The city was completely closed off from 14th street and below. If your license didn’t have an address that placed you below 14th Street, you were not passing the armed guards. To this day, I make sure my address on my driver’s license is always up to date. There were people who were unable to get to pets they had left behind. Unable to go home.
The day they opened the city up to Canal Street, we felt compelled to walk from 14th down to Canal. When we arrived at Union Square, we discovered that most of Manhattan shared the urge.
The park became a shrine, a place for people to gather and be with one another.
There were candles and prayer cards, messages of hope, expressions of despair and the worst part: the faces of the missing – accompanied by the desperate pleas for help in finding them. Faces that would stare out at us for months afterwards, and become familiar to every stranger passing them.
It was impossible not to read every message.
A ream of paper had been unrolled along the walkways, there were markers provided and everyone was invited to express themselves. A line of people moved slowly past the scroll, each person reading every message, looking at every drawing, and once in a while, people would break out of the line and kneel on the ground to write something. I uncapped a marker and stared at the blank spot I had chosen. What do you say? What will tell the story of the impact this has had on your life, or express the way that you and every single stranger around you feels?
A friend of mine is a born again Christian. She was raised Catholic, but became born again when she was 18 years old. She told me that one time, in a hairy situation, she had instinctively thought, “Hail Mary, full of grace…”
“Boy!” she said, “The Catholic Church really instills it in you and keeps a grip, don’t they?” Yes they do. Like making the sign of the cross when an ambulance passes, it’s muscle memory.
So I wrote the only thing that had been echoing in my head over and over every day since *that* Tuesday and wrote:
We moved on.
Made our way down to Canal Street and Broadway – Chinatown. There, lining the streets were makeshift tables with tee shirts and souvenirs on them. The kind that seem to just *appear* at certain times and *disappear* when the cops show up. Like the umbrella dudes that materialize out of nowhere when it starts raining, “UMbrullah! UMbrullah!”, I swear they are made of powder that is scattered on the streets – just add water and up they spring. “UMbrullah! UMbrullah!” We looked at the tee shirts and for the most part they had American Flags, the Bald Eagle – all RahRah USA kind of stuff.
And then we saw one vendor selling tee shirts that had pictures of the towers on them.
They read: “I Can’t Believe I Got Out!”
At first we were horrified. Completely gobsmacked. We just looked at each other, not knowing what to say or what to think, and then we just started laughing and couldn’t stop. Because something about it was so very very good, so entrepreneurial, so very American and most especially, so very New York City. Everything was going to be okay. We would be normal again someday. If you think you can crush our spirit, then you, sirs, have not been to New York Fucking City.
Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
4 thoughts on “Late September 2001: New York City”
That was beautiful to read. Thankyou.
Simply beautiful — and the account of the vendor selling the seemingly insensitive t-shirts definitely put a smile on my face this morning. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for this post; it is so true and human.
Thank you, all of you.
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