I was about to leave home for work- my office a mere 5 block walk from my apartment in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn where I had lived on the top floor of a 4-story Brownstone for about 7 years- when the world changed forever.
The woman I rented from was the mother of my best friend and I had known her since I was a child. My best friend also lived there, on the ground floor. I had a great relationship with both of them, and they were both very supportive of the changes I had set in motion in my life.
I had quit my secure and fairly well-paying job of 6 years a few months earlier in order to have more time to do revisions on the book I’d written- and had secured one of the most prominent black literary agents in the country on the strength of-and it was one hell of an undertaking. For example, I had changed the entire 340-page manuscript written in third person to a 250 or so page first person narrative, so you can imagine all the work involved. But, this was soul work, the kind of work you wake up in the morning to with the eagerness you might wake up with on the morning of your big vacation to Jamaica or some caribbean island off the grid.
I’d also secured a consulting job where my main responsibility was to raise awareness in Bed-Stuy of funding available for corporate sponsored beautification measures, as well as scouting locations and securing the contractors necessary to convert empty lots into awesome gardens.
I was also volunteering (again in my community) with a neighborhood home owners association to go door to door and to give talks at Block Association meetings to residents bringing to their attention the efforts of predatory lenders to separate them from their property through shady loans, and the complicity of certain government agencies in this.
On top of that, I was working freelance for a local newspaper raising awareness of the above issues, writing articles and editorials on the players involved, for which I had gained a certain amount of notoriety and respect in the community, viewed as a “comer” or a person to be reckoned with.
I was high on life. It was an awesome time to be Loco.
That all changed, or at least began to, on 9/11/2001.
It was a beautiful day. Blue skies, warm breeze and sunshiny. I was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with a light Polo jacket. I had an Afro then and it was freshly braided tight to my scalp in cornrows ornately and uniquely designed by a woman I paid 20 dollars plus tip to do every other week. I had a little money in my pocket and a lot of joie de vivre in my heart as I descended the stairs from my apartment.
As I was opening the door to walk out into the glory of another day being me, I heard my best friend call my name.
“You seen the news?”
“Nah, what’s up?”
” A plane crashed into one of the Twin Towers!”
“Say word!” and I came back in and joined him in front of the TV set. And, sho nuff, one of the buildings had a cavernous hole in it coughing flames and smoke. “Shit!”
While it was most certainly news, it was merely the kind of news that would make for semi-interesting conversation for the next week or so, by NY standards. Just another saga in the ongoing saga of life in the most major of major metropolises. Seasoned New Yorkers can roll with just about anything.
I basically made my own schedule as a consultant so I wasn’t stressing over being late to the office or anything. So, my best buddy and I were sitting there watching this scene play out, listening to the reporters’ speculations while speculating ourselves about the size of the plane and the chances of survival of the people above the floors now aflame, when the next plane hit right before our eyes.
“What the fuck was that?”
We found out a few minutes later…along with the rest of the world.
While the CNN guys were talking about more planes being expected I remember grabbing and holding myself, like a mother might hold her child…kind of protectively, and thinking aloud, “my God, we’re at war!”
And not that Smart-bomb-down-a-chimney in some Muslim country Wag-The-Dog kind of war, but the kind of war other countries have all the time. The kind of war the US always wages on others had, after a 60 year lapse since the Japanese pimp slapped Pearl Harbor, had finally come home. The kind where the enemy is dropping bombs (and planes) on US cities!
The kind of shit you never imagined happening.
And, I was living in ground zero, apparently.
My friend and I looked at one another and a new fear, not unlike a fear of God, was in both of our eyes. More so in mine than his, though, I think. He was always better able to compartmentalize and rationalize than me, something I’ve always admired about him. He was also more cynical than me, I think.
Or, rather, I felt. Thinking had been put on hold for longer than I like to remember. All I could do at that moment was feel. Feel my own mortal vulnerability, and that of my family.
I feared for the safety of my sister who took the subway to work, her train passing just beneath the towers. I snatched my cellphone from its holster at my waist. No service. The Land lines were out, too.
No communication only exacerbated the rising panic I felt.
Back to the TV. Back to the talking heads talking Doomsday scenarios, end of the world as we know it shit while in the backdrop of their prognostications the symbols not only of American financial might, but of pride for us New Yorkers, burned, and people leaped to their deaths live on TV.
This can’t be real…
I felt myself shaking, trying to process my place in this new paradigm, if I should survive!
“Let’s go up on the roof!” I shouted and was headed that way even before I finished the sentence.
From the rooftop, the two towers were clearly visible, the smoke from the fire was drifting over our heads (and would be in the air for days), a metallic chemical taste to it. I was breathing in the incinerated lives of hundreds, and God knows what kind of chemicals. Then, we heard a rumble and looked around. What looked like Fighter jets were flying overhead. But the rumble continued even after they’d passed. I looked back to the two towers, and realized there were only one and a half left. The other was falling from view like some kind of house of burning cards.
My heart was jumping all over the fucking place…there were screams from other rooftops.
I remember thinking I might as well jump off this fucking roof. Change doesn’t happen this fast…something is wrong with the world, with life. Everything I believe is wrong. Everything is wrong.
I was pacing around the roof, looking for something to hold on to. It felt like the ground was shaking, was going to open up and take me at any moment, the same way it had just taken one of the world trade buildings. The roof was the worst place to be. I climbed back down the ladder into my home. It took much longer than the climb up to he roof had taken. My legs weren’t sturdy. The ladder felt riggity. I didn’t feel safe.I felt helpless as a baby minus that carefreeness of not knowing that danger lurked everywhere, that fire burns and water drowns and plastic suffocates. There was no mommy and daddy to protect me. There were people dying, jumping from a burning building into the debris of a building that didn’t exist anymore.
I couldn’t walk or talk…I just had to get back to the TV. I don’t remember how I got back to it. Did I crawl? I got back though and I just stood there watching that building crumble to the ground in a sandstorm of dust and debris that swarmed through the air like it was in possession of intelligence of a limited variety, like a plague of locusts swarming down streets I’ve walked thousands of times. I covered my mouth watching on the news terror-confused people running hither and thither through roads I rode upon often on my mountain bike, shocked people standing on corners I’ve frequented, holding their mouths.
I don’t know how long I stayed that way. Maybe until the second one dropped.
Somehow, though, the collapse of the second of the twins snapped me out of it. It had a certain finality to it, like a crescendo had been leading up to that moment. I was almost relieved to see it go. Like maybe this had been the goal all along by these forces that sought to change the world as I and everyone I knew saw it, and now that they’d accomplished that they would cease and desist, pull back and let us collect our wounded and fallen, pick up the pieces of our shattered images of safety and delusions of superiority and invulnerability and, at some point, god willing, use our brains to think again.
That this force would show mercy.
It would be a few hours before I could think, again. Before I realized that the fear I had experienced, and the shock, had traumatized and paralyzed me. It would be years, two years in fact, before I got sick- sick to death- of living in a city and a country still traumatized so much that it actually supported a man who told them (among many ridiculous notions) to go shopping to show the terrorists that they haven’t destroyed our way of life.
Such flagrant stupidity and gross negligence from our supposed leadership made it easier to cast my good life aside, turn my back on the Loco of my dreams, put my soul work on hold, pack up my shit and move abroad.
And it would be 9 and a half years until I felt anything even approaching that level of fear again.
I didn’t even think it was possible until yesterday.
…to be continued
PS: Pt. 2 coming soon to Loco in Yokohama