This was the view from my kitchen window this past September 11.
Here is a letter I sent to friends on September 11, 2001. I was in Europe for the first time by myself. I was in Paris. I had been there for two days after arriving from four days in London. I was due to leave on September 13; the earliest flight I could get back to the United States was several days later.
I’ve spoken with a lot of you in the past couple of days. I have exchanged email with others and been remiss in contacting some other folks. I’m writing this message for a couple of reasons. First, I would like to let everyone know what’s going on with me. Second, I would like to hear back from folks to see how they are holding up. Finally, this letter is self-indulgent; I am very upset and want the theraputic benefits of writing about what has happened.
Please feel free not to read this letter. The past couple of days have been quite traumatic, and while this letter is not graphic, it may stir up unpleasant memories.
I’m sending this letter to many people I know. I’m not disclosing the recipients as I’m not sure if folks like to have their email addresses made public. Please feel free to pass along this note, but it really isn’t for publication or mass distribution. Finally, please excuse any spelling errors. The emael program I am using has a flakey speeeling chk faeture.
I’m sitting in the Time International offices in Paris, around 10 minutes from the center of town midway between La Defence and L’Arc de Triomphe. They have graciously allowed me to use the phone and computer here. In fact, they even bought me some cheese and fruit for lunch.
I flew to London on Wednesday, September 5 and took the train to Paris on Wednesday, September 9. I was scheduled to leave Paris yesterday (Thursday, Sept. 13), but that flight was cancelled. I am now scheduled to arrive in Boston on Monday, but I am not optomistic about that flight actually departing.
I was just getting settled into Paris on Tuesday. My command of French was returing from High School, I had successfully ordered meals, and I had been able to visit many impressive sites. I stopped by a Cyber Cafe around the corner of my hotel to check my email at around 4 PM local time (~10 AM EST). I read an email message from my friend Andrew Stellman sent around 10 minutes earlier.
Andrew had sent it from his mother’s Columbia account. He wrote that two planes had crashed into the WTC and that he was at home and okay.
Andrew’s message did not sink in at first. I thought it was some sort of bizarre accident or that the planes were small Cessnas. It was certainly a disaster, but not one of unspeakable magnitude. I quickly went to get further news. CNN MSNBC AP AFP Reuters. All of the sites were busy. MSN France had a brief statement and the New York Times had a short story before its web site also became unavailable.
I tried to send out email messages to folks who did not know I was going to Paris. I believe at this point I will have notified everyone; I’m sorry if I didn’t let you know sooner.
I quickly ran down the block to a nearby bar where we switched from the channel SkyNews to CNN. The story unfolded quickly. From when I read Andrew’s note to when I got to the bar, both towers had collapsed. I also saw the footage for the first time and realized that there was no way this was an accident.
People who know me know that I am not a heavy drinker. Yet in quick succession, I had a beer, two vodka tonics, and another beer. Honestly, it didn’t help dull the shock or the pain.
Before going to bed, I managed to contact a few people. The phone lines really only started to work around 11:30 PM local time. It is incredibly frustrating not being able to contact people when you need to.
The tragedy did not hit me the next day. I forced myself to get out of the house and went to the Louvre. I bought all of the newspapers I could get. When reading them, I was nauseous. Several times I began to break down. All of the photos were beyond horrific. I cannot think about some of them without starting to cry. Similarly, the news was aweful. When I read about the number of firefighters who probably perished, I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. Today I found out several companies from Park Slope were among those first on the scene.
However, as I said, I don’t feel as if the tragedy had hit me. I walked around all day. In the early evening, before getting dinner, I went to the U.S. Embassy and left flowers. I stayed up late watching CNN and writing letters and went to bed around 3 AM local time.
I left for the Airport yesterday morning. When I got there, I immediately found out that all of the flights had been cancelled. I feel trapped and upset. Even though I can’t help, I want to go home and be with my friends and family.
I’ve spoken to quite a few Americans. Everyone is upset and in shock. I’ve found that the closer someone lived to NYC, the more upset they are. I spoke with some backpackers the other day from Long Island. They were very upset; one of their friend’s father is a fireman. I have not spoken to anyone here who lives in New York City.
It is very difficult to describe how I feel. I feel like crying at almost every opportunity. I feel nauseous, and I want to lash out at everything that causes me the least bit of anger. I keep wanting more information, but I find that the news just gets me more upset. I’m not hungry, and at points during the day, I feel like I am walking around on automatic. [ I am going to stop reading and watching the news for now. ]
I’m not really sure when I am getting home or even back to the United States, but I hope it’s soon. Part of me doesn’t want to believe what has happened; I want to see the skyline for myself. This is the skyline I have seen almost every day for the past six years; this is the skyline I see every time I take the F-train to Manhatten.
I know I should be glad I was safe when this happened. But I am still homesick. I am sure I will eventually get back home, but I can’t wait to be there.
My thoughts are with all of you at home. I hope you and everyone you know are safe and well. If you get a chance, write me a note. If you don’t have a chance, that’s okay, too. These are trying times, and I hope and believe we will survive.
Warmest regards and
[Update to indicate that I wrote the letter in 2001, not 2005! Dumb mistake.]