Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forget

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I remember it like it was yesterday, I walked out of my apartment to greet the 7 train, as I did every morning since I'd moved there. The air was crisp. The sky, a perfect blue.

As I made my way up to the platform, I decided I needed to walk toward the back, where I could soak in some more of that beautiful day. It was one of those mornings you think to yourself, "I'm so lucky to live here!" And I was.

I got to work at the Grace building, just across from Bryant Park. I began my morning routine and then I got a call from an outside line, "Hello? This is Krista?"

"Dude, are you okay?" my brother inquired. "A plane just hit the World Trade Center. What's the weather like there?" he asked. At the time, he lived and worked in D.C. He worked for a think tank that had the TVs on cable news stations all day, everyday. So, strangely, he'd actually heard about it before I had.

I was baffled. It was a beautiful day, I told him. In my mind, I figured it was a little two-seater plane that couldn't cause much damage. It was unfathomable to me what actually occurred. I told him I was fine and we left it at that. I decided to turn on my little radio alarm clock that sat at my desk. It was Howard Stern and he was describing the terror and then, BOOM. The second plane hit. I couldn't believe it. Who could do such a thing?

Word started to get around the office and before I knew it, we were trying to get reception on the TVs in the conference rooms. One of the security guards came over to my area — I just happened to sit near the CEOs office and next to her assistant. He said, "I think Osama bin Laden did this." It was the first time I'd ever heard his name.

Then the Pentagon was hit. I started to fear for the safety of my family, all of whom lived in that area at the time. I tried calling everyone. Busy. I don't remember panicking, after all, nothing like that had happened before. But I know I was frightened. And then, our worst fears realized — the Towers collapsed. I couldn't believe it. Honestly couldn't believe it.

Our security team started to make plans for what we should do. They asked we all stay in the building but at that point, all I wanted to do was go home. I knew I could walk it. Though I lived in Queens, my place was just on the other side of the East River. A little bit of a trek, but it wouldn't have been a terrible walk.

I told our VP of Merchandising my plan and I'll never forget what she said, "Are you crazy? The last time something happened at the World Trade Center, there was all kinds of looting! No one was safe!" She convinced me to go back to a local hotel room where some of our planners were staying. What I wouldn't realize until later was that something had changed in NY. In time, I would see that the City had become just a tiny bit more fragile, we would become kinder to one another. We would know that we were in this together.

I walked with four other girls to that hotel. I don't even remember which hotel or even what part of town it was in. But I remember looking up during that walk as four army helicopters flew overhead and I thought to myself, as naive as this may sound, 'the world will never be the same.'

It's funny what you remember on a day like that. I remember sitting in a dark hotel room, glued to the TV, shedding tears over the devastation, over what someone could do to Our City. I remember exactly what I was wearing too... A sleeveless, lavender chunky-knit sweater with black pants and black wedges. I specifically remember the shoes.

My nerves were making my feet sweat so much, I slid in and out of those damn shoes. The sweater, a sale item from the Gap, was one I didn't love, but the weather demanded it that day and I begrudgingly put it on for lack of something better to wear. When we got to the hotel room, I realized it had been inside out all day, that chunky knit made the inside and outside look virtually the same. I went to the bathroom and fixed it. Strange how these details are so vivid, yet some escape me?

We watched CNN, in complete awe, determined that once the subways were up and running again, we would each go home. We formed groups based on where we lived and were ready. We were starving and decided to try and find a local restaurant. It must have been 2 or 3 in the afternoon by then. Everything was different. On the street, people politely smiled at one another, kind of a nod that said, 'we'll get through this.'

We finally got word that the 7 train was running again and two of us jumped at the chance to go home. She and I hugged and parted ways at Queensborough Plaza, just three stops away from mine. I'll never forget the rest of that silent ride home.

I'd lived in New York for a year by then. Whenever a visitor would come, I took great pride in showing them the scenery from my train — I was lucky enough to have most of my ride outdoors instead of underground. On one side, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, on the other, the Twin Towers.

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To this day, I still feel guilt about my "7-train tours" prior to 9/11. I would always boast that the much better view was the north view, the one of the Chrysler building (my favorite landmark building in New York) and that the other side was simply kind of boring. I'm going to be frank with you, before that day, I never thought the Towers were special... but riding home, looking south out the window of the train, I watched as smoke simmered from the very spot those building once stood and I felt tremendous sadness and incredible shame for ever having had those thoughts at all. I wished to God I could put them right back where they belonged. I would appreciate them so much if we could just put them back.

September 12th I woke up and figured I better report to work. My company didn't shut down for ANYTHING. So I once again walked over to the 7 and realized... it was a ghost town. My beautifully vibrant City was speechless. It was eerie. Like aliens had landed.

I got to work, also empty. One of the security guards phoned my desk, "Krista, what are you doing here?!" He proceeded to tell me that we had a hotline and that none of us were to report in that day. We'd never had an emergency of any kind before. How was I supposed to know? I turned around, got back on the subway and sobbed. No one was there to see it... so I let it all out. I sobbed the entire way home and even more once at home.

Days later you could smell the tragedy. I'll never forget thinking to myself, 'I now know what death smells like.' It was devastating. It was unbelievable. It was all too real.

I recently found a postcard of the World Trade Center in an old book I have. How strange that it's 10 years later. Sometimes it seems like it went by way too quickly and sometimes I think about just how much has changed. And though I was lucky in that no one I am close to was harmed by either of the attacks in NY or DC, I felt it all the same. We all did. Whether in NY or San Francisco, the tremendous loss was felt that day by every single American and we will never forget.

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