What Happened to My City?

Avi Salzman

What happened to my city?

That was all I could think at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday morning as I talked with a friend from Brooklyn N.Y. with whom I usually discuss the most recent New York Knicks game. I was tuned into a fuzzy picture of the World Trade Towers, which had already been reduced to one building. As we talked, the second building crumbled. I had no idea what to say or think.

“There goes the second one.”

That’s how this horrific day started.

During the next two hours I feverishly tried to call loved ones, accounting for family and friends and trying to remember who I knew who might have been in the area near the towers. For a few minutes, listening to busy signals echo on every number I called, I considered getting into my car and driving frantically back home. I figured I could be there in a day and a half.

I got in touch with a friend who lives a few blocks from the towers, his window filled with scenes of death and destruction. Another friend was standing on his roof on the Lower East Side watching smoke rise.

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“I saw it fall” was all he could say.

The towers fell again and again on television. Each time they flashed on the screen I would think that maybe they had miraculously come back only to see them drop once again. At the same time, I worried that if I looked away from the television, the rest of the city might crumble.

New York is my hometown and the World Trade Towers were the most identifiable bumps on the city’s skyline. The loss of buildings will never compare to the loss of life, but the entire spectacle was heightened by the picture of those buildings falling and the smoke and sheer absence that remained.

By noon I had gotten in touch with both of my parents. My father works in a hospital downtown. His building was filled with wounded people. He was trying to clear patients out of beds to make room for the casualties.

My father looked out his window at the scene on the street, which was still a little chaotic. But what he saw, amid the smoke and the wounded, was a line stretched around the block. New Yorkers will wait in lines to get tickets to a Yankees game or a concert, they will wait in lines to get into a club or even to get a foot-long hot dog at Gray’s Papaya on 86th Street. Tuesday they were waiting in a seemingly endless line, as ash fell over the city, to give blood.

“Everybody’s been stepping up,” my father said. “We’re a tough breed, New Yorkers.”

Stories on the news confirmed his statement. One man had carried a wounded woman 47 stories down the stairs at the World Trade Center, sidestepping the debris and destruction that surrounded him. Hundreds of brave firefighters died pulling people from the wreckage. Other heroic stories have yet to be told.

Envisioning New York, many believe the good-neighbor concept embraced so fully by folks in other parts of the country could not exist in 11 grimy square miles stuffed with people and buildings.

Yes I have been mugged. Yes I have been shoved on the subway, harrassed and called names I can’t utter in this paper.

But I know New York’s heart, and I know its people. Neighbors are quick to lend a hand in times of crisis.

I’m still not positive where some of my friends are. I am praying for them, terrified I could read a list of names of those lost and recognize even one.

I ask again tonight, watching the images continue to flicker on the screen: What happened to my city?

A terrible thing happened to my city Tuesday.

There is no way to really fathom it. But we can rebuild New York City.

I don’t think the city will crumble to the ground even if we do turn off our television sets and try tonight to go to sleep.

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