Speed of Life
Issue 5, Volume 108
9/11. I always knew that it was an extremely sensitive topic to discuss. Every year at school, all my teachers would talk about how terrible and traumatizing that day was, how firefighters from the five boroughs were brave enough to go to the World Trade Center, and all of those kinds of comments. I practically have it memorized like a tape recorder. I get it. 9/11 destroyed our nation’s sense of immortality. I almost felt guilty that I didn’t feel as bad as all those people who lived through it. I was merely an infant—I didn’t really live through 9/11. It just felt like the world had always had increased, dramatic security and Islamophobia—all caused by a day in infamy that happened years ago. Isn’t it a little too much? 9/11 wasn’t really a day of infamy for me. But the Halloween of 2017? That was real. That was my day of infamy.
I was so excited to see my friends that day. I was 16 years old, full of life, only expecting to see the best of New York City. I was ready to make fun of my friends’ “hard-worked” costumes. That afternoon, I walked across Tribeca Bridge, which was normal as ever. I didn’t see any unusual activity. But as I descended the steps of Tribeca Bridge, a row of curious young faces started approaching my direction. All eyes were on me... or so I thought. As curiosity turned to concern, I finally looked at what was behind me—what everyone was actually looking at: a car accident. I couldn’t really pinpoint what my eyes were seeing. The white pickup truck looked like a black hole. A huge cloud of smoke rose from the vehicle. I tried analyzing what had actually happened. Instead, a few burning ash particles went inside my eye. Everyone was still looking at the incident.
I started moving away from the scene, thinking it was insignificant. I was mid-conversation with my friend when I suddenly heard somebody shout, “He’s got a gun!!” My ears couldn’t believe what they were hearing. He’s got a what? All the memories of 9/11, of Sandy Hook, and of Paris started racing through my mind like crazy. Instinct took over me. I started running further away from the scene, with a few other confused teenagers. However, my friend thought otherwise. “Maybe it’s just a couple of freshmen who wanted to pull a prank,” he said. Maybe. But that wasn’t a good reason to risk death. I always wondered what I’d do if I was the main character in a suspenseful movie, and I’d have to run for my life. Well now, this was it. I continued running. My friend ran along with me.
Breathe in, and out, in, and out. I ran past West Broadway and Church Street, intersections at Chambers Street. Four gunshots. Those were bullets, my friend shouted. We started running even faster, jaywalking and petrified with fear. The situation became even more dire. I passed Church Street onto Broadway. I heard some more shouts—was it safe? Please, please don’t tell me I didn’t run fast enough. Turns out, my calculator, its batteries, and a few books had fallen out of my backpack. A young man said, “Ma’am! Your book-bag is opened!” The man picked up all of my fallen belongings and kindly handed them to me. “Take it easy, Ma’am,” he said. I couldn’t run anymore with my hands full of batteries and books, so I walked more slowly. My friend waited for me near City Hall. I asked him to hold my stuff while I called my dad. I panicked as I spoke to him and couldn’t formulate words correctly.
At the City Hall station, I relaxed a little bit more and took out my Metrocard, but I clearly wasn’t relaxed because I had trouble swiping it correctly. My hands were trembling. I didn’t really talk with my friend. The sound of the bullets and shouts were still fresh in my memory.
I got off at 14 Street-Union Square to take the L train. Everyone around me just acted so normal, like everything was okay. Everything was not okay. How could they all just stand there typing on their phones? Suddenly I heard some more sirens from aboveground. People just obliviously glanced up and then looked back down at their phones. No one on this platform had the knowledge that I had. My eyes started swelling with tears, which then started streaming from my eyes. I was scared to death, and nobody knew about it.
I greeted my family with hugs and sobs. I told them about what happened to me, and they asked me how I felt. How I felt? I didn’t really feel a feeling. I felt like I was in some parallel universe, or a movie scene—the director was going to say, “Cut!” at any moment. But the director never appeared. This scene was too surreal.
The city isn’t as great as it seems, my parents said to me. But they were wrong. I love New York City. I love New York City more than I love anything else in my life: my school, my friends, and even my own family. But I have seen the best and worst of my favorite city. I once said to a friend, I’ve never had a bad experience. Yet, on that day, I experienced terrorism. And because of that, I will never be the same person. And? Well, that transformed me. I never thought New York City would experience terrorism again, especially after 9/11. I always thought I would be safe in NYC’s bubble and that life was like a box of chocolates—sweet and fulfilling. That day, however, surprised me. I’m sure it surprised the younger children it affected even more. Nobody should ever feel like a situation means life or death. Nobody should feel like their city can’t protect them in times of crisis. I’m even more passionate about stopping terrorism and crime, because if I have learned one thing from this experience—it’s that bad things do happen, but nonetheless, our city will remain strong.