day.
Ten years on, I admit to getting on with things and not keeping the memories as fresh wounds that endlessly bleed, still, if I happen to watch a movie from the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s, I feel an incredible ache as I catch sight of their magnificence once more.