Jackson Heights is underneath the landing line to Laguardia airport. Planes come low over Canelle’s French Patisserie on 31st avenue and 76th street shopping center. It hurts my ears when I look up at the underside of the dropping jets, their landing gears exposed. In my neighborhood closer to the elevated 7-line, further east and south, the planes look smaller, feel less massive, but they run across the sky still one after the other guided by air traffic control. When I walk home some days I still imagine them exploding, like bright flares pitching parts and incandescence in a shower of light. It makes my chest tighten a little. It’s only my imagination working overtime. It’s happened so often over the years I pause only a moment before I move on.
For months after 9/11 I still jumped at loud noises.
I was sitting in a meeting room at a university up in Albany where an AIDS Institute training center meeting was going on and outside the lid of a large dumpster fell closed and the crash made me visibly flinch. My co-worker, who was in tower two with me did the same thing. The speaker who was presenting stopped talking and my colleague laughed nervously. We looked over at each other and forced smiles on to our faces but it was good to see that she had done the same thing I’d done. I know we both felt comfort in that. It was just part of the environment now – something that we had lived through. I’ve dealt with an anxiety disorder most of my life and 9/11 exacerbated the problem for me – though I didn’t connect the two for a long time – as hard as that can be to believe.
Not many people ask me about that day and not many know I was there. My part in the whole event was small and I was terribly lucky. I was on a low floor, the sixteenth. I was in tower two. I didn’t listen to the announcer when he said to go back to our offices – that everything was okay. I was just out of the stairs and on the mezzanine when tower two was hit. I saw some things. I didn’t see others. I saw the hole in tower one. I saw debris falling outside my window. I caught the last E train out of Chambers Street World Trade Center – last stop in one direction and first stop in another.
Sometimes people talk about that day when I’m travelling to do a presentation at a conference and we’re out at dinner afterwards. I don’t usually say anything other than nod and agree that it was a terrible thing. It was. My wife was pregnant with our son – some two months at that time – and I still think she had it worse, waking up and hearing what happened, worrying about me and wondering if I was alive or dead. Being there made time go faster and left me to worry much less until I was already out on 14th Street. That was when it all hit me. Looking down 6th Avenue and seeing the two towers from there gave me the whole picture. It let me know where I’d been and what I’d left behind.
What follows is my story of that day. It’s one of many and doesn’t feel special in any way, except of course to me. But maybe for you, thinking of those who are gone and all that has happened in the ten years since, it will have some meaning, some sense of time and place. Some days need to be remembered from different angles. This is just one.
By: Joe Lunievicz
The sky is falling.
I look out my window and the sky is falling in large pieces of steel, concrete, paper, blood and bone.
It’s October 11th, 2001, thirty days since my office was destroyed on the sixteenth floor of the World Trade Center, Tower Two. I stand on 23rd street and 6th Avenue, looking up at the new office building we’ve just moved into. I squint because the glare from the skyscrapers around me is intense.
I watch as a plane comes out of the sky and hits it.
I watch it again and again before I blink my eyes and the sky clears. I step through the front doors and into the elevators.
We’ve been bombing the Taliban in Afghanistan for five days. My stomach still turns to jelly when I’m outside and a loud noise assaults me — when a car hits a large pot-hole, a siren blares, or a garbage truck releases a metal container that crashes to the earth. I resist the urge to duck but inside I flinch. My exterior is molded plastic, hard to the touch. It’s easier to exist indoors where the noises are muffled.
The critical incident counselor called these images intrusive thoughts. Intrusive, as if they intrude upon a tranquil place. Inside my head, if tranquility exists, it lies behind a door, far back in the dark….