I try not to get sentimental about non-art related things on my sketch blog. My childhood art teacher had a sign in her studio that said "If it's not about art, don't talk about it here." Ten years have gone by very quickly and if I hadn't gone to art school in New York, I wouldn't be writing this. I had just moved to Brooklyn with a friend and was starting my thesis year at the School of Visual Arts in September 2001. On Tuesdays I had life drawing late in the afternoon so I usually slept in that morning. I awoke to two messages left on the answering machine by my roommates parents around 9 am. My roommate had a morning class and was already in the city.
After listening to the frantic messages half awake, I turned on the TV. I stood in shock, remote in hand, as the impossible newscast glared before me. Smoke billowed from the World Trade Center buildings in lower Manhattan. Eventually I sat on the couch as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing. I don't know how long I sat there, flipping from channel to channel with similar footage. Two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers.
There was a sudden billow of smoke, exclamations from the newscasters and in a few seconds time it was apparent that one of the towers had gone down. Almost silently. Eerily similar to the two red checkered tanker towers that had been demolished only months before in Greenpoint. Eventually it hit me that this was happening here. The Twin Towers were visible from Grand Street in Brooklyn. I put on some clothes and grabbed my SLR camera.
When I stepped outside the apartment on Scholes Street, this is what I saw to my left.
I walked down Graham Avenue, passing other confused pedestrians wandering on the streets. I turned left onto Grand Street. Shop owners had turned their TVs to face the street and some had their radios on loud enough to hear the newscasts from the sidewalk. I snapped a photo of the billowing smoke and walked west towards the obscured Manhattan skyline, following others who were doing the same. As I crossed between Leonard and Lorimer Streets someone called out. People gasped and some crossed themselves. The antennae of the second tower pitched and disappeared into the mass of smoke. I clicked the shutter.
I don't remember how much longer I stayed outside, but when I got back to the apartment and tried to make a call, the phone was busy. Eventually my roommate called from a payphone and told me she was ok, that the subways were closed. At some point I got through to my mom and I assume my boyfriend at the time, but I don't recall the particulars. The smoke flowed over Brooklyn and was visible from our kitchen window. In the days following, my roommate and I walked to our friends' apartment in Greenpoint to watch the news together and stand on their roof to see the long lines of ambulances and rescue vehicles on the BQE. Lights flashing red, but their sirens silent. Walking by the Williamsburg bridge, someone had scrawled "Nuke the West Bank" near the overpass trestle. I shook my head and thought this was an ominous sign.
Classes were cancelled. I went into the city for the first time by Thursday or Friday with my friends. We stood in Union Square watching a candle light vigil. Unless you lived in lower Manhattan, you couldn't go below 14th St. We continued up to Lexington Avenue, planning to eat dinner at Curry in a Hurry. Across from the Lexington Ave armory, flyers for missing persons papered the wall of a construction site. A crowd of people walked slowly along the wall, searching the faces and black and white descriptions of the missing. Hundreds and hundreds of people who had lived and worked in the area of the World Trade Center. Wedding photos, photos with their children. The faces of lives lost that day. I'd been in shock all week, but this was the first time I really felt the magnitude of this tragic event.
I thought about leaving school and New York. My mom and brother had just moved across the country to Arizona. My sister was in college in PA. If I left, I really had no home to go to. I'd have no degree. What was I planning to do for a career? I decided to stick it out. It's amazing how quickly you adjust to changes. My gig painting carousel horses was downsized within two weeks and I was jobless. Showing ID to access some of your classes because the police precinct is next door. Snipers stationed on the roof for the same reason. Constant heavily armed police with dogs and national guard presence in the subway stations. Color coded "terror" alerts. Every time I left New York on a bus and arrived again via the Lincoln Tunnel, the altered skyline was a constant reminder of the world we now lived in.
Life goes on. People go about their days. New Yorkers are strong. Ten years go by. One day the skyline doesn't look so strange. I didn't leave then and I'm still in this great city, scraping by a living as an animation artist. There is no doubt it was a tragic day. Many lives were lost, countless people were affected. Still more will be lost to diseases caused by the debris and toxic fumes people were exposed to as they volunteered for the cleanup and lived in the area of the World Trade Center during those months.
To me, the even more tragic event is that we're still at war. Lives of soldiers and innocent people are lost every day, not to mention billions of dollars spent because of the "war on terror." A war started in one administration that probably won't see an end in the current administration. It's an unwinnable war, the Vietnam of our era. Yet few people are protesting to end it. Protests have broken out in countries across the world to change their own governments, yet we stand silent as atrocities from hunger, homelessness and sex trafficking to government overspending, stock market scams and bank bailouts happen in our own backyards.
Thanks for reading if you'd made it this far. I promise this won't become a regular installment of the blog. Writing, making comics and art in general have been very therapeutic for me. I've been trying to work on a comic of this day for years, but it never seems right. It always seems too soon, too trivial an account. I felt that it was time to at least share my experience in writing and photos. Time does heal all wounds and I hope that everyone affected directly by this tragedy finds peace. Most New Yorkers I know have found a way to move on and I hope the rest of the country follows suit.
The only photo I have of the Twin Towers was taken while waiting for the fireworks to start on July 4, 2000 at the waterfront in Williamsburg near the Domino Sugar factory.
I'll leave you with these words about New York from Speed Levitch.
My boyfriend introduced me to his beautiful black and white film "The Cruise." There's some fantastic footage of NYC in the late 90s including the World Trade Center. His poetic and sometimes hilarious commentary on New York as a bus tour guide is just great. It's available on Netflix watch now.