Sunday, September 11, 2011
September 10, 2001
On this evening, incomprehensibly 10 years since September 11th, I wrote this essay of my own experience, and wanted to share it.
On September 10, 2001, I rushed home to watch the lightening storm that was collecting in the sky as the evening turned to night. My apartment at 100 Beekman Street was shared by a friend who inherited the very, very rent stabilized two bedroom from his great aunt. It was an awful yet wonderful, musty apartment with terrible furniture and truly great art. And, it had a tiny balcony, barely larger than a yoga mat, with a very high fence around it, which was appropriate given that we were eighteen floors up. Eighteen floors. The fact that it was on the eighteenth floor had given me a feeling of destiny when through a friend I reconnected with an old friend and sublet the apartment, eighteen had always, since early childhood baseball jerseys, been a favorite number.
Leaving work just after five on September 10, I could feel that it was going to be one of the marvelous nights of an electrical storm with lots of lightening. This was a high point of the apartment: our tiny balcony looked out over the World Trade Center buildings, and in electrical storms, when the sky filled with lightening, it was a miracle, a wondrous beauty like the pyramids or the Grand Canyon, to watch all the lightening in the sky collect and travel in unison towards the lightening rod in the South Tower.
I knew exactly the timing, watching the sky go grey and slowly acquire the pregnant green of a real rain storm, I had about 45 minutes from when I stepped of the train til when the lightening storm would start. I ran home. Giant golden and red heirloom tomatoes from the Saturday Union Square Market sat in a bowl. Also, a half bottle of the most expensive wine I had ever to that point bought myself. It was not the very cute, persuasive young man at Battali’s Italian Wine Merchant that had sold me, but the finely detailed lithograph of a bird on a branch. I thought I might save it for fifteen years, but as I bustled to get my pasta cooked and tossed it with basil, Parmesan and the tomatoes, I looked at that bottle and had a full feeling of carpe diem and decided to open it for the show tonight, the storm.
That is my first inkling of some deep and wide intuition about the night, the day we were to face the next morning by nine a.m. That sort of spontaneity and indulgence is unusual in me, I am a more fraught and doubtful personality. To open, on what seemed like a whim, this bottle, made sense only in retrospect. My one fine wine glass, my favorite bowl, my own self, alone, set up dinner on the balcony and in thirty seconds from sitting, a warm wind blew up and signaled the start of the storm. Moments later, the first currents of blue-white lightening cracked the sky and met, in a handshake of sorts, the long spire of the South Tower's lightening rod.
I twirled my pasta and sipped this majestic wine. The taste was so thorough, so elegant and demanding it made me sit up straighter in my chair, it narrowed and focused my thoughts, it punctuated my sense of gratitude and beauty for this moment. A moment at once ordinary: a storm in a city; and yet utterly extraordinary: a storm in a city, watched from an 18th floor balcony, watching the lightening collect in the giant, elegant structures of the World Trade Center.
Craig had long ago started calling Serena, my sister, and I the Twin Towers. Two tall, slender girls always downtown, always side by side, always walking along, heading south, the buildings just over our shoulders, guiding us and orienting us to South as we learned the city together. As we learned the city, but more, as we fell in love with the city. And I do. I love New York City. I love it as I love my very best friends I have grown up with. I know what neighborhoods to go to for comfort the way I know what friend to call when I need to cry and be listened to. I know where to go when I need challenge and exalted inspiration. I know what streets to avoid on garbage night in the summer. I know New York City, and I love it.
September 10th would have been a night I looked back on even if September 11th had never occurred. Even if the towers were still standing. Even if I had not seen, the very next morning, people jumping from so many floors up, taking some sense of emotional and physical control for the end of their lives. Even if my apartment had not filled wit h dust, if the smell of the burning towers for months afterward had not burned itself in my mind and memory forever, I would still hold September 10 dear to my heart. It was a perfect night. It was like the first kiss in a date with the man who becomes your husband, it was a moment crystallized because it was perfect, and provoked because of all that followed.
The lightening filled the sky on September 10th. My favorite part, the part I hoped for as I rushed home to watch storms in the four years I live on Beekman Street, was when the sky filled with lightening bolts and they all collected on the spire of the South Tower, like a scene in an ancient King Kong or Godzilla movie. And on this night, at several points, the lightening radiated into the spire like spines on a fan, coming from points so far that they arrived to the spire in a horizontal line, flat against the horizon.
The wind was warm and in the rough, chaotic clash of the city, the air was like a balm and the world felt like a gentle and sensuous place. The wine slid down my throat and radiated and bloomed in flavor and warmth, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. Content in my solitude. My simple end of summer meal tasting of earth and season. My strange, excellent home suspended in the sky. And nature, nature in the form of this storm, commingling with the nature of man’s need and ability to conquer the elements, to conquer, with sky scrapers, the sky itself.
The rain thundered down. The sound of tires on wet road filled the air with splashing white noise. The sky filled with fingers of light, all pointing to the Towers. The Towers speckled with lights on and lights off. I wondered who was there, working late, I peered into windows nearer, people eating, children playing, lots of flickering blue TV light.
Alone and in love with the city, the moment, and these beautiful towers I had come to regard as companions, I wondered who else was out there, watching them, enraptured by this beautiful storm, as I was so fully in that moment. I wondered then who else was filled with a beauty that verged on weeping and closed my eyes and sent out a silent kiss, a feeling of great love extended from my chest and emanated like wave, out into the unknown, to be received by anyone who was there in that moment, feeling awe, struck by the beauty.
I think of my unknown friends who watched that beautiful storm that night, watching the storm come and go, watching the bright stars pierce the sky as the thick and heaving rain clouds broke up and were swept by the warm wind out of the sky and on to their next stopping point.
In a way I think I stopped there, thinking of the buildings themselves, during that sensual, spectacular storm. To think of the people, the families, the extent of the individual loss, and the cultural loss of innocence in the violence of the fall of the Towers, that is a wretched heartbreak. These ten years I have contemplated every level of the loss, read essays, watched films, and contemplated and talked. But I always, as perhaps is human, come back to myself. My own ache, my own shock at seeing the buildings, the actual structures, fall, in real time, from my office windows, and think, those Twin Towers, those beautiful girls, they cannot be gone. They cannot be gone. I loved them too much for them to be gone. And yet, I watched them fall, with my own eyes. I watched them fall and realized that I had left my windows open that warm September morning. And I wondered. I wondered if my windows would still be in place, what was happening to all the surrounding buildings in the dense knot of downtown. I wondered what it would smell like, how hard would it be to clean, when I got home.
My wine glass was there, the tiny pool of liquid collected at the belly button over the stem, coated with dust. The memory of the night, I rushed to collect it, to maintain it, I sniffed the glass, the wine that was left and begged to be reminded of the perfect innocent evening, of the Towers standing, of the awesome storm, of the bright stars in the black sky beaming, revealed from behind the clouds as they swept away on the warm September wind.
I washed my glass. I placed it in the dish rack. I got out the vacuum cleaner. I surveyed the half inch of dust over everything: the awful yellow velour couch, the wooden frames on the paintings, the degrading linoleum floor. My mind went to the bright, beaming starts, piercing the sky twelve hours before. The people jumping from the towers, the crushed cars lining Beekman, Fulton, Gold and Pearl Streets. This was my home. I started cleaning up, but it was the stars, the lightening and the storm that I held in my hand with the comfort of a child’s hand in a parents. Ten years later that is still where my mind goes when I think of September 11. An ordinary night became a talisman for the beauty that sustains through the longest of griefs.