Oliver Stone’s latest film had its world premier here in New York today, and I gather the reaction of New Yorkers in general is mixed about this movie. There is some ambivalence about the whole topic of 9/11 because it remains fresh. Still, some feel it’s about time we “reminded” people about what happened because many seem to have forgotten what that day was all about.
I was a few blocks away on Wall Street from the World Trade Center that fateful day. I was late for work and was emerging from the 2 train stop of Wall Street after the first plane hit. I overheard a man animatedly talking on the phone about “a fire in the World Trade Center” and I looked towards it but could only see what seemed to be an inordinately high volume of paper flying from way up high.
I walked to my office which was the last building nearest the water and FDR Drive. I was at my desk by the time the second plane hit. I heard a loud explosion and thought nothing of it, until I got a call from Manila and I went to CNN.com. My boss, the CFO, was in the conference room watching TV. I got through to Alan who told me he witnessed the second plane charging into the second tower as his express bus was negotiating the last portion of the highway leading to the tunnel. They had been turned around as part of New York City’s emergency plan in such instances where all egress and ingress into the city is cut down to essential personnel only.
I got calls from relatives in California, my sister was visiting and was home at that time. My family back home was worried and panicking because there were two of us here. They did not know I was THAT near to Ground Zero but were relieved to hear we were fine. Thanks to technology, I know Manila viewed the whole thing in real time.
I did not see the buildings crash but I saw the rolling smoke caused by the collapse, rendering zero visibility outside my 19th floor window. I couldn’t see the building across the street. Being asthmatic, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get out of the building with air that bad.
I was afraid but I felt safe being inside the building. Alan had no way of getting to me, and I wanted to go home. At the back of my head, I kept thinking about the possibility that this was not the only attack — that there might be some other weapon of mass destruction that the crashing of the planes might bring upon New York. After lunch, the office was split into groups and we walked home.
I remember walking blocks and blocks with the rest of Manhattan.. the immediate area near Wall Street was littered with dead pigeons who must have been overwhelmed by the soot. People walked quietly. I didn’t get on a subway until 14th street, more than an hour after I started walking. I took a subway to Main Street where Alan picked me up in a car.
The events of 9/11 were life-changing for the world, but it was an emotional event for those within the borders of the United States. Friends and family from California felt the pain and fear as strongly as we did here in New York. I still feel a heaviness when I think about it now.
I saw the cavity of the two towers clear up as if a construction site clip was being viewed in reverse. Eventually, the scent of burnt rubber and plastic disappeared, and the cavity got cleared up to what it is now. People have not forgotten.
In the face of new threats, New Yorkers are not undaunted. We feel fear creeping into our hearts and minds, still, but after that life-changing experience, we have learned to face the continuing threat of renewed terror as a fact of life. It can happen anywhere, in another country, it can happen back home in Manila. We just hope and pray it won’t.
Yes, Alan and I look forward to watching THE WORLD TRADE CENTER. As Alan says, for him, it’s a form of closure. For me, it’s a way of remembering.