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Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years.

Five years ago I was 22. I lived in Queens with my college roommate, and I worked at a talent agency, spending ridiculously long hours there in exchange for a ridiculously small salary. I took the N train to Union Square every day and always came up at the north-west exit, on Union Square West, across the street from Coffee Shop.

Five years ago I’d started thinking about leaving New York because I missed my family and the mountains and having space.

Five years ago I left my apartment at the same time I always did, a little before 9 am, and walked the three blocks to the train. I saw the smoke billowing from the Towers and thought that Windows on the World must have had a fire or something. I didn’t think about how far away I was from downtown Manhattan, and how very big that fire would have to be.

Five years ago I was sitting on the train when they started to make announcements about service being delayed, then skipping the Cortlandt Street station, then stopping entirely. Someone was listening to a Walkman, and pulled off their headphones to announce to the car that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We knew that was absurd, impossible, insane. No one made eye contact with our informant. You didn’t, not with crazy people.

Five years ago I got off the train and started upstairs. At the top of my exit, Union Square West, I saw the bluest sky, with wisps of clouds, and a line of people, standing, silent, staring downtown at the column of gray that spiraled upward. I started walk faster and faster. I tried not to listen to what people were saying. I knew then.

Five years ago I started to cry. I hardly even knew I was.

Five years ago I got to my office and could hardly breathe. I called my mom, dialing over and over until I got through. I called my dad and left a message on his cell phone. He’d flown out of Washington the day before. I tried to stay calm. I tried to work.

Five years ago the LA office called and said we were closed and we should all go home. The bridges were closed, so I walked with a friend to meet a friend of hers, and then to that friend’s apartment. We walked from 19th and Park to 37th and Madison to 30th and 1st. We watched CNN and tried to call friends and family. The circuits were busy. The World Trade Center had been topped with cell towers.

Five years ago they announced that they were reopening the bridges to foot traffic. We walked. The trains were running in Queens, just between the outer boroughs, but thousands of people were waiting. I kept walking. One factory had its employees standing outside, handing out cups of water to people as we walked by. It took me two hours to get home.

Five years ago I made more phone calls. I went to the grocery store and bought water because they said that was how we’d be attacked next. I watched CNN until I wanted to throw up. Then we watched old movies. Eventually we slept.

Five years ago I was a different person. We were a different country. Is that trite? Does that make it untrue? Only three thousand people, but three thousand people.

Three thousand people.

Five years.