This article was written on September 11, 2013
I am a person made for the digital age. I save little. I throw away my children’s artwork and fail to understand why others complain that it has taken over their homes (though I am glad my kids ignore my work and won’t be reading this). Sometimes I take a digital photo first and then discard the project. How many shoebox sukkahs can I possibly store and how many wooden menorahs made with flammable paint, glue and sequins do I need? We live in a Hong Kong apartment.
I don’t save cards if you have just signed “love”- sorry Mom and Dad. I have saved a few letters, my favorite of which is one I received in college where my grandmother writes of trying to be quiet so as not to wake my grandfather who is asleep in the next room. I think this was the year before he passed away. And while her letter is sweet and filled with beautiful sentiments and wishes for me in the new school year, it is that simple line that I love most.
My husband and I both dislike clutter and thrive on tossing out things we don’t need. Interestingly, our two sons are packrats. My 12 year-old admits he has a problem in that he can’t throw anything away and periodically (it has become mostly a pre-Pesach thing) gives me permission to go through his things and throw out generally whatever I’d like. How many old math exams and practice sheets for Hebrew tests do we need?
As a rule my husband and I don’t save clothing. If you don’t wear it for two years, it goes to a charity (with a carve-out for my wedding dress and other formalwear).
But it has been 12 years today since September 11th. I saved my suit from that day. I had it dry cleaned to remove the soot, shards and dust remains I had collected as I walked home that day and then kept it in the dry cleaners bag. I knew I would never wear it. I saved the newspaper from that day and the next day as well, and Time magazine too. I amassed a collection of random postcards with the towers’ image from every shop that hadn’t yet sold out.
I play back portions of my memories of that day in my mind. I wish I had a photo of myself that morning. I remember standing outside, staring up at the blue sky and marveling at the perfection of the day near Century 21 in lower Manhattan. I don’t know why I stopped and marveled. I never did that. It was 7:30 a.m., a brilliant sky but an otherwise ordinary morning.
I have had a hard time writing my story in part because of guilt. I talk about it, but most people here only have memories of watching it on TV. I have felt that my written words would somehow minimize the real pain and loss of those who suffered.
Though locked in my building in lower Manhattan until about 3:00 p.m. that afternoon, I was able to make two phone calls after the towers were hit. We were all certain that they were going to fall and were told, given the debris, we were safer sealed inside our building. Should they fall we had no chance either way. The upper floors of our building had been evacuated long ago.
The first call I was able to make was to my mother (I tried my husband, but local calls didn’t go through). I made the call in the dark, sitting under my desk, below the windows. We had wet paper towels to cover our mouths when the smoke began to slowly seep in. We had a schedule to keep the towels wet.
I left my mother a message saying goodbye and pleading with her to make sure my son grew up knowing how much I loved him. I am not sure if I told her that I loved her and my father too. I can’t remember. My boss begged us all to stop with the phones and support one another instead, but we couldn’t stop.