Happy Friday, dear friends, and welcome to the Open Mic!
I’m so glad to introduce you to Jenn Zahrt, a friend I met randomly and circuitously two years ago because we both had shops on Etsy. Jenn contacted me yesterday with a piece she’d written unexpectedly, her senses putting forth indelible memories of a decade ago. It’s my honor to share her words with you today.
The Night Before, Jenn Zahrt
September 10, 2001 at NYU:
Before bed, I read E. B. White, “Here is New York,” published in 1949, for my writing seminar the next day:
The subtlest change in New York is something people don’t speak much about but that is in everyone’s mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sounds of the jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.
September 11, 2001:
I wake up to the sound of a very low flying plane, familiar to me from my childhood spent on military bases, but obviously weird in Manhattan. I turn to my roommate, Emily Dufton, and say, recalling E. B. White’s essay in my mind, “This place could blow any minute.”
The phone rings. It’s my mom, telling me to turn on the TV because a plane just hit the World Trade Center. We watch real time as the second plane hits the south tower.
Outside my dorm, a mile away from the towers, I see the smoke billowing in the sky. Everyone on my floor gets ready to go to St. Vincent’s to donate blood. They don’t need us. Some of us walk to the next hospital to see if they need us. We join the streams of people flooding the barren streets. The sky is a crystal clear blue, except for the smoke at the end of the island. The birds soar, relishing the perfect fall weather, as if it’s just another Tuesday morning in Manhattan. The only vehicles are emergency vehicles headed in one direction. When the towers start to fall, the entire city stops breathing, cries out, gasps, anguish. Bulldozers join the ambulances.
On my way back to my dorm, at around three in the afternoon, Broadway is nearly entirely devoid of people and all vehicles. I sit down in the middle of the street and place my body across the lanes. I look north and south, eyes level with the rippled pavement, fully splayed out, knowing that this will be the only time in my life that I’ll ever see Broadway that empty, like this. I spend about five minutes just lying there, taking it in. I get up just before a bulldozer barrels toward the newly christened Ground Zero.
The debris from the towers permeates everything. The smell isn’t content to respect the barriers of the buildings. It coats my room. Ashy, gassy, thick, unavoidable. I recoil at the thought that I might be breathing in particles of those cremated in the destruction. I spend the next days breathing through a green wool scarf that my parents bought in Scotland. I’ve never washed it. And even that November, standing on a rooftop in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, I detected the smell of Ground Zero, wafting toward me in a fragile tendril, surreal like in a Warner Brothers cartoon, surreal like the weather that Tuesday morning. Surreal like reading E. B. White’s 1949 essay the night before his fears became reality.
Jenn Zahrt lives in Berkeley, California.
Thank you, Jenn, for sharing with us.
The comments are open. See you there!