My mother worked in the financial district, around three blocks away from the Twin Towers, on September 11, 2001. Mommy saw the buildings crumble and she heard the bankers screaming and smelled the grey ash billowing in the air. In an instant, New York City had ruptured. An otherwise quiet day (a painfully peaceful day at that, replete with bright yellow sunlight and clear blue skies) had transformed into an apocalyptic scene: people watched in horror as thick flames engulfed the towers, the sky turned dark, and businessmen leapt from the windows. My mother had to run away as the ever-growing wall of smoke encroached, slowly, and then all at once. After 9/11, she decided not to wear heels to work anymore. She never knows when she will need to run.
After the dust settled, grey soot lined the streets, and there were mangled pieces of steel beams and silvery ash in the place where the Towers once stood. Some pieces of steel were unrecognizable, contorted into shapes; other pieces seemed to carry symbolic meaning. People pointed to steel beams in the shape of crosses as some sort of divine sign. In the debris, there were also unclaimed appendages, ripped from people’s bodies, covered by rubble. We photographed and filmed these images, putting them on CNN, New York 1, and ABC news. We let the images consume us, and they still linger in our collective memory. How could they not? It was Ground Zero.
I was only four when the towers fell, but I could still see how deeply that event affected the city—and the world. I visited Windows on the World for the first (and last) time with my grandfather a mere twelve days before the towers fell. We still have the picture; I’m grinning into the camera, pressing the shutter, as my grandfather holds onto me. There’s a sign in the back that reads: “TOP OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER” bold red and orange letters. A photo of Twin Towers is in the background as well, along with a photomontage of the skyline. It looks like someone cropped and photoshoped the buildings so that they stuck together in a kitschy, surreal way that I do not associate with the meaning of the World Trade Center.
There’s no coming back from 9/11. I cannot remember flying without taking off my shoes or removing liquids from my bag. I grew up watching George Bush talking about terrorism and the Twin Towers. I saw Hillary Clinton vocalize her support for the Iraq war. The memories that my mother made that day are indelible as well; she cannot stop talking about how much she hates working downtown. At one point, when I met her after work, I looked up and pointed to the new Freedom Tower, and she did not want to look. She kept talking about people jumping from the windows, so she averted her eyes, and we moved on.