Some memories are so powerful, they don’t diminish even 10 years later.
Written by David Granovsky on 9/11/11
Nothing Strange Happened Today
At 83rd street I leave my friend’s apartment with simple thoughts of Starbucks and a walk through Central Park in my head. Behind me, the building door slams as I take a deep breath of the mid-morning air and squint into the bright sunlight. Something’s shifted. A strange vibe fills the air, a tension that unnerves and unsettles me. I survey the street. Cars are double parked haphazardly and a fire house is eerily empty.
At 82nd street a harried looking woman in the doorway of a hair salon, her hair half in curlers, smokes a cigarette and wrings her hands simultaneously while dropping long ashes on her purple plastic cape. I’m drawn to the sound of the TV in the salon with a dozen people crowded around it. I watch in horror over hunched shoulders and past craning necks as the images of the first plane hitting the WTC is rebroadcast. The powerful silence in the room is punctuated by gasps and groans of ‘oh my god.’
At 81st street I’m in a panic. My cell is in my hand as I dash down the street. I’m awkwardly running and calling my parents who live closer to the devastation later called ‘ground zero.’ My call, like so many desperate others’, does not go through. I’m moving downtown fast with my panic and frustration mixing with the ‘all circuits are busy’ messages.
At 76th street surreality sets in. I am the only person moving towards the scene of destruction. There are thousands of people on the streets and they are all hurrying away from ‘ground zero.’ Looks that scream, “are you crazy?” give me isolated cameo appearances of “New York attitude” amongst a sea of distressed faces. Flat-bed trucks roll past me going North with men and women in business suits, their legs hanging off the edge. Some stare at their shoes, defeated looks on their hung faces…others, engage in the futile pantomime of curling their cell phones from lap to ear as they try hopelessly to get through to a loved one.
At 74st street groups of people hover around parked cars, leaning in through open windows and listening to radio reports. Block after block, a scene plays out. The scene is one I’ve seen in countless movies but never appreciated its implications until now. Manhattan construction workers, grandmothers, business people and bike messengers, their chaotic myriad daily paths cut short, discarded and gathered anew into a tight knot around a single point. Focused together, these eclectic groups of people stand shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip united in their nationality, geography and a desperate common interest and need for information.
At 71st street, a brief glimmer of hope; a connection on my cell that lasts just long enough to hear my father’s voice utter one indecipherable word before disconnection. I jerk to a dead stop in the middle of a once busy intersection, unaware and uncaring that normal laws of pedestrian and vehicular traffic are no longer in effect. Heart racing, I hit redial repeatedly, trying to reconnect with my Dad as waves of people immersed in their own anxieties split around me.
My surroundings disappear and my non-essential senses flip off as my universe contracts to dual pin points of vision and hearing. The most significant elements in my life suddenly tighten to the illuminated digits on my cell screen, the blinking of the signal bar and the sounds leaking from my cell. I futilely strain to hear a sound of hope. I try to will sounds from my cell other than rapid dial tones and ‘no connection’ messages. Unnoticed, the most common New York City experience takes place as a rushing pedestrian shoulders past me. I take apathetic notice of the glistening beads of sweat mixing on my number pad, the sunlight reflecting from a chip in the glass and the redial button emitting its lonely beep.
I’m passing 65th street and I’m at a full run with my phone deep in my pocket. I’m breathing heavy and sweat is trickling down my face and chest and seeping through my shirt. I’m running down the middle of the street because the sidewalks are packed and the traffic is limited to the occasional flat bed truck full of people moving slowly uptown.
With my running and breathing heavy and the dark cloud threatening my head, I don’t hear my cell until the third ring!
I frenziedly rip it out of my pocket, clutching tightly to keep it from squirting out of my slippery sweaty hands.
“Hello?” I cry into the phone.
“David! It’s Dad, I’m ok, we’re ok, are you ok!” says my Dad.
“I’m ok! Where are you?” I ask.
“In New Jersey…” he responds. They aren’t even in the city.
We share our experiences with each other and the information we have. My mother jumps into the conversation. “Are you ok?” “Yes, are you ok?” “Are you sure?”
Today, on September 11th, no one thinks it’s strange to see a grown man sitting alone on the dirty curb of 64th street, head bent to almost touching his knees, simultaneously sweating, breathing heavy and crying with his cell phone pressed to the side of his head in a white clawed hand. Nothing is strange today.