Op/Ed

Clippings: 9/11: What 20 years has done to ‘never forget’

I will never forget how I stepped out of the shower and heard people down in the street screaming, or how it was Carolyn who heard them screaming and called me to the window.

How my parents in Virginia called us, frantic, telling us about the Pentagon and wanting to know how close our Brooklyn apartment was to the World Trade Center, or it was actually NPR that told us about the Pentagon.

How our landline phone eventually stopped working but the internet persisted, or the landline worked but everyone else’s phones gave busy signals, so we resorted to email.

How I emailed our bosses at Publishers Weekly and Library Journal to tell them we couldn’t come to work because the subways were shut down, or our bosses sent out a group message telling us to stay home.

How the NPR station we were listening to as we watched the smoke billow out of the towers went silent after the first tower fell, or it went silent after the second tower fell.

How after radio stations went silent and the ash cloud obscured our view of Lower Manhattan and began rolling toward us I duct-taped our TV antenna to the mantel and could only get a CBS affiliate, or I used aluminum foil because we didn’t have an antenna and it was the Fox affiliate.

How it smelled like a fax machine in a microwave, or it smelled like burning hair and barrettes.

How we closed our windows after we saw the ash and the paper falling from the sky, or we closed the windows after someone on TV suggested the air might be toxic.

How a man in a suit and tie who had walked home from work across the Brooklyn Bridge passed our apartment with an umbrella raised to keep the ash off, or it was someone from the neighborhood in street clothes walking toward the bridge and carrying an umbrella to keep the ash off.

How I saw kids kicking up ash on the sidewalk below, or I saw that on TV.

How local newscasters stood in front of local hospitals waiting for ambulances to bring the hundreds of patients who would need the blood the city was about to donate 100 times over, and how ambulances kept not coming, or they did come back but they were empty, or newscasters didn’t wait for them to come back empty and instead went to find some action in front of the fire stations.

How the mayor initially ordered 25,000 body bags, or he ordered 10,000.

How we went out and bought an air purifier, or we already had one.

How we stayed up all day and all night for days watching the news and running the air purifier, or we went to sleep every night and forgave ourselves in the morning for the nightmares we figured we’d had.

How since 9/11 I’ve never been able to sleep without the white noise of an air purifier, or this was a problem I had before the Twin Towers came down.

How there was a loud thunderstorm late Thursday night and everyone in New York City completely lost their shit, or it was the following Thursday.

How the communal recollection of that thunderstorm was the first sign that everything had changed, or I realized everything had changed when the guys who ran the bodega next door were extra nice to us and invited us to linger and chat, or I knew everything had changed when I made meaningful eye contact with a hot dog vendor, or it was something I kept hearing about, over and over, the change, how everything had changed, or it would change, but deep down in my heart I didn’t actually believe it, or I believed it for a while, even a long while, then I stopped.

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