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Syndic Literary Journal

Memoir ∼ “Remembering 9/11” by Kathryn Adisman

Kathryn Adisman


“Remembering 9/11”



8:45 AM: I’m awakened by the Zoom of low-flying airplanes over my West Village walk-up. My radio goes to static. ‘Goddamn NPR! When are they going to get decent equipment?’ Only later do I learn the antenna was located in the towers. I tune to 1010 WINS ALL-NEWS radio. Simultaneously, Frank the married man, calls from Upstate to inform me of what’s going on in my city. ‘Thanks! I know.’

10 AM: The first tower goes down. I decide to run over to see for myself. There’s an island at the intersection of Bleecker & Hudson streets where you can stand facing south. People are clustered there, transfixed. The one remaining tower is on fire – like something you see in a sci-fi film, the building itself looks unreal. A magnified toy.  I’m shocked to feel real tears spring from my eyes. I’m almost unable to tear myself away but I don’t want to see the building fall. So, I flee the site.

ALL AFTERNOON: Men in suits trudge up the middle of 8th avenue. Weary dust-laden travelers in a Zombie Western, lugging briefcases.  I watch from a bench outside Bonsigneur gourmet carryout.  One man lives in my building. Laboriously he climbs the stairs, eyes glazed. ‘Did you come from the Towers?’ He mumbles something I can’t make out. He looks like someone in a dream.


7:00 PM:  Tuesday was Closing Night at People magazine. I’m a copy editor on the night shift. When I get to work, I find out our ME Carol Wallace who was from a news background has decided to scrap the entire magazine and create it from scratch — overnight. Her decision is in its own way heroic, and all of us on the 7a to 7p shift pitch in. We were first responders, too!

I didn’t have a TV in those days. I used to say, People magazine is my pipeline to the culture,” and that proved true that night.

In the kitchen on the 30th floor of the Time & Life building, the identical image of the towers burning is playing side by side on ‘twin’ TV monitors like a tape loop of the Yule log on Christmas Eve. This image is seared into our national psyche. 

Henry, who sat next to me in the Copy Room, is pacing the unlit hallway behind our cubicles, hugging his elbows like an old fortuneteller lady in a shawl, muttering: “I feel cold. I feel cold.”

It was practically a premonition. In less than 4 years, Henry would succumb to nonHodgkins lymphoma. A victim of 9/11 – who can say?

IN THE MORNING: My coworker Valerie and I who lived Downtown in the same neighborhood emerge from the West 4th Street subway station into what felt like a post-nuclear world. No life is stirring on those streets. A gray dust has already settled over the whole West Village, as we make our way up Greenwich Avenue, in the eerie pre-dawn of a new era. 


NEXT DAY: At the Neighborhood Bar – I’m squeezed in next to an ironworker from Pennsylvania, one of the first responders who volunteered. He’s just come from Ground Zero, as it’s been dubbed. His hard hat, which he stands on the bar next to me, is covered in white dust, as are his face and his clothes. He’s screaming at the top of his lungs, but I can hardly hear him above the background din. The place is jam-packed. I brought my retro, even then, cassette tape recorder with me and hold it next to the iron worker. What I can make out and get on tape – “I spent the day pulling body parts, darlin’.” He describes pieces of people wrapped around the corners of buildings, like gum. Then, as if the background noise died down, suddenly, this:

“What have fuckin’ 2,000 years of patriarchy ever given us? Just look Downtown, to where the towers once stood…”  The noise fades in and he fades out.

It’s like I’d met a messenger from the dead who staggers onstage at the end of the tragedy, reports the horror and is either killed for his trouble or dies himself.

TWO WEEKS LATER: Around the Jewish Holidays – my friend from Baltimore comes to visit. “It smells like a charnel house here,” he declares, and takes off for Brooklyn.

The Upper East Side is another country. No smell of burning flesh. At the last house on East End Avenue next to the river, Aunt Bea assails me: “What are you DOING down there?”

I LIVE Down There. It’s my home. 




Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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