I've never lived in New York City, though I have spent quite a bit of time exploring its landscape. When I was younger, my mother planned numerous weekends where Leslie and I were shuttled from the Met to a play, Bloomingdales to Carnegie Deli. And once I finished college, I spent even more time in the city. Caralyn and Allison both lived uptown, as did a boy I dated for around a year. It didn't take long for me to become so familiar with Manhattan that it felt like home.
"What's going on?" I asked Allison when I got to my desk. "I ran into a shop to grab a bagel and when I got back in my car the radio guy was saying a plane hit the World Trade Center?"
"I don't know," she said, speaking over the chatter of frantic finance people conversing across cubicles. "I was on a conference call with a few other offices and there was a loud noise. Then the downtown guy said he had to go."
"Crap, I told them veggie cream cheese and they gave me plain."
"Oh my god!"
"Okay, it isn't that serious."
I could hear Allison talking but knew it wasn't to me. Then she adjusted the handset and said, "No, a plane really did hit a tower. I have to go."
And she did. The line went dead before I could inhale a breath to exhale a response.
I didn't hear from Allison for a day or so. While her offices were safely tucked in midtown, both her father and brother worked down on Wall Street. I knew this and anxiously awaited news of their fate as the events of September 11th unfolded.
"Everyone is fine," she announced when we finally spoke. "My brother was down there but got out, walking the entire way back to the Upper East Side," she noted, before mentioning the thick layer of soot and dust covering him from head to toe."
"And your dad?"
"He was supposed to be in a meeting in one of the towers, actually. But he decided to miss it."
A heavy silence filled a few seconds before Allison spoke again.
"My mom is on her way to Lenox Hill to donate blood."
It was a few months before I ventured back up to New York. The city was bogged down with rescue missions and a general sense of fear. Allison spent many hours crisscrossing the city to attend funerals of coworkers and peers. Visiting felt like more of an imposition than anything else. But eventually I caught a train to Penn Station, meeting Caralyn for lunch and shopping.
Through the course of the day, we wandered into shops like Strand and ABC Home before refueling with some burgers from Union Square Cafe.
"Any interest in Loehmann's?" Caralyn asked as she popped a French fry in her mouth.
"Like you had to ask."
We finished lunch, paid the bill and gathered our things. Then we made away out to the street toward 7th Avenue. We each found something worth purchasing and when we were done rummaging through the racks of clothes and shelves of shoes, we called it a day.
"I just want to grab a drink," I said pointing to a bodega across the street from Loehmann's.
The sun was starting to set, stretching long shadows across the sidewalks. We moseyed to the corner and waited for the light to turn. And when it did, we stepped off the curb and into the street. I should have been paying attention to the uneven pavement, gentle slopes carved into the macadam. I should have been paying attention to the light, hastening my speed as it switched to yellow. Instead I turned my attention, and gaze, toward Ground Zero. Not because I could actually see anything but because in the midst of my pleasant day, just a few blocks downtown, I always knew what was going on.