It was 2 or 3 short months before that September day in 2001. I was 9 years old (10 in December), and we were on a monthlong trip that summer to the place where my mom grew up…New York. (Brooklyn, to be specific.) We spent that month taking in New York…visiting different landmarks (the Statue of Liberty, Coney Island), spending time with my mom’s family (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.), meeting people I hadn’t before, acting silly like a 9-year-old boy would. My sister was 6 (hard to think she was so young then), my little brother was only a year old, and my youngest sister had yet to be born. The memories of that trip are bittersweet for a few reasons…and that visit to the World Trade Center is one of them.
I had a mix of excitement and trepidation. I wondered how they could make buildings so tall…and when we got close and saw them towering above us, it kind of made me nervous. (I’m scared of heights.) The atrium was large and open…there were flags all around (it was the World Trade Center, after all), and tourists and businesspeople milling about. I remember going into the elevator and thinking of my mom mentioning just a little earlier about how our ears would probably pop. The elevator was swift and quick…the more than 100-story ride up was over before we knew it. Still, the anticipation of being near the top of such a high building made it seem a bit longer than it was.
We arrived at the observation deck, on the 107th floor. From here (actually, for pretty much that whole month), my memories are vivid, but sporadic. Thinking about it now, it all comes in weird waves…and it’s a lot of the little things, that a former 9-year-old would keep in his head forever. We had Sbarro’s pizza for lunch. I stood by the window, in the little part where you could almost feel like you were standing in the middle of the air, looking out over NYC, and I felt like I was falling, but I didn’t feel scared (I knew the glass would protect me). There were little maps on the walls pointing out where different areas of the city were from the windows. I marveled at how not-scared I was, being so high up.
The most indelible memory of my time on the observation deck, though? A simple moment where my mom and my sister asked me if I wanted to go on a helicopter simulation ride (kind of like the ones at Disneyland and SeaWorld and the like), which made people feel like they were riding over New York. I got motion sick easily (still do), and I was 9, so I really didn’t feel like it. The way I eventually said no still sticks with me to this day: “Oh, I’ll go on it next time.”
There never would be a next time, but I didn’t know that as we went up to the 110th floor, where the roof was and where people were able to walk around and see an even more unobstructed view of the city. While on the 107th floor, I was calm and happy, up there I was a nervous wreck…the second we stepped out onto the roof, I panicked. There were large barrier fences all around, so I couldn’t have fallen off even if I tried, but there was no way my younger self would have listened to any kind of reason. You could even see how the towers were swaying ever so slightly, which elevated my stress level even more. I stayed close to my mom, on the verge of tears and/or throwing up, and gingerly walked with my family around the roof, waiting anxiously for the moment we could go back inside. Oddly enough, though…I don’t remember much at all about the trip down. I do remember getting in the subway under the towers, and cajoling my mom into getting a pizza-flavored pretzel. (See…it’s strange what’s stayed with me all these years.)
Fast forward to a few months later, that ordinary September morning. I was getting ready for ELP (the gifted-type class I went to once a week back then), when my mom got a call from a close friend in our neighborhood, telling her to turn on the TV. (There were many calls that day like that.) I sat glued to the coverage, probably asking my mom questions, understanding bits and pieces as I went along. We started worrying about my mom’s family in New York…my mom knew that one of my aunts worked not far from the Towers. As we sat glued to the coverage, following every new development, panic in our minds and maybe in our faces, I made the arbitrary decision to stay home from school that day. For pretty much the whole time, I sat watching the news…finding out exactly what was going on. (I had always been the kind of kid who found the news interesting, and as the grim as the subject was, I couldn’t keep myself away. I simply had to know what was happening…and I was scared and shocked, as a 9-year-old is wont to be.) We later found out my aunt was fine, my cousins were fine, everyone in the family was shell-shocked, but OK. I stayed riveted, transfixed by the news footage, seeing those towers, those two towers I had been on top of just months before…turned to rubble and dust and nothing. Just like that.
It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years…a sentiment pretty much everyone’s expressed by now, I know, but really…it seems like both a lifetime ago, and hardly any time at all. I’ve changed a lot since that year, and our country has as well. Those memories of New York (both of the Twin Towers and of the city as a whole) have stayed with me for all this time, and I’m sure they will for much longer than that. I’m grateful I got the chance to see the World Trade Center while they were still standing. I’m grateful that my cousins and aunts and uncles were all OK. I’m grateful I was able to cope with all the pain and suffering and tragedy that I saw our nation go through, even at a young age. I’m grateful for those who lost their lives, for those who gave their time and their service to rebuild New York and the Pentagon back up again, for those who have fought for my freedom and safety. Most of all, I’m grateful…and proud…to be an American. Nothing can change that.
Track List 01 The Christmas Waltz 02 Christmas Day 03 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 04 I’ll Be Home for Christmas 05 Christmas Wish 06 Sleigh Ride 07 Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree 08 Silver Bells 09 Baby, It’s Cold Outside 10 Blue Christmas 11. Little Saint Nick 12 The Christmas Song
OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH this must come out soon. (And I’m back to Zooey reblogs… :) )