This, published only once by the New York Times in 2002, is not for everyone. For those still living with replays of that day outside of their control, this is a trigger warning: There are no photos here, but the account may break you.
102 MINUTES: Last Words at the Trade Center; Fighting to Live as the Towers Die (New York Times, 2002)
Like we all remember where we were on that day, I also remember where I was when I read this, compiled with painstaking effort by reporters at the New York Times. For months, they tracked down 911 calls, tapes of police & fire operations, BlackBerry messages, went to people’s homes to listen to goodbyes left on answering machines, talked to widows about quick worried calls home after the planes, traced which stairways survivors came down, and who they helped on the way. There were 20,000 pages of tape transcripts, documents obtained with Freedom of Information Act requests. This is a minute-to account – not of the buildings, but the lives inside the buildings. It’s magnificent journalism.
Three people I know were there, and one more might have been. All of them carried this day on their backs, all of them triumphed in ways that fill me up with pride. But maybe they shouldn’t read this.
I wasn’t in New York, or here, on September 11, 2001. I was just outside Detroit, near the bridge and tunnel that connect the United States to Canada, and thus thousands of people every day born elsewhere. On any other day, access is easy; we used to cross the Ambassador Bridge to get gas. But on this day, Detroit was on lockdown. National Guardsmen, guns on their shoulders, parked in every intersection of the main thoroughfare, Woodward Avenue.
I wanted to be in my New York, a helpless and illogical feeling of missing, knowing my old apartment was in the Zone. This was where I was born and grew up, where people kept me safe through two blackouts, where police had protected me from a stalker with a violent history. The thing that most people from the rest of American never understand about here, including New Jersey, is how much we give a damn about each other, look out for each other. September 11, 2001 was that idea writ large. On any given day, I reject American exceptionalism as a self-important fantasy. But I will say that the care, and honor, and bravery shown that day, if not the most American thing about us, is certainly the most New York thing I know.