Last night my mom sent me a pix message showing the odometer of her car reading: 99111. Of course part of the interest there is that it reached that milage on...well, 9,11 (but no, she didn't send the message at 9:11:).
I think I may have mentioned before that I was in Manhattan on 9,11,01. The terror attacks happened, if I'm remembering correctly, just a few days after the start of classes. I realized when I got my mom's message that this may have been the first 9,11 since 2001 that the day almost passed me by entirely without my noticing it. Granted I've been distracted dealing with temperamental chops (which were about as bad as they've ever been yesterday), while at the same time being caught in what has felt like some sort of time void: with no set schedule I've had trouble remembering what day of the week it is, let alone what day of the month.
On 9,11s past I've sometimes called an old friend or two, maybe Gareth or Micah...some of those who were there with me on that day...just to say hello and do a bit of remembering together. On 9,11,02 I was in Hawaii and was moved by an evocative ocean vista to create a piece of art illustrating some of what still lingered in my mind concerning the events of that day. On occasion I've watched whatever 9,11 specials have been aired on TV...seeing those scenes replayed still gives causes something of a tremor in my gut. This year however, the dismal anniversary completely slipped my mind, (which upset me a little) and as I walked along lake Michigan this morning, I resolved to blog a bit about what I remember of that day...if only because I've forgotten so much about it already...and it's important for me to remember.
Just as many people remember what they were wearing when JFK was assassinated, one of my clearest memories is what I wore the morning of 9,11,01. I was back in NY after a summer of daily morning jogs and was in as-good-a-shape as I've ever been. I felt skinny that morning and wore a stretchy form-fitting shortish skirt I'd made from a shirt I'd found in the share box the year before, a tight but high-necked gray sleeveless shirt, sandals, and, because there was already a slight chill in the morning air, a short pale green fleece jacket. I won't lie...I felt like I was pretty hot! I was excited to be back among my Juilliard friends and was mostly optimistic about the coming year.
I say mostly because I'd had an odd experience as the plane from SLC got ready to land at JFK airport a few days before classes had begun. The plane started its final approach in early evening and as we all raised our seat backs and tray tables I was able to take in an incredible view of the whole of lower Manhattan from my south-facing window. The buildings were lit up with the fire of a glorious sunset and particularly prominent were the sparkling orange silhouettes of the World Trade Center's two giant towers. It really was beautiful. What surprised me was that while viewing this scene I experienced an odd sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach and a voice inside my head seemed to say, "I'm not sure I should be here...in New York city...I think I should be home." Now I have to say that though I do think intuition can be a useful tool at times, I'm not convinced that such voices inside the mind can really offer a true portend of future events, (especially these days I tend to be a skeptic). It's certainly conceivable that in this case the sense of foreboding came more from nervousness regarding the soon-to-begin school year rather than an actual sense of inevitable future occurrences. Even so, I remember calling my cousin Grace at some point and telling her about the experience...the oddity of it...
Anyway, on the morning of 9,11,01 I took the A train down from 207th street, got off at Columbus Circle as usual, and walked (it was a lovely crisp and sunny late-summer day) up Broadway to Lincoln Center in order to arrive on time to my first class: history of early music. I feel terrible that I no longer remember the name of the professor who taught that class. He was a very kind and congenial man, also serious and scholarly, and he started things maybe a little late that day...I remember he seemed hurried.
A few minutes into the lecture (which I don't remember) a girl who'd arrived late stood shyly at the door and interrupted tentatively, "um, I think I heard something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center...". She seemed to want to ask if class was still happening, or if maybe we could pause to check the news for word about what was going on, but the professor just looked at her a moment and said something like, "Oh...well, that's interesting, but we've got to get started here, so come in and sit down".
Beyond a hint of general curiosity, I didn't think much of it at the time either. Once when I was a kid I'd tried to find out all the interesting things that had ever happened on my birthday, July 28th. I learned, among other things, that it was also Jackie Kennedy Onassis' birthday, and that in 1945 a B-25 bomber had run into the Empire State Building while trying to navigate through dense fog. Certainly the crash the girl mentioned was something like that: an unfortunate accident, but nothing to stop class over. A couple days later when classes resumed, the professor preceded his lecture with a grave and humble apology for disregarding the girl's comment. Of course none of us really held it against him.
When class ended I remember heading outside and being surprised to find things in chaos. People were running up and down the walkway in front of Juilliard with nervous expressions on their faces. Some were trying to make phone calls. Some stood huddled together with friends. There were words going around about "a second plane?" and "terrorists", but I didn't understand any of it for a while.
I remember seeing smoke in the distance and taking the elevator up to the first floor of the dorms and looking with a crowd of others out their south-facing windows for a better view. There may have been a news feed on somewhere...I remember getting sick when I heard that people were jumping from the towers. Someone next to me, a bass trombonist I was acquainted with, said something like, "those ****ing towelheads! I'm gonna quit school and go join the army! We're going to war over this!" (as an aside, I don't approve of such racial slurs and was extremely bothered at the time to hear words of such intense and angry aggression spoken by people I knew. It was unbelievably frightening to me).
I tried calling my mom over and over...the call wouldn't go through. I don't remember when we found out about the collapse of the towers or when I finally got through to my mom. One part of my memory carries an image of seeing a tower fall as I was standing at the dorm windows...or maybe just a sudden increase in the size of the smoke cloud. One bit of memory tells me it was my mom who informed me of the tower's collapse. It is odd to me that I don't remember for sure.
At some point the Juilliard security guards started rounding up all the students they could and protectively ushering them into one of the lower performance halls...something of a shelter as it was underground. I sat with a few of my friends, Micah is the one I remember most clearly, and waited for someone to get up at the front of the hall and tell us what was going on. No one was sure if this was the beginning of a larger attack on the city or something more isolated. I don't remember how long we stayed there, but as we waited I heard more people talking about leaving school and joining the military to fight a war...or just going home...so many, including me, just wanted to go home. The school president eventually got up on stage and gave us all the information he could. We were later cleared to leave and I remember Isabelle Leonard inviting many of us to come to her parents' apartment a ways north of the school just for support and the sake of togetherness. As the subways were not working I got in a cab with Micah and a couple others to accept her invitation.
When we arrived, Isabelle's mother had prepared a feast of a lunch and the 9 or 10 of us that were there ate while watching disney's "The Little Mermaid" in order to divert our minds for a while from the terrible things that had occurred. I remember that being the first time I'd ever tried pesto...delicious!
The rest of the day is pretty much gone from my mind. I ended up spending a few hours with my friends at the Leonard's. When the movie ended it was difficult to talk and I don't remember really much of what we all said. Eventually some of the subways started up again and I made it back to my apartment in Inwood late in the evening. I called my boyfriend at the time in Hawaii and listened to him rant some more about the "****ing towelheads", (...sigh...) I think I talked to my mom again...perhaps about somehow finding a way to bring me home...and finally, still in a bit of shock, I went to sleep.
The next day the theme of the moment seemed to be getting up and "keeping on" so that the "terrorists wouldn't win". I woke up that morning and took a jog around Inwood Park and up a wooded hill that afforded lovely views of the Hudson River. I thought about trying to donate blood, but heard that the lines at donation centers were huge...almost too many people were out there trying to help in any way they could. It felt good to be a "New Yorker" then...everyone was out to offer support and lift up their fellow citizens during the difficult time (though I also remember worrying that the city's middle eastern population might be in danger of hate crimes and misdirected anger), and stories about the kindness of strangers and the heroism and sacrifice of the city's firemen and police officers abounded. American flags were everywhere. I was particularly taken with an enormous one that hung from the Metropolitan Opera for a few weeks and one morning I spent a couple hours with a sketchpad and pen illustrating the incredible sight.
I talked with my parents a bit more about the possibility of coming home for a while, but there was really no practical way to do that. Airports were stalled and I seem to remember the buses and trains being stopped as well...or maybe they were just too overwhelmed with diverted airline patrons to make those modes of travel seem viable. So my family advised me to stay strong, call whenever I needed to, and there'd soon be a better opportunity to visit.
Eventually, the day-to-day seemed to get back to (a somewhat uneasy) normal. Classes started up again. Though some students had somehow gotten out of Manhattan to be with their families, most, probably all, soon came back to restart the year and keep things going. I did my best, but I have to admit that the experience had shaken me to the core and I started to question the importance of what I was doing. "I'm here in NY getting a music degree of all things...does that really matter? Shouldn't I care more about being with the people I love?" I sometimes wonder if I would have been able to perform a little better during that last year if 9,11 hadn't happened...though of course it's only in the past and all any of us can ever do is muddle forward as best we can. No sense in worrying about "what might have been" as they say.
For years after this experience I started seeing the numbers 911 everywhere. It seemed that I'd always happen to look at the clock, morning and evening, at "9:11", I'd encounter dollar amounts, flight numbers, confirmation codes...all sorts of things that contained those numbers...911. I told my mom about seeing the numbers everywhere and soon she started to have the same experience. I guess maybe we just find what we look for...consciously or un...who knows?
I'm sure that's why my mom sent me that pix message last night. In any case, I'm glad to have done some remembering today...glad to have taken the time to write all this down...if only for myself.