Memories of 9/11 in NYC


On September 14th 2001, three days after 9/11, I posted “Attack on New York: Report from the Front Lines” on where I’ve been “The New York Dance Scene” blogger since 1997. Here is what I wrote when the tragedy was still so fresh:

“Sirens started splitting the air here and our phones and cells went out for hours. After filling the bathtub with water in case of an emergency, I ventured out to get cash, food, candles, and batteries. The lines snaked around the blocks, yet everyone was kind and calm — and eerily quiet.

“Before long, we heard planes overhead and looked up to see the F-16s from the National Guard circling in the sky. Then as the sun went down, some of us gathered at a popular eatery called 107 West. The place was short staffed and out of a lot of menu items, but we didn’t care. We all needed to be with one another.

“By Wednesday afternoon, an acrid stench and a gray haze of smoke had been blown uptown. I started getting responses to e-mails I had sent out inquiring about friends and colleagues. Too many of them told of loved ones who never came home on Tuesday night.”

Reading my words ten years later, I realize that I remember every detail of those experiences with stunning clarity. Scientists have shown that emotionally arousing occurrences activate the part of the brain that stores long-term memories. This is why we say that key instances in our lives “seem like only yesterday.” Time collapses and we are back in the moment. In fact not only the first two days but also the weeks and months that followed 9/11 are seared into my mind. Here are some of the scenes I will never forget in a city that has been forever changed:

Walking through the Times Square subway station and seeing the myriad “Missing” posters with photographs of people flashing haunting smiles.

Sitting in the old Howard Johnson’s on Broadway and 46th Street and glancing out the window as Army tanks made their way along the fabled thoroughfare.

Driving to Long Island and being stopped at checkpoints by armed servicemen wearing camo.

Looking up at ominous signs in the subway cars with the slogan “If you see something, say something” accompanied by images of abandoned packages that just might contain explosives.

The blackout of 2003 when our first thoughts were of terrorism even though the cause turned out to be a power problem in Ohio.

I won’t be in New York City for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I’ll be visiting my son who lives in a little piece of paradise with towering Douglas firs on Puget Sound outside of Olympia, Washington. In some ways, I’m sorry I’ll miss the commemorative events. Yet a part of me feels relieved that I’ll be all the way across the country rather than riding the subway on a day when those signs about the possible explosives would be particularly unnerving. Yes, the signs are still up a decade later and now a robotic voice over the loudspeaker periodically reminds us that backpacks are subject to random searches. We’ve learned to live with these grim reminders but we can’t entirely tune them out. Nothing will ever be the same again in the “city that never sleeps.” The joyous reasons that inspired that line in the song Frank Sinatra made famous have now been replaced by the fact that we are now always, even in our dreams, collectively on the alert.

Sondra Forsyth, Senior Editor at ThirdAge, is a National Magazine Award winner. She writes for major magazines and is the author or co-author of eleven books. She was Executive Editor at “Ladies’ Home Journal,” Features Editor at “Cosmopolitan,” and Articles Editor at “Bride’s.” A former ballerina, she is the Artistic Director of Ballet Ambassadors, an arts-in-education company in New York City. 

Do you go anywhere or do anything special to remember 9/11? Share your story in our forum discussion here!

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