Yesterday, when the news was brimming with stories about the events that shook the world ten years ago, I couldn’t help but think back to that day. I was living in New York City on September 11th 2001. The memories are like snapshots – the view of the first tower burning outside my apartment building as I made my way to the subway that morning just before 9 o’clock, with no clue of the enormity of events that were unfolding right before my eyes. The subway ride itself, where every time a new group of people got on, new – seemingly at the time impossible – events were being described. My walk back home to Greenwich Village from Columbia University (about six miles) after the subways and buses stopped running just an hour or so later. The trickling bits of information along the way about what might be happening. The fear, confusion and shock on everyone’s faces. The moment on the way – around the Empire State Building – when a plane flew low overheard and the thousands of people walking with me hit the ground in unison, fearing the next round of attacks had begun. The mind-numbing terror I felt when I couldn’t contact my boyfriend – who had just started his first day of work downtown, just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. And the immense joy and relief I felt when I finally got home, blistered and exhausted, to find him sitting on the couch, covered in dust, but alive and well. We were lucky.
But what I remember most profoundly is the next day. September 12th 2001. Waking up to a brand new world. A world of sudden sadness and destruction. Where everything in our apartment was covered in a thick coating of dust. And the only vehicles allowed up and down Sixth Avenue were ambulances carrying the dead and wounded uptown and army trucks carrying supplies downtown. And all the people, gathering at the barricades on Houston Street, just below our building, to stare down Sixth Avenue at the empty hole were the towers had once stood. And I remember the day after that. When my boyfriend, a Pakistani citizen who had been living in the US since he was 18, was terrified to go outside even to get milk because he didn’t know how people in our neighborhood would react to him. And the days after that, as the sadness and the loss grew. As some people’s fear turned to anger and hate, and other people’s fear became new kinds of fear. When people started being taken off the streets in vans and sent to detainment centers in New Jersey for ‘looking like terrorists’. When I started waking up at night, listening for the bang on the door that might take my boyfriend away in one of those vans. And all the days that followed, where my fears – and the fears and losses of my neighbors – became the fodder for war, racism, torture and a new phase of American imperialism its supporters called ‘patriotism’.
It’s important to remember September 11th. But for me, the memory of the day after is just as poignant as the day itself. This brand new world we live in ten years on, built on fear and loss, should force us to remember not just those who died that day, but all those around the world who have died as a result of that day.