A Tuesday morning twelve years ago…

I generally hate the hyper-patriotic memorialization of this day, as I’d prefer to forget. But today saw many on social media sharing their stories, so I thought I’d share mine, too.

I was in the subway, headed to work at the Civilian Complaint Review Board a couple blocks south of the towers, in the financial district. The train stopped, as it often did for track work or obstructions. But it stayed in the same place. We didn’t get out for what seemed like forever: the car filled with smoke and dust as (I now know) the towers collapsed. We were finally released onto the subway tracks, and guided back to a platform. When I emerged, I headed to work (closed, obviously) and then walked towards the collapsed towers until I couldn’t breath, not really comprehending what had happened. I needed to get to Harlem, but the way north was blocked. The sky was black, and everything was covered in ashes, including me.

by Flickr user hankplank
by Flickr user hankplank

The streets were full of expensive women’s shoes, discarded as they ran. I took brief refuge in an office building, borrowed a phone, and called my partner. Then, I joined the other survivors trudging home: the subways were working, slowly, above Union Square, so I stopped at the Target there, drank some water and got on a train. I arrived home sometime in the late afternoon, and then I slept.

I don’t remember much over the next few weeks: our building was inside the “crime scene” so we couldn’t go back to work for a while. I think I played video games for days at a time, and I know I took the GREs, fearing that the city would have to lay me off. (There was a bomb threat in the middle, so we filed out to the street, then returned to finish when the building was cleared. I’ve always wondered if someone used the bomb threat to get the answers or switch test-takers.)

The truth is that I was pretty lucky: our train wasn’t right under the towers when they collapsed, so we were just inconvenienced (and scared.) One guy from my office died: Hernando Salas. I try to think about him, today, and also to take Judith Butler’s advice not to obsess on narratives that start Tuesday morning, but instead to think about the stories that go back decades that led us all there.

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