Yahoo! Shine: 9/11, Ten Years Later

September 2011

9/11: From a Rooftop in Brooklyn

By Laura Barcella


I thought about it every day for a year. At least a year; maybe longer.

I’d watched the whole thing unfold from my Brooklyn rooftop, with my roommate, my upstairs neighbor, and my ex-boyfriend (who was staying with me for a few weeks). The neighbor, a soft-spoken blonde 20-something whose name I’ve since forgotten, worked at the WTC. He was supposed to be there, in fact, but had called in sick just a few minutes before the first plane hit.

My dad, too, was supposed to have been there that beautiful bright-blue morning. He lived in DC but had a business meeting at the WTC that day. It had been rescheduled, at the last minute, and ended up taking place just one day earlier.

I don’t need to recount how it happened or the way it looked; we’ve all seen that, we all know that — the news, the papers, the Internet have never let us forget. The image of those burning buildings, the sight of those proud, invincible-looking towers collapsing so cleanly and gracefully, like dominoes or a shuffling deck of cards, will probably be among the most vivid memories I’ll have for the rest of my life.

I wasn’t there, but I was just a few miles away. From the roof, I watched as large pieces of the first wounded tower seemed to break off and fall. I pointed this out to my ex; he corrected me. “No — that’s people falling.” Jumping, we later learned, as my heart seemed to cave in on itself.

We barely left my apartment that day. We stayed holed up, incredulous, in front of the TV, or horrified, paralyzed, up on the roof. We tried to call our families but the lines were perpetually busy. It felt like the world was ending, like we were just standing by, idly watching it end from a rooftop in Brooklyn.

The news grew worse as the day went on. Not knowing what else to do, we walked to the bodega up the street. Not knowing what else to do, we bought beer. Lots of beer. We saw scraps of paper, singed and black around the edges, floating towards us, carried from downtown Manhattan across the river by the wind. Fragile scraps of paper that had made it, mostly undamaged, out of those buildings, while thousands upon thousands of humans weren’t as lucky. We smelled the ash and the flesh. It permeated the air. We smelled it for weeks and months on end.

I felt guilty, in a way, mourning the event for as long as I did — I didn’t lose anyone in the towers. What right did I have to cry about it, to grieve about it? But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t stop imagining what those people had gone through: both the innocent people on the planes, and the innocent people in the towers. How the everyday banalities (buy coffee, boot up computer, check email…) of another Tuesday morning had devolved into this: fire, smoke, ash, collapse, people jumping from windows to avoid being burned alive. It was the most terrifying horror movie anyone could ever dream up, and the scariest thing about it was that it wasn’t a movie. The “Missing” posters with their images of once-smiling faces… The makeshift memorials and candles all over Union Square…That awful smell… The sound of police sirens or low-flying airplanes would bring it all back instantly.

9/11 didn’t end at the end of that day. No, it went on haunting many people (including me) for years. In those first few weeks and months, I had nightmares. In the one I recall most clearly, I was getting off the subway, just blocks from Ground Zero. I ascended the subway stairs onto the street; everything was chalky and grey and coated. Stepping onto the sidewalk, I sank knee-deep in ash. Everything was empty, it looked like a ghost town.

On this 10th anniversary of that horrible day, I’m doing two things at once. First, I’m giving myself permission to mull over the cruelties of that day again. I’m giving myself permission to think about it (if I do), to feel sad about it (if I am), to watch news specials about it (if I want to). Even to dream about it, if my subconscious wants to do that. But I’m also giving myself permission to move on — to acknowledge it’s been ten years. 10 years! A long, long time. I can go to a movie if I want to. I can laugh at a dumb romantic comedy, or sit at the park with my dog, or call a friend and talk about something totally random and unrelated to That Day.

A lot has changed, ten years later. My life looks different now, as do the lives of everyone affected by 9/11 — the survivors, family members, and people like me: regular bystanders, watching from roofs in New York or kitchens in Maryland or living rooms in Kentucky. The memory may last forever, but we’ll probably — hopefully — never have a day quite as uniquely dark as that one, ever again, for as long as we live. And for that I’m immensely grateful.