Sep 11, 2011

My New York Diaries - Part 18, SEPTEMBER 11

I'm in the process of writing my story of when I was living in NYC studying acting. There's a lot to my story and for many years it's been so private and special it was hard to even talk about. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times :) If you're just tuning in, I suggest you start at Part I for it to make sense. All links in order at the bottom of this blog entry. I promise it's a juicy read. These entries often include actual journal entries from that time in my life. I'm so grateful I documented so much! Once I finish here, I hope to expand into a book. I'm posting these frequently but they'll also be interspersed with real time blogs :) Thanks for reading & supporting!

*All names are changed

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Isn't it funny that a few months ago I started the process of recalling, re-reading and writing my "New York Diaries" and here we are, caught up to September 11, 2001 exactly 10 years to the date?

I have a very strong and what I've always felt was a very strange reaction to the events of September 11th. Now that I'm no longer living in NYC, when someone brings it up here at home my stomach drops. My first reaction is wanting to say, "but you weren't even there!" And my second reaction is catching myself and telling myself how dare I think I have any kind of a story to contribute when nothing directly affected me. I didn't lose a parent, friend, sibling or spouse. I wasn't injured. I didn't lose a job. I didn't loose my life.

But I still have a visceral reaction to it.

Back then I don't think I knew what to make of it or how to process it. I'm learning I still don't. I've also recently realized (as in within the last few days) that my story is one to share, and that it's okay for me to talk about. It's okay to say I was there. It's okay to have had my experience. It's okay for someone who was not there to be affected by it. Because it did happen to me, just like it did happen to you.

It happened to the world.

I've been sick with a terrible cold all week. Last night I stopped by a party because otherwise I would have been alone most of the evening. I was torn. With this weekend being what it is, I didn't want to be alone...and yet I didn't want to go because I was worried people would be talking about it. I didn't want anyone to say "Deena was there!" Especially because it's taken a decade to get to this particular weekend and I'm feeling even more strange and emotional then I'd thought I would. I feel so far away and yet so close to it all. So much safer and yet so much more aware that the unexpected could happen at any moment.

"Take a minute to remember where you were on September eleventh", they kept saying on tv the other night. I couldn't stand it. Are you kidding me? I can remember that day and the days to follow very clearly, thank you. The phone calls home, the empty streets and the smells are burned into my memory forever (more on that in a minute). But I did take a minute to soak in the fact that 10 years have passed. I'm a decade older and look at all that's happened since then.

I went to bed last night slightly nervous and anticipating how I'd feel waking up today. I just wanted to get to today and get through it. I woke up under very different circumstances then I did 10 years ago. I woke up in my cozy home with my sweetheart and my puppy excited and whimpering. I've made a pot of coffee, I've gotten on my computer to write this. The first thoughts that went through my head, though, were the ones about the way I woke up on this day one decade ago.

I had been out late the night before and didn't have anything to do other than sleep in. Cozy in my new room in my Manhattan apartment, at last! It was small but it was furnished to the best of my abilities. My futon in one corner, a little shelf next to my new bamboo dresser with my tiny tv on top. A rug, a comfy black char and on the top of the chair was my nokia cell phone with a baby blue cover. It lived on top of the chair at night, so that I could have it plugged into the outlet behind the chair. No alarm needed to be set and I was in a deep sleep. Probably a little hungover. I don't know. I wish I could remember where I was the night before.

I was somewhat aware that my phone was ringing all through the morning. I figured it was my mom or a friend, wondered why they were calling so early and would drift back to sleep. Then it started to seem a little strange. Who is calling me this much? What's going on? I got up and had messages from parents and friends but for some reason the only one I can remember was from Rachel. I remember her saying the words, "you must be so scared right now". I had no idea what anyone was talking about. I wondered what in the world had happened, so I turned on my little tv on top of my new dresser to see if it was something I'd be able to learn about on the news.

There was the footage of the planes flying into the Twin Towers. "What a horrible accident", I thought. I couldn't believe the odds. How could these planes have accidentally flown into buildings like this? But then it all began to unfold.

My parents didn't know where I was in relation to where this was happening. I think I started right then to do all I could to make it not about me. "No, no, no, this is way downtown. I'm on 44th street. Nowhere near it. This won't affect me."

I don't know if I talked to The Guy, I must have, but I don't remember what was said.

At some point Jenny got into the city from where she was now living in Queens. She was supposed to show up at work but when she got there the restaurant wasn't going to be opened so she came over. We were together the entire day. When I think of that day I think of Jenny. Once again, what would I have done without her?

We watched tv all day and weren't sure what this meant or what NYC was going to be like. That night, the next day, this week, this month. I don't know how far ahead I thought back then. The younger you are the more immediate everything is. What did this all mean? Why were things closing? Could I take the subway? Could I leave on a plane if I had to? What should I do? How should I feel?

My roommate, Liz, the one who owned the apartment worked down there. She came home late that night having had to walk most of the way covered from head to toe in a white soot. I remember she was going to go out and drink and invited us, but that just felt too weird.

Jenny and I felt like we had to do something. Should we get dinner? Should we see if we could donate blood? We were going to have to walk it. I'll never forget that walk. It was nothing short of eerie. The streets were empty. No cars, maybe a person here and there. Everything was closed. Where was everyone?

It turned out we couldn't donate because there were more than enough volunteers. We went back to my apartment.

It was almost too much to take in. I don't know if I was as scared on that day as I was baffled and putting on my bravest face.

In my NYC journals, I've got an entry on August 19 and then it skips to Sept 12. On the 12th it's a paragraph that must have been taken from a movie or a play, I'm not sure where it's from. Friday Sept. 14 is the next real entry I've got.

I may not remember what happened on exact dates right after, but I do remember my growing fear. For what seemed like a long time after, even Times Square was nearly empty. What had happened to this magical city I'd wanted to move to since I was 9 years old? Where was everyone? What was this invisible, somber veil that had fallen over my new home? Was it going to be like this forever? Everyone was scared. There was talk on tv about subways being bombed. Did I even dare ride it right now?

A night or two after the attack, there was going to be a candlelight vigil at Union Square and I was going to meet The Guy. I had to hop on the subway and what was a short ride seemed too long for comfort to me. I was alone, I was underground and felt claustrophobic. I was shaking and I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest.

When I got out near 14th street, this was the closest to the towers I'd been since it happened. I was searching for The Guy in a crowd of people, still shaking and heart still pounding. I can feel it all again as I type this.

He was a lot calmer than I was. He seemed to be surprised I was as upset as I was. There was something in the air. I didn't want to stay there long. It was burning my eyes. And that smell. I'll never forget that smell. The only way I've ever been able to describe it smelled like death. I didn't want to stay. I didn't want to breathe it in.

I was going to post the Sept. 14th entry but as I re-read it, it's so intimate I think I'm going to keep it just for me. I will tell you a little about it, however. I write about knowing I should be documenting what's happening "for my future grandchildren". But I really don't write about it. I've always been this way. When something is so big, I often don't take the time to feel the impact or deal with it until much later. It's my protection, my defense. I do write about finally being able to stay with The Guy in the "midst of so much chaos" and how it was so nice to shut ourselves off, just for a night, "in the middle of what could be a war". That night I felt "protected, shut away in another world". The next afternoon, "we slept on and off. We were tightly wrapped and intertwined, tossing and turning occasionally but always finding each other. Always holding each other. My heart was pounding.".

As I look back on all of this, I see that where I might not have had the words of comfort I'd been looking for from him, I was grateful to have a person to be with right then. That maybe actions did speak a little louder than words and I don't know what I would have done without having someone to just hold me.

I have come to learn over the years that 9/11 did have a greater impact on me than I knew. It made me experience a fear I'd never known. It changed everything about the joy I'd had in flying and my airport experiences as I'd travel back and forth from NYC to SLC. I used to love it. Then I hated it. I still do.

I remember after I'd left NYC and moved home seeing a special on 9/11 some years later and as they explained step by step and showed in animation what happened exactly to the buildings as the planes hit. It was the zillionth time I'd seen it. I felt like I'd never escape the footage in the years right after. But this time, I tried to really listen. I truly tried to let it sink in and I let out some emotion for the first time.

I didn't know I had any to let out still, until this 10 year anniversary weekend approached. I have felt a tidal wave of emotion just under the surface. I've kept in under control but I'm pretty sure there will be tears at some point today. It's just too big. It's just too much. I know it will come out at some point. Maybe when I talk to Jenny via phone later.

I see now how this part fits into the tale of "My NYC Diaries" and perhaps explains a lot I didn't even know until a decade had gone by, until I'd grown up a little and gained some perspective. All this time I felt like I didn't have a right to feel impacted by 9/11. But I see now this was a part of my story, something that happened in not only my lifetime, but the most impressionable time in my life and in the very city I was living in. I see why Jenny was and is so special to me and why I was so attached to The Guy.

It's a lot. It's a lot to take in.

It's a piecing together of the puzzle of my life and what has made me me. Why I react the way I do and that it's okay to feel how I feel. What would it have been like if it would have happened now? Or in ten years from now? Or twenty? Or if I had been five? Or if I hadn't been in NYC? Would I have been impacted differently? Absolutely. But the fact that I was where I was when I was makes it my story.

I'm not sure how to end this post, other than to tell you this was just the cathartic thing I needed. It's taken me ten years to be ready to share it and to realize as I said in the beginning that it happened to the world. That while it happened to people in varying degrees, some less and some far greater than I could ever imagine, that it happened to me too.

I was in the world when it happened and I have my own little story to tell.

It may not be the story you expected or the story you hear often. It's not a political story, but a coming of age story. A little slice of life. And it's mine.

And there you have it.

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In July of this year when I went to NYC I went to see the construction where the towers once stood. It was dark and you couldn't get too close, but I did manage to get this picture...

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:
Part 5:
Part 6:
Part 7:
Part 8:
Time to Press Pause:
Part 9:
Part 10:
Part 11:
Part 12:
Part 13 (with an extra shot)
Part 14:
Part 15:
Part 16:
Part 17:


  1. Thank you sooo much for sharing your precious experience Deena!! You totally got me!
    It´s really astounding, your story with the city. It´s a big deal! Isn´t life magic?
    Love you <3

  2. That was perfectly beautiful Deena.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, my dear. It is catharctic for you, and it was for me too. :)