Trip Start Oct 08, 2007
110Trip End Dec 16, 2008
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This date has a personal meaning for me. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. Ever since, on this day, I inevitably pause and reflect on my life, and what happened since, for it was 7 years ago on this date that (excuse the cliché) the rest of my life begun.
I'm not a survivor, just a very close witness
I feel a little shake in the floor as if someone has dropped a heavy box of flies right behind me. I assume that someone has dropped a heavy box of files in the office behind me and keep re-writing my sentence. I must admit, this job at which I'm so desperately trying to excel is not particularly exciting. On a good day I like it, but it doesn't have the sex appeal of investment banking, nor does it have the pay. I spend my days reading financial reports: "The COGS in the second quarter increased by 2.3%, due to the increase in the price of raw materials, mainly steal. As a result, our Gross margin compressed by ..." etc, etc, etc. I analyze - why the price of steal rose and more importantly, will it continue to rise, will the margins squeeze further, should that be of any concern to the creditors, etc, etc, etc. I write: " We believe the trend of rising steal prices will continue, however the effect on company's margins will be contained as the company has demonstrated in the past its ability to successfully pass through the price increase in raw materials to its customers." Or maybe it sounds better like this: "We believe the company's margins will remain largely unaffected by the rising steel prices, as the company has demonstrated in the past its ability to pass through to its customers the raw materials price hikes". Exciting, no?
I was living in New Bergen, New Jersey then, in a Puerto Rican neighborhood. When I moved to New York, jobless, clueless, and of course hopeful to make it big in the Big Apple, I was lucky to have some college friends that were already living here and let me crash in their living room. After I found a job I thought of finding a place of my own. But just as I started my new job, one of my roommates lost hers. The economy was heading south already and the lay offs were picking-up. I decided to stay for a few months and help with the rent, while she is looking for a job. I was barely spending any time at home anyways.
Every morning I'd wake up at 6:00 am and put the coffee maker on. I'd be out of the shower by 6:20 am. I'd be done blow-drying my hair by 6:40 am. I'd be holding my half full cup of coffee (with a drop of milk, no sugar) while going through the wardrobe, choosing between 2 pairs of black and 2 pairs of navy blue pants I had recently bought at a two for one sale at Jones of New York. I had lost 5 kilos, or to put it in perspective - 8% of my body weight in the first two weeks I moved to New York. I was indeed worried that I won't be able to find a job, and would have to leave NY as a failure. So, none of the clothes I bought in Oklahoma on the cheap would fit me right anymore. I had to go shopping in New York. The prices seemed astronomical, even in the cheap stores.
By 6:50 am, I would have hopefully picked the right pants/shirt combo. Ideally, I would have ironed and starched the shirts on the weekend. Some weekends, I would be too lazy to do it. I'd have to iron one in the morning, and that would through my whole schedule off. I'd try to leave at 7:00am sharp, but for one reason or another I'd always, always be late. I'd run to the bus stop and take the bus to Jersey City, from where I'd get on the train and get off at the last stop, the World Trade Center.
When the train doors open, I'd rush with everyone else along the platform, up a short flight of stairs, towards the escalators. There were five, maybe six escalators, one going down, all the rest going up. On every escalator people would form two row - one on the right, for those who want to ride just standing and one on the left for those who were in a hurry and wanted to walk up the escalator to get to the top a minute or so faster. Some times both rows would be walking.
Every morning, in those 60 seconds between the train doors and the escalators, I'd walk in awe with this living, breathing organism, and feel part of New York. I used to think that the morning foot traffic in the train station under the WTC should be elected as one of the seventh wonders of the world. Human energy of enormous proportions was pulsating with the rhythmic, almost unison footsteps of hundreds of people. Every morning, this energy was rising up with the escalators and spilling onto the streets of one of the greatest cities in the world. I use to wonder - how many of this people are smarter than me - more or less than 50%? Even if I'm just of an average intelligence in this group, should I be disappointed, or pleased with myself? How many have Ph.D's in quantum physics? How many have better jobs than me? How many spoke English as a first language? How many were being paid more? How many made more than $1million last year, and more interestingly, how many will make more than a mill this year? For many days after 9/11, I'd wonder how many of the people I saw that morning died: 20, 30, 50%, more? How many of those people that I quietly admired every morning for all their drive and success, and for the way they hurried to their jobs as people who had things to do and purpose to be, were gone for good. And what for?
At the escalators, I'd look at my watch. Ideally, It'd be 7:50 am, so I'd stand on the right, reading my Wall Street Journal, feeling like a heroine from a movie. Usually, it would be past 8:00 am, and I'd be rushing up the escalators, hoping that my boss is not walking towards my office right this very moment. Today, it is actually 7:45 am. It is early for couple of reasons: First, I had my hair cut this weekend. It is not long anymore, so it took me only 5 min to blow-dry it, which of course was the whole purpose of the new hairstyle. Less sexy, more practical. Second, I didn't spend any time picking clothes, as I just put on the new gray pants and a pink striped shirt that I bought yesterday. And so, I take the right side of the escalator and read my paper.
I am feeling slightly depressed this morning. Now that most of the unknowns in my life have been solved, I am not as happy as I though I would be. Life in New York has not been as fun as I remembered it from last summer, when I was a student and an intern here. It's been monotonous. The work and the commute have been consuming most of my waking hours. I only see the sun for 10 minutes in the morning while walking from the station to my office and for 15 min at lunch time, while dashing to the deli across the street to buy a salad. I am living in a florescent light world. Most days I'd eat alone in my office whose internal window is facing a gray inside wall. It feels like dungeon. I'm missing the sun and my freedom. After so many years of hard work I am finally allowing myself to have some fun, but life is not happening. I turn on my computer and wait for it to load up staring at the gray wall in front of me. Will anything ever happen!
"Did you hear what happened?" one of the other associated leans at the frame of my door. "A plain hit the WTC."
"You are kidding me!"
"No, you can see it from the corner office".
Hunched over the file cabinets of the 3rd floor office, head tilted backwards, eyes rolled up, I am staring at the massive buildings towering over our heads, flames blazing from an open wound. So blue is the sky and so silver are the towers and I can not take my eyes from the flames. Thousands of sheets of paper that look like confetti from down here are flying without any particular direction up or down, carried by the wind, flickering in the brilliant morning light. There is no single cloud in sight - just blue skies, silver towers and blazing flames.
After a while, I go back to my desk and try to get back to work. I have no idea what has just happened. None of us did. Some times is like this - the whole world (and in this particular case literally the whole world) can see it coming, only you are sitting there clueless, busy with some mundane task, worried about things that don't matter in the great scheme of things.
Then comes an announcement over the intercom. "Please remain inside the building. There is a bomb outside. Do not go outside. It is not safe on the streets. Please remain in the building." Now, here, I am having my 60 seconds of life recap - how many years of "work now party later" - I can't remember. Was it worth it? Not a single penny if I die now. I am indeed thinking it is possible that I die any second now. For someone who's just left Oklahoma, the first association of a bomb outside of a building is the Oklahoma City bombing. Half a building can go missing in a few seconds. My office is on the third floor, close to the front. If something of that size blows up, I'm a waste for sure. Should I do something? Call someone perhaps? No-one to call really. I can call my parents to tell them that I love them, but of course they know I love them. Besides, why worry them, whatever happens, happens. I am staring at the black phone with 12 lines in front of me, but sadly, I need none of them. I am calm, but feel cheated and pissed off with life. And for the first time, I feel lonely, really lonely. This of course is just the beginning. Because if 12 phone lines and no one to call to say you love them is lonely, I don't know how to even start describing how it feels sitting at home, alone, switching between 60 TV channels, each one of them showing an interview with someone who lost someone they loved that day. Almost 3,000 heart breaking stories of love lost. On average, 8.2 stories per day.
"Now the other building is on fire. We are thinking of getting out of here". There is no bomb. Whoever was making the announcement must have mistaken the blast from the second plane for a bomb blast. WTC was bombed before, in 1993. Some of my colleagues remembered it. Now I know who I need to call - my roommate who has a 10 am interview on the 6th floor of my building. I know she'd be taking the train from Jersey City into the WTC. After the first tower caught fire I thought of calling her, but decided that if it was dangerous, they would close the station. I knew how important this interview was for her, so I didn't want to be the one to tell her not to come. But now, one of my co-workers, a petite brunette in her twenties, visibly shaken is telling us that she nearly got stampeded as she was leaving the train station under the WTC. A body fell from one of the towers and the crowd rushed scared, pushing her onto her knees and hands. Someone helped her. Her knees and hands were scratched.
I'm dialing my roommate, but the call goes to her voicemail. She is probably on the train already. If something happened to her, I would never forgive myself. You can't just assume that someone else will take care of things. But now it's too late. I can't do anything. I finally give up. It's high time I leave. Where exactly am I going? I don't know. I don't know this part of town.
The lobby is full of people. Something is happening in front of the main door and people rush back to the lobby. Now everyone is trying to exit through the north door. When I finally make it outside, I see a familiar face and relax a little. It is colleague of mine who also just started. I walk with him towards Brooklyn Bridge.
"You've cut your hair?", he says.
"A-ha, do you like it?" What the f*! What am I talking about?! Is this what they call shock?
It is a bright day outside, beautiful day. On a subconscious level, I am happy to be in the sun. There are many people, but no panic. Everyone is walking fast, but no one is running. And let me tell you, there are people walking the other way, towards the building, to take a better look, to take a picture even. There is nothing I can help with and I don't want to look. I know that whatever I see I will remember forever, and it is going to be an ugly memory, so I walk away. I don't look even once.
Closer to the FDR, the situation is a bit more frantic. Cars are trying to make their way through the crowd. It occurs to me, that walking on a major traffic artery in times like this might not be safe. A car stops and somehow I end up in it with couple of female colleagues I had just met. A complete stranger, and Indian guy takes the front seat and says with a lioling Indian accent: "I just walked out of WTC1, man". The guy at the steering wheel seems to be high on adrenalin and keeps blabbering how days like this change your entire perspective on life. As he is driving away, towards mid-town, he tells us what happened. It is the first time we learn it was two planes, two large planes that hit the WTC. There was another plane that crashed in the Pentagon, and one that hit the Capitol, he says. Nothing makes sense. Is the US under attack?! By whom? Why? Then the voice of the lady on the radio raises and trembles as she reports that the WTC2 is collapsing. We all know what happened after.
We couldn't go back to the office for almost two months. When we did, it was the saddest place to be. Downtown was eerie quiet and empty. It looked like a ghost town. I heard there was a direct view over Grown Zero from one of the conference rooms at the 11th floor. I went there alone and for first time after it happened, I looked that way. The world looked black and brown. The remains of WTC5 were still sticking out. The half way burned building of BOA was covered with a black net that was split open in the middle, like a skirt's split that has opened a bit too high. White paper was pouring out of the split and the wind was carrying it towards Brooklyn. It was a moonscape. No human being in sight. The saddest view in the world.
And the smell, the smell was the worse. It smelled for months after of burned tire, paper, steel, anything. In the first days after, you could feel the smell all the way to 14th street. It was a heavy smell that soaked up in your clothes like a cigarette smoke and stayed with you even when you left the area. Even when you were reading quietly in your office, the smell will be there to remind you of where you are, a block away from the WTC. By noon, you'd have a head-ache. It went on for months.
And then, I was at the office almost every day for the following year. I was there when the remains of WTC5 wer brought down. I was there while they were fixing the roof of the building across the street that has been chipped off by falling debris. I was there when the old water hydrant outside the south gate, that was tilted to 45% by the force of the collapsing towers, was replaced with a new one. I was there when they removed the barricades from Church street. And I was there while the pile that was left of the two towers was reduced, leveled and then slowly turned into a hole. The people slowly started coming back and businesses started reopening. I remember this one morning I was walking towards the office on Old Broadway street, in the part that was still closed for traffic. There was a woman walking in front of me. She had this happy walk, almost as if she was dancing, her hills rhythmically chang-changing on the asphalt, her plump hips swinging as if she didn't have a single care in the world. And I though, my god, how quickly people forget. Because that's what we do - we forget and we move on. That's human nature. And so, slowly-slowly, life in downtown Manhattan picked-up. Tourists started venturing in the area, trying to peek through holes in the wooden fence, posing for pictures in front of Ground Zero. Ambulant vendors started selling 9/11 memorabilia. All the while the remains of people were still being discovered.
I was there for the first, and for the second and for the third, and for the forth anniversary. Only once more did I sensed the eerie feeling of 9/11 in the air, and that was the day Bush was re-elected. Never, even once did I think about leaving NY after 9/11, not after the numerous bomb threats and antrax scares, not even while riding the subway with my hard up in my trough. The day Bush got re-elected, I become a little disillusioned with America. Let' s see what happens this November.
And what was the point of telling you all this? I don't know, just wanted to tell. What was the point of 9/11? What was achieved? I have been told by more than one Muslim the following constipation theory: 9/11 was really a Jewish deed, not a single Jew died on this day. Rubbish. A lot of Jewish people died that day. Muslims too. Why do people choose to believe such an obvious garbage? Most tragedies in this world are made possible because of grave ignorance that breeds intolerance. People are lazy. They prefer to believe a non-sense rumor instead of facing reality. It is easier to vilify the "others", to protect yourself by believing your morals are higher and you motives are more noble.
People are really very much the same everywhere. For the four years that followed 9/11, I met with many US defense contractors that came to give us their two hour shpills. Such was my job - I was covering Defense and Airspace. They came in their gray suits and little pins with the American flag. They peered out the window towards Ground Zero, signed and told us about the weapons systems that they build "to protect the American solders". Were they really believing themselves? One company told us about a technology they developed that allows the monitoring of the desert floor in Afghanistan from a satellite that would detect anything that is moving and determine if it is an animal or a human, and if it is a human if it is armed or not - all by the dept and the width of the footprints. (Not giving out any secrets here, btw, it is all public info). And I was thinking - wow, all this technology, and still can't find Osama. If they did, Bush should be sending him a thank you note - the threat of Osama and code orange - credible threat alert every other pre-election day did miracles for voters motivation.
All those voters in the Midwest, they are no bad people, they go to church and all. All they wanted was to keep living their lives undisturbed. They wanted a president that will do whatever is needed to be done. They wanted to believe that whatever is being done was done for a greater purpose - for protecting the freedom with capital F. Bomb the sh*t out of some country they didn't even know existed? Well, if that needs to be done to protect Freedom. Those people are not civilized. They are villains. They hate us and want us killed. They want to destroy our way of life. That's what it is all about: protect your way of life - the TV, the SUV, the special deals at Wall Mart, the bucket of chicken wings at KFC for $9.95 and the all you can eat Chinese buffet. The only freedom sought and found, was the freedom to choose to remain ignorant and intolerant.
So what happened in my life since 9/11 - Most importantly, my roommate's train did get diverted to midtown. She never made it to her interview and since the job market shut down after 9/11 she left NY for good, we thought. She won the green card lottery the following year and returned two years later. She crashed at my living room while she was looking for a job. She still lives in New York.
I don't know what happened with the guy who gave me a lift and saved me from getting caught in the cloud that covered Lower Manhattan when the towers collapsed. I'm hoping he is happy with his life priorities now. He didn't have to stop and pick up anyone that day. No one told him to, but he did anyways.
And me? I lived on Manhattan for 4 years. I worked hard and made decent money. I spent them all on going out, shopping and travel. In other words, I ate, I drank and for the most part, I was merry. I then moved on to London to make even more money which to spent on eating, drinking and being merry. At the end, I had enough of it. I through away most of my stuff and all of the old bank statements and I've been traveling since. I took a first aid course, so I can help people. I've helped a little few times and that made me feel more accomplished that ever. The only money I've made lately, I've donated for girls' education in countries where girls' education is nobody's primary concern. Maybe when they grow up the world will be a less ignorant place. Don't want to sound self-indulgent here. I only did it because it made me feel good. And my friends that helped, and the people that I don't know in person that helped, that makes me feel even better. In general, I am in a positive mood. I'm still searching for this one guy that I would want to call if I knew I only had 60 seconds to live, so there is something to look forward to. In the mean while, I need to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, which incidentally starts today.
WORLD CHANGE STARTS WITH EDUCATED CHILDREN! Give a girl the life long gift of education! Support my appeal 100 GIRLS BACK TO SCHOOL! Donate at: www.justgiving.com/100GirlsBackToSchool
Your money goes directly to Room to Read: www.roomtoread.org
Hugs & Kisses, Vik