Somwhere, in a box of rolls of undeveloped analog photos there is a roll I never developed. It might be in one of those forgotten boxes full of knickknacks and bits of nostalgia, hastily packed in the upheaval of separation and moving. I'd love to find that roll of film. There would be my friend Amy, her blonde hair and blue eyes against the blue blue sky. Out of focus, blurry, twin streams of smoke over a wide river, black fog cutting into blue sky behind her head. Hazy, like my memory of that day.
I was living in Hoboken, New Jersey. At 1116 Hudson Street, one block off the river, across from the 20's in Manhattan. I was playing music, not yet for a living, but certainly working towards it. For a living, I worked as a temp secretary in NYC law firms. Downtown and uptown. Monday night football ran into double overtime and that night, I remember having a ... well, now I might in retrospect call it a premonition...then, it was more like a mental hitch. A little voice that suggested I call in 'sick' to my temp job, play hooky, take the day off. So I did. I remember the quiet argument that ensued the next morning when Kal woke early to shower and get ready and I lingered in bed, making excuses. He worked about a mile away, in Weehawken, in a glass office on the river with a clear view of Manhattan. He walked to work. He left around 7:30 am and I remember his annoyance. It was a usual silence between us. We were navigating the uncomfortable non-fitting of each other after a few years, neither of us ready to say aloud what was creeping around like an undercurrent.
I got up, made coffee. Our two dogs, Clyde and Siggy, needed to be walked and our dog run was in Elysian Park, on a hill overlooking the river. I took my time with this part of my morning. I loved our kitchen. Black and white tiled backsplashes, an old 60's era refrigerator, wood floors, a 4th floor fire escape overlooking the courtyard. I drank my coffee slowly, enjoying the idea of a full day off. Then I took the dogs down the 4 flight of stairs, down the block, across the street to the park to the dog run and let them go. A familiar woman walked toward the run from the edge of the park, closest to the river, and with a concerned look said to me, "Where is Kal?" I said, "At work." She said, "Where? He's in finance, right?" I said, "Yes" she said, "where?" I said, "Weehawken. Why?" Her face was ashen. She said, "A plane hit the Trade Center. Call him." She might have said planes and centers, plural. I can't remember. I got my dogs and ran to the edge of the park and saw the smoke and then ran back to the apartment, ran up the stairs and turned the TV on. My downstairs neighbor, Amy Fairchild, another singer-songwriter, heard me bounding up and came running up as I turned the TV on.
To be honest, I don't remember that much. I remember we watched TV together for a while. I'm not sure what we saw on TV and what we saw in person. What was happening was happening a stone's throw away from my open windows. The TV seemed surreal. I remember the newscasters talking about a small plane, then terrorists, and then Amy and I grabbed our cameras and headed to the river, just across the street and down the curve of the road a bit.
We joined a small crowd that had gathered. About 20 people. Someone had a transistor radio, Bloomburg radio I think. I barely remember. I could swear as we sat there we watched a tower, maybe both fall. I remember that moment, the silent scream inside my throat, caught in the lump, looking up at the sky, wondering when the sky would fall. I remember someone saying something like "there goes thousands of people". I remember the urge to laugh. To really laugh outloud in that shock-wave kind of giggle that happens to me when something out of the bounds of understanding punches me in the gut. The completely inappropriate laughter that masks a keening wail.
It was only the week before that I had ridden the elevator up to the top of the Trade Centers, to put my face against the glass at Windows on the World, to look down, the air around me closed in and I experienced a wave of vertigo. In the years I'd lived in NYC, I'd only gone to the top once and it was the week before they disappeared.
I don't know how long we sat there, but both Amy and I took photos and neither of us have those photos. Neither of us ever printed them.
I remember walking down Washington Boulevard to meet my friend Karen who worked in the towers but was, thankfully, late to work and didn't make it in that day. I sat with her in her apartment with another friend for hours. Then we walked up the boulevard, men and women in business suits caked ash grey and wet from being hosed off as they disembarked the ferries that dropped them in Hoboken. The bars in Hoboken were full and silent of these chalky faces. It was a beautiful, warm September day.
We walked to the hospital to give our names to give blood.
We made a list of everyone we knew who worked downtown. We tried to call people but our cell phones wouldn't work.
I sat for hours alone later that afternoon, staring at the black streaks in the sky.
I thought about the stores underneath, the greek man who sold me coffee in those blue paper cups and a pre-buttered raisin bagel wrapped in cellophane for $1.50. The man at the flower/newspaper kiosk where I'd buy tulips after working at one of the law firms in the towers. I thought of those people I'd seen on days I'd temp, crammed into the elevators, crammed into the lobbies.
Later that night, we went to my brother's apartment in Hoboken as our gang gathered, waiting to hear from all of our friends who worked in the Towers, a bottle of Jack Daniels was passed. We were all sober-drunk. Nobody was crying. We were all in shock. We waited for Harry. I remember waiting for Harry, who was the last to show up, at midnight, piss-blind-drunk, in complete shock.
Kal and I walked home to our apartment after that. Silent. There was already a crack in our earth, but that day opened the ground below us into a canyon we wouldn't quite understand nor recognize for years.
I remember that I had a cough that lingered for month. A bronchial infection. There was an acrid smell to the air for a long time, a burning. We went to the city as soon as the subways opened up again. We went to the Union Square makeshift memorial where photos were taped to a wall, where candles and flowers lay. Where "Have you seen ...." notes were taped anywhere and everywhere. We awaited news of rescues that never came. I remember how New York City wrapped itself tighter around itself like a hand-knit scarf on a chilly Autumn day, including all. I remember noticing that people looked each other in the eye from that day forward. There was kindness everywhere.
What I wrote that week, the only thing I wrote was this:
I just watched Dan Rather break down on tv tonight. Of all the things that I've witnessed and heard about this terrible and unbelievable week, that was the most jarring to me. Its like seeing your father cry. It makes the world less safe.
I didn't go down to that area of the City for a full year. Then one night, I was driving home from a gig and got lost on my way to the Holland Tunnel and found myself driving down near the huge holes in the ground and looked up to two towers of light, illuminated from the ground up, dissipating into mist in the starless sky.