A visit to The September 11th Memorial…A New Yorker’s Tale.

It took me a long time to do this.  Several months ago, The CFO and his wife, The Southern Bomb, were in town with the kids, and I took them to the September 11th Memorial but did not go in.  Actually, I have brought many people to the site since it opened so they could visit, but I refused to go in.  I don’t know what it is, but as many times as I have been down to Lower Manhattan (and I’ve made several trips to Century 21 — the department store, not the real estate agency — across the street from the site), I have never, ever had the nerve to go in.  It is different for people who live in this town versus out-of-towners. Tourists flock to the Memorial, and that’s what it’s there for — it’s a place to visit and pay your respects.  But, for us New Yorkers, it’s more than just a place to visit, it’s a Black Hole in our neighborhood, our city and our lives.

Note to tourists:  It is incredibly disturbing, off-putting, and frankly, sickening, to see someone cheesing it up while leaning on the pools or adjacent to the pools.  Remember, this is not just any place.  It is a memorial and a grave yard.  Have some respect.  It isn’t Disney.

I now see my life in segments, and for this one it is: Before September 11th and after September 11th.  I don’t know if that’s a good way to live, but this is real; it is just how it is, and this is how we all speak.  How many times have you said, “I remember before September 11th…” or “Remember that place that used to be near…(insert number and name of one of the former World Trade Center towers)”?

After so many years, you would think this would be easy.  It took so much to even muster the courage to go in.  Memories of what was came flooding back.  It was such a beautiful autumn morning, with the bluest sky and a hint of a breeze, and it rapidly turned into a horrifying series of events.  My heart hurts.  Literally, my heart feels heavy.  I didn’t lose anyone close to me.  Should I call myself lucky?  But, I did know of a few people who did not survive.  (My friend’s cousin’s name appears in one of the photographs, but I won’t disclose it.  Just remember, they’re more than just names.  They’re people, people who had lives and families.  They were murdered.  Yes, this was mass murder.  Let’s not sugar coat it.)

To locate the name of someone, this is helpful — and so is this.

I remember going through the old World Trade Center complex so many times — the underground shops, seeing the shoe shine guys, the eateries…I can’t believe they’re all gone.  This was an obscenely large place — a concrete city in a city almost, and it turned into an eerie place of destruction and utter devastation.  And now, seeing the place from high above and down below, with a group, was not the best move.

The group fragmented as we went in, and I ended up all alone.  I was one of the last to leave the Memorial, as a police officer came over and said they’d be closing in 5 minutes.  The police officers, the volunteers and the workers were very nice.  But, I was a mess, choking inside. There I was, wandering around by myself.  I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful green grassy patches.  Everything was immaculate.  But then you looked up and noticed the construction on the Trade Center Towers, as well as the Museum (which should open within the next 2 years).  Tower 1 or the “Freedom Tower” is at its completed height.  It is incredible, majestic, awe-inspiring, but something is just so wrong because it confirms this is not the old World Trade Center, and it never, ever will be.

I looked in the middle of both pools — the North and South Pools — the footprints of 1 World Trade Center and 2 World Trade Center, and I had to catch my breath.  You look at the center of these pools and it’s unbelievable.  Then you look at the entire structure and all the water pouring down, and it’s like the structure is weeping…just water, water, water, gushing down the center into the giant hole, and really, it’s almost as if it’s wailing.  Speechless.

You have to understand the perspective of someone who knew this entire area before and to see what it is now from the inside looking out is a bit shocking.  It doesn’t look like it used to look prior to September 11, 2001.  I’m a downtown chick.  Anything below 23rd Street is really my ‘hood.  So, my first visit to the World Trade Center must have been in the mid-80s because I lived in The Village and all points south.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 has been imprinted in my mind.  Silverstein Properties, the developer and leasing agent of the new 2, 3, 4 and 7 World Trade Center, provided a unique opportunity to visit their offices, high in the sky at 7 World Trade Center, before the visit to the Memorial.  They could not have been a more gracious host.

But in a moment of reflection, I wasn’t ready…or maybe I was, but I should never have gone with that group?  I don’t know.  But I feel regret that I hadn’t visited with family when I had the chance a few months ago.  Everything happens for a reason, and just maybe, I was meant to be there on that day, at that time, under those circumstances.

Nu Yawkers are toughies — we are, but a piece of your heart dies inside.

Please support the National September 11 Memorial & MuseumDonate

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5 thoughts on “A visit to The September 11th Memorial…A New Yorker’s Tale.

  1. You are very brave & I love the way you wrote about your experience. I still cannot step foot near there. Just reading your post brought tears to my eyes. I remember the planes heading down 5th Ave over my building & my boss screaming ‘oh my God’ as he witnessed the plane hitting the first building & the rest of us running to the window with looks of horror. Walking all the way to the Bronx to try to get a train home. Coming to work 2 days later having to show id to the police to get into the blocked off zones & the smell & the smoke & pictures in the subways? remember those?

    • The photos. I remember them. Oh man, you remember those? Thousands and thousands of them — at the Armory — remember when we went looking at them and in my heart dreading that I didn’t see the face of someone I knew. They were everywhere. Incredibly haunting. Family members and friends were begging for answers and leads. I thought, ‘They’re gone…They’re dead.’ It was such a sickening feeling. It was so tough to return to work because nothing felt right, and the odor and the dust — it was everywhere. The one thing that sticks with me: The constant, never-ending funerals of deceased fire fighters and police officers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The sea of black/mourning uniforms standing at attention along Fifth Avenue with the peeling of the bag pipers…I will never, ever forget that.

  2. I still remember that day with perfect clarity. I was still living in DC you see. I was actually watching the today show and saw it all live. It still doesn’t seem real. I remember our city being evacuated. I remember how empty the roads were on the way to work that night. I remember driving past the Pentagon and seeing the big burned hole in the side. I have been to new York only once in my life, when I was in the 10th grade. We visited the world trade and I remember being so fascinated, so in awe. I think I still have photos( even then , I photographed everything). But I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the site. It just doesn’t seem like something that I’d want to do. I think it would be like you said: visiting a large grave. But I’m sure it’s beautiful. Glad you finally went for you.

    • What a thoughtful response. Thank you for sharing it. I think I need to give myself time to really think about what took place last week. It was a bit blurry and the feelings were so raw at the time. When I wrote the post, I just had to get it out of my system in order to move on. My knee-jerk reaction was to think I would never return. But, I had a moment of clarity and honesty and knew that wouldn’t happen. I will go back — probably not for a long time. Maybe when the museum opens. We’ll see.

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