I knew the World Trade Center from below. I never went up in the towers. I stayed at street-level, where the PATH train from Hoboken would arrive and the doors would slide open. Then along the platform and through the underground mall, with classy shops and a small bakery with a counter where people could sit. Next to it, the entrance to a Borders store, where the travel section was inexplicably located on this basement level, tiny and un-Borders-like with a colorful carpet. Up a narrow escalator, and the store spread out to become the usual array of bestsellers and wannabe bestsellers. Out the doors and onto a street corner, with noise and passing traffic and soaring hotels, all dwarfed by the two towers. I met friends here.
Before that, I was four, clutching my aunt’s hand and staring up forever. I forget why we were there. Fireworks were exploding overhead, so it might have been the Fourth of July. What I remember is that the surface of the skyscrapers shone gold in the light. “Look, honey,” she said to me. “It’s the Twin Towers.” Maybe she picked me up in her arms. I don’t remember anything except the reflection of light on tower glass.
I don’t really have much to say about September 11th, 2001. I wasn’t there, had left the area more than a year earlier to come to L.A. I didn’t lose any relatives, though we knew of my sister’s friend’s uncle, and my parents saw the cars parked for weeks at the local train station. They emailed me a list of the missing from our town. I didn’t know anyone on it, though I recognized one of the last names. I thought about the people I worked with in a building just north of Canal, how they probably had to evacuate and stay home for several days while lower Manhattan was closed. The guy in my old screenwriting group who lived in and loved Battery Park City. But it was distant, like a cousin once removed. I was horrified, scared, sad, but I couldn’t make it real in my mind, because I couldn’t picture all of those people suddenly gone, vanished like the buildings. And it wasn’t real to me until I went home for Christmas, took a bus into the city and saw the skyline as we approached the Lincoln Tunnel. There was a hole. Something was missing. And I think it was important.