I woke up late on the morning of September 11, 2001, looked at the clock to see that it was already 9am. I had to be uptown at Lincoln Center by 10am for a dress rehearsal of Mikado and scrambled to get washed and dressed.
I flicked on the radio to hear any late breaking news about the subways and heard instead a report about a plane crashing into the side of a building. I thought announcers were talking about events in another country. Then I heard the words World Trade Center. A plane had just crashed into the side of The World Trade Center in Manhattan. The news was choppy and surreal. Flames were bursting from the sides of the building, and people were jumping from windows. I don't have a television, by choice, and stared in horror at the radio instead.
I phoned my father in Canada, to let him know that there'd been some kind of terrible accident but that I was fine. It was only a little after nine and he hadn't heard about it yet.
"Oh my God', he said, "Was anyone hurt?"
"I don't know," I told him. "I don't know yet".
I rushed from my apartment, down the steps and walked quickly to the subway station. It was Tuesday, Sept 11. A dress rehearsal for Mikado was scheduled for the morning, and it was The State Theatre's opening night with a performance of The Flying Dutchman.
I rushed down the subway stairs, into the station and found dozens of people lined up on both sides of the platform. Most were staring into the distance as if they were in a trance or stunned. The confused clerk behind the glass partition said as far as she knew there were no subways running in either direction. The last one to pass through had been several minutes ago. I ran back up the stairs and tried to hail a cab. People on all four corners of the intersection were frantically waving their arms.
After 15 minutes of waving and waiting, I got a cab and headed up 10th Ave to The State Theatre, where I work in the costume department.
Streets and avenues were unusually clogged with tight, slow moving traffic and the cab driver was distracted with the radio, which he had on low. I asked him something about the density of the traffic and he apologized for not hearing me.
"Sorry", he said, " I am listening to the news", and he turned the volume up slightly. It was only then, in the taxi, on 10th avenue, that I learned that both parts of the World Trade Center had been struck.
A reporter was speaking with an eyewitness who was trying to describe the chaos.
Suddenly her voice turned into a piercing scream.
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God", she screamed. "Oh my God, the tower is falling. The entire building is falling to the ground. The entire building is falling. Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God".
As we moved through the dangerously close, slow moving traffic, we listened to the sounds of confused radio announcers interviewing screaming people. Both of us were silent. The cab ride seemed like something sliced from a nightmare.
At Lincoln Center some people were crying, and some huddled in horror around a television with blurry reception. Others sat alone in silence. A guard informed us that the building was being immediately evacuated. The dress rehearsal was canceled. Opening night was canceled. Everything was canceled. The building was emptied. Lincoln Center is considered a prime location for a terrorist attack.
People tried to reach their families, but cell phones weren't working and phone times were clogged. Mass transit was at a total standstill. People had no way of communicating and no way to get home. Within a matter of seconds Manhattan had been paralyzed. It was an indescribable feeling of helplessness.
A group of us, unable to get home, walked to the apartment of a co-worker and watched in stunned silence as news unfolded on the television screen. We watched the repeated images. Heard the repeated screams, the repeated sentences. Terrorists had hijacked planes. They'd flown the planes over New York City and into the World Trade Center. Thousands of people were believed dead. We looked in complete disbelief at the horror in another part of the city. All flights into New York were immediately diverted. Many to Canadian airports. 4000 people were diverted to St. John's, Newfoundland. I was in St. John's just the week before, visiting friends and relatives. The airport there is under construction. There are only two or three pay phones, and one tiny donut stand.
In Manhattan, thousands of people lined up for more than six hours to give blood, and thousands were turned away. There weren't enough people to take blood. Schools were emptied and turned into morgues. A gigantic cloud of gray / yellow smoke crawled up from lower Manhattan and lingered across the city. Some intersections had been turned into command centers and were surrounded by police, cases of water, and emergency phone numbers on large pieces of cardboard. Nurses and doctors in green scrubs were set up in the street, taking blood. People brought food, and volunteers made sandwiches for donors who'd been in line for hours. News crews spread out behind barricades, jammed between blood donors, police, hospital staff, giant television lights and people, many in face masks, staring in silence, hoping a director somewhere would eventually, mercifully yell" Cut".
In the stillness of the evening now there is the constant sound of sirens, and the smell of smoke. The wind has shifted and curtains blow in a breeze that carries with it the intense sickening odor of burning electrical equipment, and melting metal, and it makes the eyes tear and the throat hurt and there is quiet, except for continuous sirens.
My heart goes out to the people who work in photography shops and will be developing the thousands of images of destruction and terror of this past week; who hour after impeccable hour will be forced to stare into the eyes of horror.
My heart goes out to all the temp workers who were placed at desks at The World Trade Center on Sept. 11, for one day only, because someone was unable to show up for work; my heart goes out to those workers and their families and my heart goes out to the temp agencies who placed those workers there; and I'm grateful with every pore of my body that my daughter, who sometimes works as a temp, wasn't on call on Sept.11.
My heart goes out to all the small children waiting at day care centers for mothers and fathers who will never return.
My heart goes out to small children everywhere. Children everywhere are innocent.
My heart goes out to all the firefighters, who entered the flames and smoke and danger armed with nothing more than their courage and bravery and love of family, and paid the ultimate price.
My heart goes out to the people who work in copy shops and who hour after hour are running of image after black and white image of missing faces, missing brothers, missing daughters, missing mothers, last seen on the tenth floor or the eightieth floor.
My heart goes out to all the people who don't know what to do now in the face of all this horror, and stand with lit candles, waving flags and sing Yankee Doodle Dandy. This is not a ball game. This world has never been a game.
And my heart goes out to people everywhere who believe that the singing of patriotic songs will help heal this world. They won't. They will only divide it further.
My heart goes out to all those who were trying to race down the stairs of The World Trade Center on the morning of September 11th, trying to escape the explosions and flames and were overcome by larger, stronger people, and were knocked to the floor and were unable to get up from the stairways and instead were walked over and crushed by thousands of fleeing feet.
My heart goes out to them and to their families.
My heart goes out to all the people who left for work on the morning of Sept 11, after having an argument with a loved one, and walked out the door with unkind, angry words, and who didn't get an opportunity to resolve that argument.
My heart goes out to all the innocent animals waiting patiently by doorways for owners who won't return in the evening, or any evening.
My heart goes out to the souls of seven thousand terrified people, trapped and huddled beneath layers of concrete and rubble, breathing, and praying, and hoping for someone to reach them. To hold them. In the quiet of the night, the smell of burning structures invades the air, and the taste of dust, and sirens scream through the darkness. And a feeling of disbelief settles in with the sirens, stillness and smoke as the heart of a city burns slowly to death.