11 Sep 2012 10 am eastern

My 9/11

AS I OFTEN do on this day, I here post a link to my story of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York, one of nine million stories from that day:

zeldman.com/glamorous/54.shtml

My story is not heroic. I saved no one on that day. It is not tragic. I lost no one.

The story I published then is incomplete in many ways. When September 11th happened, I was newly in love with a married woman who was leaving her husband. To be with her, I was leaving my girlfriend of six years. See? Not heroic at all.

The relationship with my girlfriend had been unhappy for years, but I still felt guilty leaving her. As partial penance, I let her stay in my apartment (“our” apartment) while I bunked in a tiny dump above a dive bar. The floor was crooked and the air always smelled like pierogies.

On September 11th, my new girlfriend, the soon-to-be-unmarried lady, was standing on Fifth Avenue when she saw smoke from the impact of the second plane. She was a mile north of the World Trade Center but could still see the smoke. Everyone could see it. Everyone but me, freelancing via modem in the pierogi-smelling fuckpad. The door opened, and there was my new girlfriend, looking stunned. “You don’t know,” she said.

I called my old girlfriend to warn her not to go downtown. She asked why I was crying.

I was crying for her, because I’d left her alone in a suddenly frightening world. Crying for the people in the World Trade Center. We didn’t have any details yet, but it was clear that many people had died. Crying, had I known it, for the thousands more who would die in the wars that were born on that day.

There was no TV and no internet. It was days before I could publish the incomplete story I linked to at the beginning of this memoir. Even when there was internet access again, I could not tell the parts of the story I am telling now. I could not tell them for years.

There it is. Like something out of Hollywood. Horrifying historic events as backdrop to a romantic drama. I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Everything changes, but, for the living, life goes on. My then-new-girlfriend, my fellow 9/11 PTS victim, is now the mother of my child, and my ex-wife. This morning I walked my daughter to school, then headed to the gym, where I warmed up on a treadmill. Above the treadmill were TVs, with the sound off. On the TV I watched, the names of the 9/11 dead were being read aloud in alphabetical order. They were still on B when I finished my workout. The other TV was showing ESPN, and the gym member on the treadmill next to me was watching that instead of the ceremony.

Filed under: glamorous, Grief

16 Responses to “My 9/11”

  1. Vin Thomas said on

    I was sitting in a college class in Texas with my family thousands of miles away. Sometimes I feel like it still hasn’t fully hit me just how bad it was. I can’t imagine how it felt being in New York on that day…

    Thanks for sharing your story Jeff.

  2. Desirai said on

    Wow. I was living in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn when it happened. Reading your post just made me realize how much I’ve been blocking out. I almost lost someone. However he was running late that day and was told to go back home when he reached the subway.

    So many years later and I’m still not ready to fully accept the tragedy… reading your post brought tears to my eyes. I felt the same, though I never speak about it.

    Thank you for sharing.

  3. David Orlowski said on

    Of all the memories and images of that terrible day, what I’m thinking about today the most are the woman at Perry Street, one person in an overflowing room, who had spoken about being unable to connect with her family on the phone, and then a while later her cell phone rang, and how she shouted into it, “I’m okay!” And, also in the West Village, near St. Vincent’s Hospital, a city bus speeding down empty Seventh Avenue toward the Trade Center–a bus crammed with hospital personnel in scrubs and lab coats, every seat full, as many people standing as the bus could carry, probably the fastest-moving bus I’ve ever seen. And how that sight was the thing that made me, finally–an hour or two or three after the towers had fallen and I’d walked out of my apartment building just a short block north of where the white cloud of dust and debris stopped, not certain if or when I’d be back–burst into tears.

  4. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Jesus.

  5. Ben Cohen said on

    I recall reading your 2001 post when it was first published. I woke up for class at 8:57 to CBS news radio wondering why/how a plane had hit one of the towers on such a clear, beautiful September morning.

    By 9:05, I was on CNN.com trying to gather more information. I remember how they stripped out (nearly) all style, and all other stories. High speed internet has brought the web a long way since. It still feels like the same world to me, but over 11 years, there has been much change.

  6. Celil said on

    Mr. Jeffrey your story was really impressed me and I’m sorry for your ex-girlfriend.

  7. Rose Weisburd said on

    @ Ben Cohen I remember sending an email around work suggesting we all use Lynx that day to ease up on the bandwidth.

  8. Catherine Azzarello said on

    I was clear across the country, near Portland, OR. My friend called me very early. I thought she was calling to check on me, as I’d taken quite a tumble the evening before when walking with her. Turned out, I had broken my foot and began prattling on the phone about how goofy clumsy I was, etc., etc.

    She let me talk a bit and then told me to turn on the TV.

    What I saw was surreal. I tried to absorb what was happening (through a haze of unbelief and pain killers for the broken foot). Yet, I still needed to get my 3 children ready for school. And I knew the kids needed to be prepared with an explanation before they went off to school.

    I have no recollection of what I told them. I hobbled on crutches to the bus stop, fought back tears, and whispered with the other parents while we waited.

    After the kids boarded the but we went back to our homes and televisions. I took my meds, propped up my foot, and watched the news replay the towers’ footage. Over and over again.

  9. Richard Fink said on

    On 9/11 I was employed by New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority as a developer in its Internet Technologies Department.
    Heading into work that day, at around 8:50 AM I climbed up into the daylight out of the Flatbush Avenue Station of the Long Island Railroad in downtown Brooklyn.

    Most mornings, I would hop a bus for the 5 minute ride over to the MTA’s offices where I worked, and that morning was no different except that morning I paused for a look at something unusual up and off in the distance that had caught my, and quite a few other people’s, attention.
    From street-level at Brooklyn’s LIRR station, there was a clear line of sight to the top floors of the World Trade Center across the East River. And that morning, in one of the towers, one hell of a fire was going on. I stood for a minute gaping at the thick black smoke and wondered how in hell a fire like that had gotten started in the upper floors of the WTC. I chalked up the death-black color of the smoke to the kind of PVC pipe they used to use in construction of that era.
    ‘Never a dull moment’, I thought to myself as I walked over to catch the next bus.
    Stepping onto the bus, I flipped my ID badge, nodded hello to my Transit colleague behind the wheel, and it was then, as I turned and looked at the other people on the bus, that a horrible “buzz” of doom – like what you feel when you drive by a bad traffic accident right after it’s happened – began filling the air.
    The first plane had hit just minutes before but you could feel it in the air already. There was a guy on his mobile phone sitting right behind the driver and from the look on his face I just knew what he was on the phone about and so I interrupted him and asked what was going on with the World Trade Center. He said, “they’re saying it was hit by a plane”.
    I immediately knew it was a deliberate attack. I had seen the smoke. PVC my ass. The smoke told the story.
    The second plane hit as I stood on that bus, my mind already processing what, if anything, an event like this meant for my department within the MTA.
    And so began a day I will never forget; the only day of my life where, when I got up the next morning, I dashed immediately before doing anything else to turn on the TV, to make sure that the previous day had actually happened.
    One thing: I still simply cannot believe the reaction – mostly from European acquaintances of mine – to America’s execution of Osama Bin Laden as if it were an outlaw act of barbarism on the part of the USA.
    Shoot, I would have happily pulled the trigger myself without a second thought.
    Much thanks to President Obama for taking care of unfinished business.

  10. Don Ulrich said on

    In what seems another lifetime I delivered Steelcase Office Furniture to those buildings. I worked with people there. We ate together, laughed, shared photos. In short, I always felt at home 720 miles away from mine. NYC and its people are a class act. In one short morning I lost part of my home, my people. No act of war or killing yet another terrorist will bring them back. Damn it to hell.

  11. From Minneapolis said on

    God bless all victims! I was sitting at home in Minneapolis very far away from twin building. I felt like something break off my heart. I could not cry, but I always think about that…
    Thanks Jeff,

  12. Hugh Guiney said on
  13. Marlene Frykman said on

    Beautiful addendum to your story. So poignant. Hit the nail on the head with this one:
    “…the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
    You’ve heard my story before – in short: Office in Chicago, literally at the end of runway 22 right at O’Hare. Worked for Comdisco (disaster recovery/business continuity). I had the emergency phone that week. We took 93 declarations of disaster in the first hour. I believe we lost 3 teams of people working in the towers. This was our job. Lived it, slept it, ate it, breathed it for the next 9 months as if we were there. I remember 7 months later getting a call from a guy who was crying. He said he knew they had a server somewhere but didn’t know how to get the access information because their whole IT team was wiped out. Made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. ugh…
    One guy I worked with said, an hour later, it was Osama. He was one of those international business brainiacs that seemed to just know everything.
    Left the office around 10 and went to get my elderly parents who lived alone, and brought them to my house. My daughter was 5 then, and going to Montessori school near my house. I decided to leave her there so she would have some sense of normalcy that day, as everything else seemed to be spinning around me.
    Everything seemed so surreal after that. Working next to O’Hare, the busiest airport, for the next week or so… no planes. Weird. Felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.
    I don’t normally believe in ‘eye for an eye’, but as Richard said, I thank president Obama for taking care of business.
    My thoughts continue to go out to the first responders from that day, in hopes that congress will pass the bill that will enable sufficient funding for their health care. They were the heroes that day.

  14. Petra Gregorova said on

    I was living in Portland, OR with my host family, whose twin boys I have been taking care of since 1999 but was also on my second year enrolled in a local community college as an international student.

    I remember this day like it was yesterday. My host dad stormed into my room waking me up to tell me that the Twins have collapsed. I was in shock, just like when I got a phone call in middle of the night few months earlier about my younger brother dying. I wanted all this to be a bad dream, a dream that we all would wake up from.
    … but it wasn’t. We found ourselves to be sad, scared and probably even more appreciative of how lucky we were to be alive and all our loved ones that we would normally take for granted.

    Thank you, Jeffrey, once again for sharing your story.

  15. Tyson said on

    I’d walked into our office that morning to find everyone crowded around the reception desk, talking about a plane crash. Once i got to my desk, i tried to find out what was going on…online radio stations let me know about the second crash ….suddenly we all knew what was happening..it was no accident..it was an attack.
    Our office at the time was across the street from the Toronto Airport…we all stood by the windows as plane after plane flew in and was grounded…. nothing left….just tons of planes landing….
    By this point, we were all pretty numb…
    Later we crowded into another office that had a tv, and watched as the buildings burned, then fell…

    I had visited NY city as an 8th grade kid, ages ago…and i still have a hard time reconciling those memories with what became the new reality.

    I remember going to zeldman.com that day, and hoping you were ok…

    I’d been lucky enough to meet you a year or so before that in Miami at the AIGA meeting at the Eden Rock Hotel…which essentially made you the only person from New York that i knew…

    When you posted later, I was more relieved than i can say….

    this site will always be linked in my mind with that day…

  16. joshua said on

    the typography in your site IS TOOOO BIIIGGG!!!

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