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The Day After

By Ian Grey | Posted 9/12/2001

On the subway ride into Manhattan Wednesday morning, there was utter silence. Nobody spoke; everybody had the same expression on his or her face--shock, horror, both. Suddenly, New Yorkers--who tend to be very private, so as to create personal space around themselves in a place where real space is very limited--were wide open. Yesterday you might have looked in someone's eyes by accident, and they might look away. Today, we looked in each other's eyes and knew each other. Today we are all very intimate.

I got off the "N" train at Union Square, a mile or so away from ground zero. Smoke still billows from flames still burning. You can't stop the horrible thoughts. Perhaps it's good, therapeutic even, not to try. I thought, There are bodies in that smoke. People. I kept walking.

The streets are 80 percent empty. There are, of course, no planes in the air, nothing but the occasional helicopter. Nobody wears a suit. We're all wearing whatever we had the wherewithal to throw on ourselves this morning, as we showered and shaved like aching somnambulists. I walked past a huge restaurant on Park Avenue called City Crab & Seafood Company. Usually it's packed with lunching professionals. It's open, but empty, except for a bartender I saw, standing alone, motionless, staring into space. I turned on the radio and heard a woman crying, disc jockeys trying to talk themselves into playing music. Even Howard Stern wasn't an asshole. We heard about firefighters' dumbfoudingly heroic efforts to save people trapped under tons of cement. People who called for help on their cell phones.

Time has fused for me, and, I suspect, for many of us. There is no division between yesterday and today. I keep thinking of a business meeting I had at the World Trade Center last week. How I had those normal-person, bitchy moments: He's such a jerk. Who does she think she is? Oh Lord, will he please shut up? And that secretary I thought was kind of cute. The middle-aged guy in an impeccably chic Italian knit shirt, who was at work even though he'd just had a stroke. And the no-nonsense African-American woman at World Trade Center security, who made jokes while I stood there and they took an ID photo of me. I keep thinking of the accounts of a man and woman jumping from a window as the building exploded and burned and grasping each other's hands as they fell.

You'd be surprised how little anyone--Mayor Giuliani, the media, people you can now talk with--how few of them are using the word. Dead. But it isn't, I think, post-traumatic denial. Or even tact. Saying it would just be redundant.

When it was happening, the level of surreality was intolerable. My TV is on the fritz, so my girlfriend and I went to an Irish bar to see what had happened. To see it clearly, because on the ground all we could see was smoke. I think we needed the affirmation of videotape and outside commentators, to have evidence of order. When we saw the video of the second plane hitting the north tower just an hour before, my entire body jerked. My girlfriend wept. Some homicidal maniac says jump, hundreds dead in a second. At the same time, a reporter for CBS filing his story from the Wall Street area lost it. His body shook, he couldn't make his face work right. I wished they'd just let him go home.

About an hour after the attack, the Avenues were packed with people trying to get home, as the buses, subways, bridges and tunnels had been closed off. I was amazed at how everyone was very orderly, very courteous of each other's real and psychological space. I saw a beautiful young woman, dressed in what looked like a black Chanel evening dress. She was covered in gray soot. Her eyes were blank. She must have walked all the way from the WTC area up here. She kept walking.

My mind keeps trying to tally things. To try and convert the horror into information. Because information is dealable. It's not working yet, but in time it will. Unless there's another attack. I'm afraid of that. I think we all are. And glad that we weren't at ground zero when everything changed, that our loved ones made it--if they did. And feeling rotten for feeling glad to be alive.

This morning, I dropped by a bodega. The young Arabic guy I buy my paper from looked like all of us. The headline was "IT'S WAR."

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