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  • Writer's pictureJameel Haiat

9.11.01 - A Memory...


It's been twenty years since that horrific day changed so many lives.

I remember the day clearly myself, as I was living in Elizabeth, New Jersey with my fiancé at the time, Alina. I worked in Hoboken at the Macy's Parade Studio as a sculptor and she was working in Manhattan as a designer at Anne Klein. Our lives in New York up to that point were filled with joy, adventure and real wonder. We were living an amazing life, we really were. We both had dream jobs within the arts, in a city that was a haven for artists, doing what we loved. It was amazing, to say the least.

That day was beautiful, as many remember, as clear and as blue as the sky ever gets over New York. That was until the planes struck.

I remember climbing to the rooftop of the old Tootsie Roll factory in Hoboken, which was where the Parade Studio was at the time. We had just heard that a small plane had struck one of the Towers, and wanted to see what we could. Staring across the Hudson River, we saw the giant plume of smoke billowing from the Tower. It made my heart sink. It made all our hearts sink. We climbed back inside and soon heard the news that a second plane had just hit. I remember panicking and thinking, I need to call Alina. Not owning a cell phone at the time, I had to rely on the pay phone. Luckily, I was able to get in touch with her, but we were in shock and really didn't know what to do. She was stuck in Manhattan, I was on the New Jersey side. We decided that I would get home, and she would find a way over, somehow.

After many hours, I finally arrived home. The first thing I remember was the overwhelming number of messages on our answering machine. Our families and friends had left so many terrified and tearful messages asking "where were we", "if we were ok" and to "please, please call them". Remembering the incredible emotion and desperation within their voices still gives me the chills. I proceeded to call every one of them back to let them know that we were fine. But, still, I was full of fear, of grief, of unknowing. Alina was out there, somewhere in Manhattan and still not home.

Finally, she was able to call me to let me know that all the tunnels and bridges into and out of the City were closed, from the Lincoln and Holland tunnels to the George Washington Bridge. She had walked all day trying to find a way, and now was going to stay the night with a friend from work.

I'll tell you this, that night was one of the longest nights of my life. The doubt and fear that filled me was dark and dreadful. I don't even remember if I really slept at all.

The next day, was much the same. Except that in the morning, I remember our neighborhood was filled with the smoke, ash and smell that had drifted south towards the area we lived in. I'll never forget that smell. That day, I waited with extreme angst, for Alina to find her way home. It wasn't easy. Everything was still shut down. It wasn't until late that evening when she finally arrived. She was exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally. I just remember us holding each other as the tears flowed, neither of us wanting to let go.

The days that followed were mostly a blur in my mind. There were days filled with deep conversations, anger, grief and deep sadness. Ultimately, we went back to work, changed, but closer to one another. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade that year was a big deal. It was one of the healing events that New York held, a way to say, "We are still here and you can't stop Us". I think we all cried a little after we packed up the final float that day. The emotions of the day wore on everyone, including the City.

So, now here we are, twenty years later. So much has changed since then, and yet so much has remained the same.

There are many, many days that I wish we still remembered daily, how we felt immediately following 9.11. We all had a sense of humanity for one another following such an inhumane action. We felt connected to one another through such a tragic event. Many have forgotten that feeling.

Wars have been fought, so many lives have been lost, altered or destroyed. It hurts to think how awful people are to one another at times.

I truly hope that a horrific event such as 9.11 will never occur again anywhere in the world. But, I wonder, what will it take for people to stop, pause and remember, to really remember that we are all human, we are all connected....what will it take?

In the end, I hope that for the most part we learned something from that day, even a little something. Isn't it time?

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