It has been nine years. Nine years since I heard my husband crying on the phone in our kitchen in San Francisco and whispering to my father, who was minutes away from entering his office in Tower Two, “Billy, Billy, thank God you’re alright.” Nine years since I clutched my pregnant stomach and fell to my knees, watching the Twin Towers fall. Nine years since our lives were forever marked, lessened, changed.

I watch the reading of the victims’ names every year. And I cry. Terribly. Openly. Because after nine years it is still unimaginable that it truly happened. After all the “missing” posters and the ribbons and the memorials and the fundraisers and the commemorative plates and bumper stickers, they are still gone. The people — all of those people — are gone, gone, gone.

New York City — my city, my birthplace, my home — was scarred in so many ways. For several years after 9/11, I had difficulty getting my bearings when I looked at the skyline or drove along the West Side Highway. For a generation of New York City outerborough kids who visited the Twin Towers as schoolchildren, who held them as a symbol of hope in a dingy, crime-ridden city in the 1970s — it was inconceivable that they would ever be anything but there. For my parents, ’50s-era children from Brooklyn and Queens, the Empire State Building was their Eighth Wonder of the World. For us, it was the Twin Towers. They were the first buildings I saw when we flew home from California, the first mark of familiarity for me, the first assurance that I was truly home.

I watched them fall on the television that September morning and remember hearing myself yell, “My city! My city!” I could only think of the structure, the steel, the permanence so callously challenged. It was only in the hours to come that I could begin to absorb the horrors of what those who were inside had to witness and endure. The enormity of loss, the magnitude of so many lives, incinerated in the attack and the collapse and with nothing to remain, was simply too much for me to comprehend all at once. My mind actually went into a kind of preservation mode that morning and refused to acknowledge the enormity of it until hours and days later. I remember speaking to a friend later that afternoon, who was overcome at the thought of the passengers’ terror on the hijacked planes. I didn’t understand her at first. In my shock, I had somehow supposed that the planes were empty, stolen from jetways without any additional suffering, and that the only victims were the hijackers themselves. I gasped and choked and sobbed all at once, at the sudden realization of what had happened to those people as well. 

After nine years, the wound has closed over. As a nation, as a people, as a collective psyche, we had to want to heal. But with it comes a sense of guilt in doing so. Which is why I watch the reading of the names every year. It’s all I know how to do on these September mornings, when the air is cool and the sky is a calming, wide blue — just as it was on the morning of 9/11, 2001. I want to acknowledge them, to somehow let them know that all of us see their pictures, their families, their lives left behind. We know they were here. They loved, they cried, they won, they yelled, they laughed, they fought, they failed, they touched. They were. And somehow, inexplicably yet necessarily, that they still are. 

The wound is ripped open every year as the names are read, but we can never forget them — the secretaries, the Cantor traders, the firefighters, the Windows on the World busboys, the insurance adjusters at Aon, the tourists, the elevator operators, the IT guys, the airplane passengers, the Port Authority police officers, the office managers, the people. The people. The people.
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