My daughter Katherine, then 22, wrote this on October 6, 2001
They were, as we always say at times like this, so very young--finished in 1976, only two years older than me. I only learned that afterwards, though; I always assumed they were several decades older. Maybe this is because I had thought no good architecture came out of the late 1960s and 1970s; more likely it is that, to a girl born on 28th Street and 9th Avenue, they just looked like they'd been there forever. (I also knew for a fact that before I was born my oldest sister gave my mother fits trying to do somersaults on the railings of the glassed-in observation deck on the 107th floor.)
I only went up to the top once. I think it was on my ninth or tenth birthday. I do not actually remember the famous views of the harbor or the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. I do remember the dizzy view down to the street, the people who looked like ants and the yellow cabs like matchbox cars.
I remember that my mother stopped me from whining on the long lines for the elevators by having me count the number of languages I heard spoken. I don't know the total, but it was more than I had ever heard in such a small space and short time. I remember the stupid marbleizedkeychain with my name on it from the souvenir shop, which is probably still collecting dust in our house somewhere. I remember the wind whipping my hair on the roof. I used my mother's compact to put it into a ponytail, and realized that in getting dolled up for the big day in the city I had gotten silver eye shadow on my nose.
That was the only time I was up there. But of course like everyone else in New York I have looked at those towers more times than I could count. Faintly through haze and smog from the Throg's Neck bridge, marking the end of epic twelve hour car rides from Bangor. In rosy late afternoon light from the Staten Island Ferry, which cost a tenth as much as the Circle Line and had almost as good a view. Every sunny day at lunchtime from the Promenade one summer. On slides in my architecture history class, while Professor Scully, gesturing wildly, exclaimed about how brutal and ugly the towers were, how they mocked the great old art deco skyscrapers to the north. On I don't know how many cab rides back to Park Slope, from Laguardia at rush hour or Manhattan at 3 am.
And now, well, what is there to say? We have all seen the pictures and the videos, dozens if not hundreds of times.
Albert Camus, writing to a former friend in Nazi Germany during a time far worse than this, said,
"I relive those pilgrimages I once made with all the men of the West: the roses in the cloisters of Florence; the gilded bulbous domes of Krakow; theHradschin and its dead palaces; the contorted statues of the Charles Bridge over the Oltava; the delicate gardens of Salzburg. My memory has fused together such superimposed images to make a single face, which is the face of my true native land. And then I feel a pang when I think that, for years now, your shadow has been cast over that vital, tortured face. Yet some of those places are ones that you and I saw together. It never occurred to me that someday we should have to liberate them from you. And even now, at certain moments of rage and despair, I am occasionally sorry that the roses continue to grow in the cloister of San Marco and the pigeons drop in clusters from the Cathedral of Salzburg and the geraniums grow tirelessly in the little cemeteries of Silesia.
But at other moments, and they are the only ones that count, I delight in this. For all those landscapes, those flowers and those plowed fields, the oldest of lands, show you every spring that there are things you cannot choke in blood."
The first weekend after it happened, I had the irrational impulse to get into my car and drive to New York. It was mainly to see my family and friends of course. But it was also to be with the city herself in her saddest days, and to assure myself that the organ still played in Saint Patrick's and the unicorn tapestries hung in the Cloisters. That the giant blue whale I used to be afraid of, and the hall of minerals I loved far more than was normal for a six year old, were still on display at the Museum of Natural History, and the pushcarts outside were still selling pretzels that hardened five minutes after you bought them and hotdogs of unknown origin.
That people were still playing catch and touch football on the Long Meadow of Prospect Park. That they were still honking on Flatbush Avenue, and stepping on each others feet on the subways. That the twins' dignified older sisters were still standing, and hopefully were open and perhaps even had a few brave souls on their observation desks.
I did not go. It was too soon; it may still be too soon. But in a few weeks I will drive to New York. I will prove to myself that there, in the oldest and newest and bravest and scariest and greatest of America's cities, there are things you cannot choke in blood.