In February 1998, Howard suggested taking a romantic weekend to Manhattan. Of course, I readily agreed and we made the 10 hour trip, even stopping to visit his cousin in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey. I remember being so excited because while I’d been to other parts of NY state, I’d yet to visit Manhattan. Howard lived in NYC with his family on and off through the years, so he’d been there countless times. I had the perfect tour guide. I can vividly remember our first drive through Manhattan, and how I was white knuckling the dashboard the whole time because OH MY GOD, they really DO drive like maniacs there. I couldn’t get into the experience because I was afraid we were going to die. So the next day, Howard suggested we park on Staten Island and take the ferry over, then we’d take the subway and walk around the city vs. driving. I thought it was a pretty damn good idea. I vividly remember crossing the harbor, going right past the statue of liberty, and seeing that beautiful NY skyline with the two huge towers on the lower end of the island. I was giddy and Howard beamed, enjoying my childlike wonderment. We spent three glorious days there and on our last day, Howard wanted to take me to the World Trade Center. I remember pouting because I wanted to see The Empire State building, but we only had time to see one. Howard kept saying, “trust me, you’ll LOVE the WTC.” So I pouted a bit as we hopped on the subway in midtown that would take us directly to the basement of the towers. Once we arrived, I immediately got over my disappointment…the place was huge! And amazing! the basement was an entire mall of activity with restaurants, upscale boutiques and the subway trains whizzing by amongst it all. We grabbed a bite to eat at a quaint deli, and I remember seeing a homeless man loitering right outside the entrance, and the manager of the deli approaching him with a sandwich and a Snapple tea in his hand, giving him the goods, patting his shoulder and the man smiling, thanking the kind man and wandering away. I remember swallowing a lump in my throat at his kindness too. In my three short days, I’d seen lots of shop owners scowling and yelling at the homeless to get the hell away from their business. It is something that has stayed with me. We then went to the main level and walked outside to “the mall” and Howard told me to stand next to the globe and look straight up with my camera. I remember looking up and seeing those two huge towers looming over me and my mouth agape with awe. I took lots of pictures. We then made our way inside (I cannot remember which tower allowed tourists to go to the roof). We passed through metal detectors, security screening, the whole she-bang and finally got our roof tickets. We were escorted by an armed guard into an elevator and zipped up to the top floor in less than a minute. I remember being fascinated by the speed of it. There were window seats where you could literally sit up against the thick glass of the tower and see directly down below. I remember doing that and feeling excited by the nervous thrill of it. Howard just sat back and let me enjoy myself, he’d done it dozens of times in years past. We finally made our way to the roof, and saw they were shooting a music video but the band was from India, so we had no idea who they were but they wanted people to go about their business and wanted to get it on film. Howard, being the ham that he is, walked by the camera and gave a goofy wave. We got a good laugh out of it. We then walked to the edge of the platform and looked out over the city. It was spectacular…Howard took a self portrait of us with the North end of the island in the background, and then we made the long trek back down to earth and back to Staten Island. I was so happy he’d insisted on taking me there, vs. The Empire State building.
On 9/11/01, I had the day off from work, a paid day that was given for doing a good job at work. I remember wanting TUESDAY off, because I really wanted a day to myself to wash our curtains and give our house a thorough cleaning, plus the grocery stores would be deserted, they always were on Tuesdays. Howard had only been gone for about an hour when I flipped through the channels, stopping on a peculiar sight. Smoke billowing from one of the towers….reports that an airplane had “accidently” slammed into it. I remember thinking to myself, “What kind of an idiot runs into a tower that damn big?” I even laughed a little. Then as the reporter was commenting, I saw a small dot on the screen then another explosion on the opposite tower. Then we all knew. This was no accident. My heart jumped up into my throat and I went numb. I remained glued to the tv as reports came across that another plane had just slammed into the Pentagon and they were grounding all US flights, commercial and private, and they had lost radio contact with one plane somewhere over Pennsylvania. I remember watching the towers disintegrate and finally collapse and I burst into tears. We’d been there only three years before! I wanted to talk to Howard but knew he wouldn’t take my call in the middle of class but knew he’d call me as soon as he got word about it. When he did, I could barely keep my composure. He’d only gotten scant details because they didn’t want to throw the kids in a panic. I remember him asking me if the towers had actually fell, I confirmed that they had and he gasped and then concentrated on trying to calm me down. I wanted him to come home immediately. I had no idea what was going on, were we at war? Why had this happened? What was going to happen? I finally calmed down after he promised to come straight home right after his students left for the day. The house cleaning would have to wait today. I couldn’t drag myself away from the television. I held my dog and my cat close to me and wept the rest of the afternoon. By that time, it was confirmed that a plane had gone down in Pennsylvania. I remember hoping maybe they’d just lost contact and landed at a private airport and it was just a big mix up. The day dragged on, Howard finally came home and I ran into his arms and we collapsed on the sofa together and he was able to take in the full scale of what happened. Howard barely held back tears as he watched his beloved city transform into what looked like a war zone. He watched the place where we once stood smiling and laughing hurtle to the ground. It still makes us tear up even four years later. We often wonder if the kind deli manager made it out alive, were there any tourists trapped on the roof? Was there someone in that window seat that saw that plane speeding toward them? Two months after 9/11, we headed back to NY to see his family and spent four days in Manhattan. The buildings were still burning, they were still pulling bodies out, lower Manhattan was still floating in a sea of trash, mainly paper, and the smell of smoke was pungeant. But we stayed anyway. We ate at the restaurants that had survived the tragedy, and shopped in Tribecca, we spent the majority of our time putting our tourism dollars in the part of Manhattan that needed it most. I remember eating lunch at the “Wall Street Grill” and how deserted it was but how happy the owners were that we were patronizing their neck of the woods. How kind and gracious they were. I remember standing in the subway, looking at the big wall maps and random people coming up to us asking if they could help us get somewhere. I remember thinking if 9/11 affected anyone in a positive way, it was the people of that grand city. In 1998, that never happened. I took lots of pictures in 98 atop the tower and we took lots of pictures of ground zero in 01 but now they are safely tucked away. Sacred reminders of how quickly things can change, but how amazingly enough, we as Americans are resilient, Manhattan was/is. And when the new WTC is constructed, I’ll make a pilgramage back to pay homage to the city that stole my heart and the towers that held me while I laughed with joy.