After 9/11…One Woman’s Story

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By: Helaina Hovitz

The World Trade Center is one of many things I wish I’d known to remember more clearly before it was taken away.

As a child living near the South Street Seaport, I looked forward to the walk

through the plaza to get to Hudson River Park, with its sandboxes and swings and the cement elephant sprinkler whose thin stream was always shockingly cold. The WTC was where we went for Krispy Kreme doughnuts, my mom’s favorite, or to read stories in the book nook of Borders bookstore. The lobby had endless windows, a Sam Goody—they sold CDs, which, at one time, were used to play music—and my favorite clothing store, the Children’s Place.

Nearby was the World Financial Center, which hosted all sorts of fun events with hayrides, characters in costume and musical shows. The ceiling was made of glass and from it hung strings of shimmery lights, which cascaded downwards like vines, tickling the rows of palm trees that reached up towards the sky from below.

What I remember most clearly is the fountain and, of course, the gold sphere.  I always tried to get away with touching it, as the water trickled down the side. The sun would hit it in just the right place and make it look magical, a glistening ball of light that I just had to get near.

The way I remember that sphere most clearly now, though, is on the back of a truck, demolished, being carted down the West Side Highway as we watched from our classroom window.

Completely destroyed.

We watched people come to the site weeks after 9/11 and pose for pictures as though they were happily standing at the gates of Disney World, we remained strong in the face of threats to other parts of our neighborhood — the Stock Exchange, the Brooklyn Bridge, the subway system, City Hall — and we watched hatred cast a shadow once again over the ninth anniversary of the attacks as the issue of the “Ground Zero Mosque” became national news.

For fifteen years, we as people of the downtown community have had a story to tell, and, for the most part, it has only been told in fragmented bits and pieces, if at all.

Today, we’re lucky to be living in a completely revitalized neighborhood, and those of us who were here before the attacks and stayed in the community through today have seen all of the new developments unfold and waited patiently while questioning the delays, even having a direct part in its growth. But we know in a way that nobody else can know what it was like before, during and after September 11, 2001. For months, it seemed that the smell and the smog would never go away, that we would always need an I.D. just to get near our own homes, or what was left of them.

And as we get ready to commemorate the day for the 15th time, a day that doesn’t quite seem to be an anniversary — we call it that because there isn’t a better word for it — we must take comfort and pride in how resilient we have all been. We did not move away. We did not give up. We rebuilt, together.

If there is any good at all to be had from our experience, let it be hope. Hope that this generation will somehow manage to overcome the hate and ignorance that hurts so many, hope that yes, it is possible to move on and face life when it feels to scary to do so, hope that we can make a more tolerant world, and our children will be the people to do it. We must continue to tell our stories, as survivors, as New Yorkers, as adults with a responsibility, to make sure that the world never forgets.

Helaina Hovitz is an editor, journalist, co-founder and author still living in Lower Manhattan. After 9/11 is her first book.