Someone Asked



1 West side highway, ny, ny 10048

Neighborhood: World Trade Center

A friend of mine in Seattle recently sent me an email, asking me how I was doing in these weeks after September 11th. She wrote me the following: “I imagine you’ve been dealing with the horrific events in NYC since the 11th — I’ve been thinking about you. Where is the Comedy Central bldg in relation to ground zero (do you really call it that)? How have you been affected by this, Cris? It’s so strange not being there, to be able to feel a part of the physical grief – and yet it feels so physical even all the way over here in Seattle.”

What began as a terse but calm reply quickly became a tumbling ramble of emotions and ruminations. I guess, like most people, I didn’t realize how much I had to say.

Dearest Andie: I think the media has been calling the WTC “Ground Zero” more than we have. It’s very difficult to call it that. I was supposed to be at a law school forum at the Marriott in 3 World Trade Center (which no longer exists) on the 14th – occasionally I will remember that and get a chill. I had been there just the week before –– buying a Harry Potter t-shirt for a friend in the mall underneath. I took the subway home from there that day. That subway stop no longer exists.

I was getting to work right after the second plane struck – I was early because I had voted in the mayoral primary that morning. I was casting my vote just as the first plane struck. When I got into the office very few people were there, and I went into my boss’s office – she pointed to the television and there they were, both towers on fire. I got to my office and there were two messages, one from my friend Jono telling me to call him as soon as I got in so that he knew where I was, and a similar message from my mother.

My office is in the northern section of midtown, at the base of Central Park – easily 2 miles from the World Trade Center. From it, you could look down 8th Avenue and see all the smoke billowing from a void. The needle of the compass disappeared. On the Friday I would have spent at the World Trade Center, I went to the West Side Highway with Jono. People had collected there to cheer on rescue workers, firefighters and police officers – the highway provides a straight shot from rescue operations at the Javits Convention Center – to“Ground Zero.”

We were allowed as far south as Canal Street and from there, I could see a very very clear picture. The towers had vanished and the greatest pile of rubble – about seven stories worth – remains in their place. It is the single most horrifying thing I have ever seen in my entire life. Every New Yorker, at least at one degree of separation, knows someone who knows someone who lost their life that day. Every New Yorker knows someone who had to be evacuated and ran up Broadway chased by a billowing cloud of dust from a collapsing tower, or had to walk over a bridge or be shuttled onto a ferry in order to get out of the Financial District.

Friends of mine across the river in Brooklyn were finding papers from offices in the WTC blowing down the street on the day of the attack. I have a friend who lives 5 blocks south of the WTC in a hi-rise – and hadn’t been evacuated when the towers collapsed. He just moved back into his apartment this weekend. I have another friend who works at American Express in the World Financial Center, across the street from the WTC. She saw people jumping. And, I have yet another friend who has spent a good part of the last few weeks doing search and recovery. I cannot imagine what each of them has seen or what is left on their psyche.

How am I doing? I’m not sure. I cry when I need to, I talk when I need to, I laugh when I need to. Although it’s weird to be here, honestly, there is NO place on earth I’d rather be. My first impulse when all this happened was to stay put, regardless of what happened next. New York is my home – I was raised here and chose to make a life here. I need to help give back to a city that’s given me everything. I need to be part of the rebuilding. I want to be. I’ve thought a lot about the uncertainty of the future which has been more liberating than depressing. I tell everyone I love them, and I mean it. I enjoy the time I spend with people – I’m trying to make things count. I’m trying to understand why this happened to the best of my ability – it’s amazing how much you can learn about the Middle Eastern conflict when you put your mind to it – that’s been my major coping strategy.

I think about those lost and am overcome by wanting to honor their memory. I get angry when I see an anti-war demonstration, knowing full well that if I were younger and more naive and terrified, I’d be demonstrating too. I’ve been going to benefits trying to help with money. I’ve been trying to volunteer, but no one will take me because there are already too many. Mostly I’ve been listening to my friends – and telling them that what they are feeling is right and fair and true.

I’ve lost a lot of sleep over the last weeks. When I wake up with a start, I take a breath, and try to sleep again, thankful that I can. Please forgive me the indulgence of this letter. Just know I share this with you because you are my friend, so far away, and I want to connect. I know this all sounds very heavy, and I guess that’s how it feels right now. Few people express it at length because we are all, rightfully, trying to be good soldiers. But the feelings are there, and I thank you for letting me express them. Thank you for listening.

Love, Cris

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