Rebecca Juro

Thoughts On 9/11

Filed By Rebecca Juro | September 11, 2008 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: 9/11, New York City, September 11, terrorism, World Trade Center

For once, this post has nothing to do with being transgender, LGBT rights, or anything related to those topics, or at least it didn't used to.

In 1980, I was 18 years old and living in Manhattan. That summer, I worked as a messenger for an insurance brokerage on Madison Avenue. My job was to collect insurance binders from the main office, run them downtown to the offices of major corporate insurance companies and obtain signatures, and then return the signed documents to the brokerage at the end of my daily runs.

My first stop of the day was always the World Trade Center. I'd arrive at the major hub subway station directly underneath the Twin Towers and head upstairs to where some of the offices I needed to visit were. I knew those buildings well, and I knew the folks who worked in them. I remember the first time I visited one of those offices on the 86th floor.

As I was admitted past the receptionist and into the main area where the insurance writers worked to get my signatures, I was transfixed by the panorama of Manhattan revealed by the floor-to-ceiling windows which gave one the sense of being on a platform floating high above the city. I was hardly the only one who got that sensation, apparently, when one of the insurance writers walking by who noticed me staring out the windows that first day told me "Don't worry, you get used to it after a while."

He was right. I did get used to it. Those offices and those amazing views of the city became commonplace for me after a while, as I learned all the shortcuts (and people to talk to) to get me quickly to the places I needed to go to accomplish my daily tasks there.

There were the receptionists who recognized me and would just wave me in rather than make me wait like others to be invited inside. There were the security guards and police officers who'd allow me the use of restricted stairwells and side doors to easily move from office to office and floor to floor. There were the ticket-takers at the observation deck who'd let me slip in without paying so I could eat my lunch comfortably looking out across the massive vista spread out before me.

So many people who I knew by only a smile and a wave as we all went about our daily duties. I never thought, even for a moment, that the World Trade Center was anything more than a really cool place to spend part of my working day, or that all of those people I saw for just moments each day were transitory, that someday it and they could all be gone, just like that.

I know many people reading this have never lived in and around New York City and probably never even saw the World Trade Center in person while it existed. While not suggesting for a moment that one had to be a physical witness to this place in order to appreciate its loss, I nonetheless also believe that for those who did, for those who lived and worked in the area and especially for those of us who knew that place intimately, even for just a while, the tragedy of 9/11 carries an even greater sense of loss.

I remember when the Towers were completed and opened in the early 70's when I was just a child. It was always the very first feature of the Manhattan skyline that would come into view as you approached New York City by car from the south. As I grew into adulthood, it became a defining symbol of what New York was, surpassing the Empire State Building as the single most easily identified feature of the Manhattan skyline.

When I moved back to New Jersey, it was still always there, even if I barely noticed it after a while, whenever I went into the city or passed by on my way elsewhere. It wasn't something I thought about or gave any more real consideration to more than any other landmark one might see. It just wasn't something you really paid attention to as a local, until one day those tall, shining towers just weren't there anymore.

I remember the day it happened like it was yesterday. I was sleeping when the phone rang. It was my mother, calling from work, telling me to get up and turn on the television. I did, saw the smoke streaming from the first tower, and just seconds later, I watched the second plane hit as it happened on live TV. It's an image that will be burned into my mind forever.

Like the rest of America, I spent that afternoon glued to my television but even after all those hours of witnessing that horror on the small screen, it didn't seem quite real. At the time it happened, it felt like I was watching a spectacular Hollywood action movie. The reality of what had happened, the lives lost, the damage, all of it, didn't seem to be reality despite all the evidence to the contrary.

It wasn't until a week later, when my mother and I went to visit my grandmother in Brooklyn and we drove down the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway with a full view of downtown Manhattan, that it really sunk in. When I looked across the East River, where those towers had always completely dominated the landscape because of their close proximity, about as close as you can come to the site from the Brooklyn side without actually entering Manhattan, their absence was jarring. Buildings that had always been blocked from view from that angle were now clearly in view, parts of the sky which had always been blocked by the towers rising into the sky were visible. At first it seemed almost surreal, and then it seemed more real than I could have imagined.

A part of New York City, the place I was born and came of age in, the city I fell in love with and was not only my home but the place where I felt most at home and welcome as someone who was more different than most as a punk rocker in black leather and bad attitude, was gone. More than simply part of the skyline, more than simply a place I had worked when I was younger, it felt like a significant part of my youth and my memory of that time had been stolen from me.

It's still as true for me to today as it was then. Even now as I approach Manhattan I can't help but notice that skyline and what's missing from it. And when I notice, I remember. I remember everything, not only about what the magnitude of the loss of those buildings and those people represent to me personally and to all of us as a nation, but also how fleeting life can be, and how something that I once thought simply a part of what my reality was, a symbol that defined a place I love, can so quickly and completely be taken away from me, and from all of us.

And when I remember, it still hurts.


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Rebecca, if I was an editor for an anthology on the WTC and 9/11, I'd pick your story as one of my selections. Thanks so much for writing this.

Becky, I've only been to New York once. I wasn't planning on visiting Ground Zero, but I got on the wrong subway line and ended up there. It was so surreal to be standing at a disaster site that is now a tourist stop.

I've never been to Ground Zero since the attack. I don't think I could bear it. I've wanted to go, but the memories are still just too strong. Perhaps someday I'll be able to go back to that part of Manhattan, walk those streets I knew so well again and pay my respects, but not yet, not while even writing about considering the idea still makes me cry.

Not yet...it still hurts too much.

I was thinking about the Trade Center last eve; specifically a party that I attended at Windows on the World that adjourned to the Greatest Bar on Earth after the meal to honour the engagement of two friends. We left late, we were all having a great time, and then the conversation turned to politics we dissed Bush roundly and were firm in our convictions that he was going to be a one-term president. I paid the bill; I still have the Visa reciept in a safety deposit box in an envelope marked "Maggie and Gewn's engagement party" along with some photos. The reciept was stamped after midnight, so It carried the date of the following day; 11 September 2001....

I had friends that I knew from the banking industry that worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. The following morning after the party, when One World Trade Center followed Number Two in crubling to rubble, a piece of paper, a letter that would never be delivered landed at my feet as I watched from the Battery area. The letterhead, that of Cantor Fitzgerald, let me know that I would never see those friends again...

On 9/11 I had the surreal experience of helping 'the system' (or, a small part of it in a small town far removed from Ground Zero) carry on as if everything was normal.

At the time I was a clerk for a judge in a rural county in Minnesota. The first item on the docket that Tuesday morning was small claims court - not at all a small deal in a smal town (court's always packed for it; all the parties to all the cases take everything - from bum used cars to bad roofing jobs to repossessions of cows - seriously.)

The attacks had already happened when the small claims session started, but everything was still standing.

When the session ended, an hour or so later, one of the sheriffs deputies walked in and told everyone that the Pentagon had been hit and that both of the Twin Towers had fallen.

Its still a weird feeling to think about what was going on in NYC while that small claims court session was going on as normal.

Thank you Rebecca. Beautifully written articulation of so many of the feelings so many of us shared on that sad, sad day. Joani

I, too, was a born and raised New Yorker, and watched them build the Twin Towers. I've talked about my experiences there in other comments, so I'll let those stand.

But as the years pass, we've developed our own rememberances. For example, we have some of our favorite movies that are rerun on a regular basis, and we know when The Towers will be shown. Right before they appear, we'll look at each other to prepare for the shock of seeing them. Then I say, "there they are", and Barb says, "those bastards... ".

And every year, I light a Yartzheit candle.

Beautiful post, Becky. By far and wide, one of the best you've ever written.

Becky: Thank you for this beautifully written poignant article.
This is one of those moments in time when we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing on that morning. I recall the moments when I learned of the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Dr. King, and September 11th.
I remember leaving New York City on the train many years ago, and looking back toward the skyline of Manhatten where I saw the World Trade Center completely dominating the New York skyline.
I still have an eerie feeling when I see movies made before September 2001, and the World Trade Center is clearly visible in it.
While most of us never knew anyone who worked there, certainly we all share your emotions of the tragic loss of life of so many innocent persons.

Curtis Morton | September 12, 2008 11:42 AM

Rebecca,

Thank you so much for sharing your memories and thoughts. It was truly a sad day in American history, and innocent lives were lost in the towers and on the planes, not to mention the Pentagon. I have never been to New York, so I can not fully appreciate the horrific event, but I remember that day well and watched my TV in disbelief late into the night.

Every year I make sure that I remember the innocent people, the brave fire fighters and police offices who went into the buildings to save people's lives, and the families who lost loved ones. The History Channel had a great program last night where they put several news and home videos together from people who were in the area filming, and it really showed how real the event was. It made me remember. We, as a nation, should never forget those people that we lost!

Thanks again for your post!

Curtis