I’m in a New York State of Mind…
I lived and worked in New York City for several years immediately after graduating college up until we left the City for good in 1984. Tonight on the eve of the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, my wife and I were going through the photo books, looking at pictures we had taken while we lived there. As occurs whenever you live in a place long enough to take many things for granted, we had surprisingly few pictures of the World Trade Center itself. Unlike many of our friends from out of town, who we took on tour whenever they would visit with camera in hand, most of our New York pictures were just ordinary ones with lots of friends and people celebrating various events, not of places.
Luckily, I managed to find a few pictures taken with the trusty old 35 mm back in the days of film. Our apartment on 23rd Street had a southern exposure from the windows in our living room, and we were up high enough in our building to have an unobstructed view of downtown Manhattan with the Twin Towers dominating the skyline, day or night. The above picture brought back a flood of memories to me. I worked in the Finance industry, and as a result, had walked around so many of the floors, offices and corridors of both towers countless times for business meetings and other business related errands. Perhaps this is reason for my lack of fascination with it all as compared to tourists that were easily identified with their awe-struck gawking at the sheer size of each tower.
In May before we left New York City for good in 1984, both sets of grandparents came to visit our daughter and we spent a part of the day making our way to see the view from on top of the world. I thought it would be neat to snap a few shots looking upward from the ground in the plaza between the buildings. A favorite of mine is one with the camera perched up against the steel and glass frame looking straight up the side of the South Tower. Below are the two photos taken that day.
Having lived in New York for quite some time before we eventually left, the events of 9/11 were deeply personal. I lost a workplace friend that day. I wrote about it in 2009 as my second entry to this blog. Here is what thoughts came to mind that morning as I sipped on my coffee, reflecting on what that day meant to me:
I am sitting here having my morning cup of coffee, much as I can imagine you were doing that fateful morning as you were getting ready for work. It was a crisp, beautiful day. I would like to believe you kissed your lovely wife good bye and hugged your kids as you left for work, but the reality is, we sometimes fall into a routine and just take that kind of stuff for granted. I wonder, what were you thinking as you left your apartment for that subway ride to your office? Was it the wonderful weather, a work issue, maybe a family happening?
I remember working with you at another financial firm in mid-town back in the early 80’s. You were a few years older and were always helpful, showing me the ropes, assisting me as I learned my job. You were finishing up law school and I remember you telling me how you wanted to pursue that career path instead of the one laid out before us in mid-town. You dreamed of working on Wall Street. By 1984, when I moved out of New York to pursue a new career opportunity, you had already left the firm, chasing your dreams downtown. It would be poetic to say we were the best of friends, but in actuality we were merely work acquaintances who shared an occasional beer socially outside of work. We didn’t keep track of each other over the years; you went your way and I mine.
Seventeen years later, I recall waking up September 11, 2001 to an incredibly crisp, cool day. The weather was beautiful, so I decided to extend my early morning run. By the time I returned home from the run, my kids had all left for school and my wife for work. It seemed like an ordinary day. I showered and left to meet some bankers at an outdoor site we were looking to finance. I didn’t get back to the office until about 9:30, where I was immediately told of a horrible crash. Everyone was huddled in the conference room where the TV was on. I watched in stunned silence as buildings that I so often have been in and out of for the many years I lived and worked in New York were on fire. This was too personal for me – I had been inside those very same corridors countless times! I was appalled, and yet I just couldn’t look away. I watched the unthinkable happen, as the Towers gave way. Feeling sick, I returned to my desk. All I could think about, all I could focus upon was who I might know and were they all OK. I frantically started calling my friends in New York; the lines were all busy. Busy, busy, busy. Every attempt busy. All day long busy. Nothing but that awful busy signal.
It took me three days to account for everyone I knew or had worked with. Everyone made it except for you.
Rest in peace, Stephen.
I need to go hug my wife and and call my kids right now and tell them I love them before I leave for work.
Much of my extended family lives in the New York and Connecticut area. My wife and I moved to Maryland in 1984 and we would drive up Interstate 95 through New York City and onward to New England to visit family on many holiday occasions. That first drive we made after that horrible day was during Thanksgiving of 2001. I will never forget the experience as we approached the city skyline from the New Jersey Turnpike; it was surreal. There was a hole in my heart as we drove by, my mind trying to find and locate a familiar landmark no longer there. There were no words then to describe the feelings swirling within me, and to this day, there still are none that can accurately describe that hole, that emptiness. The emotional wounds of that day have healed with the passage of time; the memory and love of those affected, however, does not fade.