After the towers fell, I hunkered down in the spacious West Village apartment that had become home a few days earlier. What had seemed like a great place to spend Fall after summering in a pre-war closet just south of Central Park felt more like a bunker with the shades drawn and windows shut tight against the chaos outside.
I remember thinking a few things as I watched NY1 and got dressed for work that morning: This was no small plane like the newscaster initially reported. I didn’t have long to get off the island and back to Philly if that’s what I wanted to do. If this was something more than a horrible technical glitch, the last place I wanted to be was Penn Station or Port Authority or a subway car. Then the 2nd plane hit and it was clear that staying put and out of the way was the best plan.
I don’t remember much after the towers fell except for the barracade at 14th Street, the lack of cars or people, debris blowing up from downtown, and the stench. It was like burning circuits mixed with many unfamiliar odors–maybe AVGAS or any of the ten thousand things pulverized as the towers collapsed. I can’t remember if it took weeks or months to fade, but it did.
Those billowing clouds included the vaporized remains of people in the planes and buildings. We breathed in the dead, entombed them in our tissues, bore them with us as we shuffled around the city in shock. I don’t know how long it took for their last few atoms to leave my body: Maybe their traces remain in my bones. Maybe I’ll carry more than just memories of that day to the end of mine.