Two weeks ago I marked my 10th anniversary in New York. I have been anxiously anticipating this achievement, it being the first time in my adult life I’ve managed any long term achievement. I had envisioned some drinks with friends. Instead, I marked the day, August 28, camped out inside with as much water and candles as I could gather, riding out a hurricane. An actual hurricane. It was my first hurricane of any category. And considering the events that have occurred in my 10 years here, a hurricane marking my anniversary? It was strangely and perfectly poetic.
I think marking August 28, 2011 was so important to me because of the other 10 year anniversary looming. I needed to mark a celebratory anniversary. All things considered, it’s fairly amazing it even happened. Ten years ago on August 28, I arrived in Brooklyn and moved into my apartment on the 4th floor of what turned out to be a building resembling a godforsaken hellhole. It was a horrid place. There was dog crap in the hallways and the apartment itself was not only much much tinier than I remembered, it was horribly, disgustingly dirty. My first night there was a nightmare. There was yelling in the hallways, my cats were wailing in displeasure and I had so many boxes in too small a space, so that I basically ended up with a path from the bedroom to the kitchen to the bathroom and that was it. I could not believe I left a secure, good paying job and a fantastic apartment in Maryland, not to mention my family, to come and live in a piece of shit hovel. The saving grace was the view. I could look out my windows directly at the Statue of Liberty and then a little to the right was the downtown Manhattan skyline. God, it was gorgeous.
After a little over a week, I was still doubtful of my apparently idiotic decision, but I clearly remember getting up in the morning and looking out my windows at that famous view of Manhattan and saying “Hello, New York.” A few days later, that view was forever changed. And so was I.
I have no desire to talk about what I saw on September 11, 2001. It goes without saying that I was terrified, horrified, traumatized. It felt like an earthquake when the first tower went down. I frantically closed all my windows as the dust cloud overtook my building. My car was covered in a film of grey. I don’t think I ever washed it off because in my mind, that grey dust was all that was left.
On September 12, though, I finally started unpacking. That’s when I decided to stay. It wasn’t even a conscious decision. I just started opening boxes and hanging pictures on the wall. No freaking terrorists were going to make me run home in fear. In the days and weeks that followed, the horrible burning smell dissipated. And I got to know a city in which I’m so very proud to live. I barely knew a New York City with the Twin Towers, but the New York City that I got to know was a sight (and site) to behold.
I saw firefighters in uniforms from all across the country who just showed up to help. Strangers regularly stopped to offer assistance, to ask if I was ok, if I looked even slightly lost or confused. I even had a police officer walk me across Battery Park helping me find the address of my latest temp job. On my way to another temp job, transferring trains at Atlantic Avenue, I’d walk by the police officers stationed at that travel hub and this one particular officer was in the same spot every morning and each day he’d look at me and say “It’s gonna be ok. You have a good day, now.” I will never forget his face. He brought reassurance and confidence back to my routine.
About a month ago, a friend and I were driving up West Street, heading north and stuck in traffic. I was staring at a building, a skyscraper, under construction and noting the unique shape, the beautiful, mirrored glass. I was thinking, “What a gorgeous building that’s going to be.” Then as we got closer, I noticed that we were driving by the site of the previous towers, and what I had been admiring was the Freedom Tower in progress. It will be a sight to behold, just like my city.
I spent today, the 10 year anniversary of the worst day I hope to ever see, with a wonderful friend, watching the Ravens/Steelers game on TV. My Ravens kicked ass. Then I did some laundry. It was a good day, marked in my own way. Life goes on. And thank God for it.