I got married the same month. Now I am reliving it with my son through footage. As the second plane crashed. As the first tower fell. Then the second. The Pentagon. The plane in a Pennsylvania field. The heroes. The dead. The shock rushing back into me as I sat home all day glued to the t.v. thinking the world had gone mad.
My son wanted to know how we felt watching it unfold. I could not find the words to explain how I felt. Sometimes you just can’t.
I love New York. All of it. I grew up on a mountain above Albany. “Upstate” as New Yorkers would say. It was when I got my first job out of college and moved to Nutley, NJ, across the river from the Big Apple City that I overcame my fear of big cities. I fell in love with it. This giant, pounding alive thing. It surged with lights, noise, smells, and people.
Here I was, a country girl living just across from the big city. All alone. I forced myself to drive into its grandness. The Lincoln Tunnel sucked me up into its curved darkness. I was afraid of being swallowed up. But I wasn’t. In all that organized madness, I was free. It made me feel so alive. To walk anywhere. To see it all. And no one knowing who I was. No one knowing where I was. Free. And safe. New York City made me feel safe.
This doesn’t sound so extraordinary. But it was for me. I fought panic attacks for years. Panic of the new, of being out in open spaces, of people, of crowds. I would grocery shop at midnight when no one was there. Always parking in the same spot. It was safe.
It took me years to finish college at a large university. Each process of getting to campus was an agonizing step. First, park. Then measure the distance of walking to my class building. Avoid people. But they’re everywhere! Wear sunshades to feel invisible. Find a seat in class alongside the wall to feel safe. Try to get through class without sweating profusely or spastic coughing. It was not a safe place. Safe was home, alone between comforting walls. Safe.
Then along came a career and a big city to conquer. Only while conquering the big city, it conquered my phobias. From Times Square to the Lexington Deli to the Guggenheim to Broadway and home across the river. In a world of flowing people I felt safe. Alone and free and safe.
So thank you New York for embracing me and showing me your chaotic beauty and grandeur.
Thank you for making me feel safe when I could not before.
Thank you for helping me overcome my anxieties and find freedom in your vast and colorful landscape.
We still feel that same way about you.
You haven’t let us down yet. The heroes of 9/11 never did.
We won’t let you down.
And we will never forget.