Quick Take: Deja Vu for the First Time

My days are relatively uneventful.  And I like them that way.  I eat, sleep, exercise.  Take the same route to the subway to get to work.  Summer school — I am teaching, not taking classes — is fine.  Students are bright and engaged.   The workload infinitely lighter.   

Wednesday evening, I stayed late at work — emailing students about missing assignments, making copies for the next day’s class, exchanging stories with colleagues.

I had “plans”.   Buy groceries at Whole Foods.  Take the train home.

Then I left the building…

People were standing in the street.  Yes, in the street, setting themselves up to be possible road kill.  It didn’t happen.  It’s not that cars swerved to avoid them.  In fact, there wasn’t much traffic at all.  Unusual for 6 p.m. in downtown Manhattan.

They were all looking north and up…up to the sky.   Up to the colorless, odorless, dense clouds of smoke covering the tall buildings in the distance.   Smoke rising to meet the clouds

So much for my “plans.”

We stood there.   No one moved except to call friends and family — giving assurances and details and receiving them. 

“What’s going on?”  I asked a young Asian man and his female friend.  “They say it’s a transformer explosion,”  he said.  I knew a little about transformers — major conduits of the city’s power.  I also knew “it” could be something else — a terror attack.   

And the smoke kept rising…

I wasn’t in New York City during 9/11.  I was still living in Montgomery, Alabama.  As fate would have it, I was visiting the city just one month earlier trying to find a job and a place to live.  No such luck.  My lack of prospects on both fronts was highly unusual.  So, I went back to Bama still vowing to return home to NYC someday soon.

And the smoke kept rising…

 I heard the news on the radio as I was driving to work — a plane crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  When I arrived, everyone was standing around a small television in the conference room, eyes fixed on the unbelievable images.  We watched as a plane hit the other tower.  One tower fell.  Then the other.  And it was all over…in more ways than I could have imagined. 

I was the only one from New York City and the only one could remotely grasp the magnitude of such an act.  Or at least I thought.  Television provides a safe distance from the reality of tragedy.  

And the smoke kept rising…

When I did return to New York almost two years later, no one I knew or met spoke openly about September 11. Because of their reticence,  I could almost convince myself that it wasn’t that bad and that perhaps it never really happened.  To avoid any possible brush with reality,  I  never visited Ground Zero.

And the smoke kept rising… 

After a few detours, I finally made it home to Brooklyn.   On my block, the sun shone in the clear blue smokeless sky.  Brown-skinned boys of varying hues were shooting a basketball through a not so sturdy hoop.   They threw up their hands to say “hi” as I passed.  I did the same. 

And the smoke kept rising…

From local news reports, I learned that an old steam pipe exploded leaving a huge crater near 41st Street and Lexington Avenue.  The eruption sent New Yorkers fleeing as it rained asbestos-laden dust and debris.  A woman died of a heart attack and a tow truck driver and his passenger were seriously injured.

Although I didn’t want to admit it, I was shaken.  I wanted to call someone.  But what would I say?  Would they understand my uneasiness?

Nearly two weeks have passed, the City says the “investigation” as to what happened and why continues with no set timetable for its completion…

… and no set timetable for the peace of mind we so desperately crave, we so desperately need.

And the smoke kept rising…

One thought on “Quick Take: Deja Vu for the First Time

  1. Wow, I can’t imagine feeling that. I have tons of relatives in NY. I havent talked to them about 9/11 either. I would definitely like to learn how people are feeling.

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