Tuesday, September 11, 2001 started out like any other clear, crisp, late summer morning. That is until 0846 when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center and began a chain of events that would become the longest day for many of us.

When I was asked by Grifter to write an article for 9/11, I said “sure, no problem,” but I really didn’t know how to approach it. At first I thought about doing a timeline of events, but you can watch the History Channel for that. Instead, I picked things that have stuck in my mind over the years. I decided to write this as a reminder. As a country, we can never forget the horrific events of that day. To most, it is a day which has been long since forgotten.  To the newest generation, it is something they read or been taught, but don’t remember happening. As I started writing, the angrier I became. These motherfuckers came to my city and killed my friends. Then, I was  overcome by a stifling and overwhelming sadness . I had to walk away from my laptop a few times while writing this to wipe my eyes and steady my hands. Even though it has been 14 years, to me, it still feels like it happened yesterday . The friends I lost that day are still with me and every year I am reminded of how they died.

I was born and raised in New York. The World Trade Center was a place  I visited as a kid and I remember marveling at the sheer and massive beauty of the Twin Towers. My grandfather would tell me how he remembered them being built and when they fell he had seen the lifespan, in its entirety, of two of the most iconic buildings in the world. For me, they were more than just another set of skyscrapers. I have fond childhood memories being there. The North and South Towers were the skyline of lower Manhattan and part of my everyday life.

Absolute panic and confusion is the best way to describe the scene that day. Within minutes of the first tower being struck, the the coordination of a city-wide crisis response was initiated from the Office of Emergency Management. Unfortunately, this office was located in building 7 of the World Trade Center and it too would collapse later that day. The burning debris from the collapsed North and South towers ignited fires in surrounding buildings four, five, six and seven. Cell phone networks were intermittent at best and the radio network for police and fire response was overloaded. There was bleed over from other channels and massive confusion when it came to the locations of responders. Emergency call centers received over 230 million calls that day. Firefighters and Police Officers were missing because while those towers were burning and everyone was evacuating, they were running in of their own volition. 343 FDNY firefighters, 60 Police Officers and 8 Paramedics died when the Twin Towers fell. Those brave and courageous souls will always be the Pride of New York City.

The Falling Bodies

The most haunting event of that day for me were the falling bodies. “What the hell is falling so fast?” “Holy fuck! It’s a body!” Responders looked up with mouths agape in disbelief. At first, it was thought that they were blown out of the building by some explosion. Then came the horrifying realization that these people were jumping to their death because it was the best option. Think about this: You are in a cramped office on the 80th floor of two of the tallest buildings in the world. There is fire so hot and smoke so thick all around you that there are equal chances of burning alive or suffocating. The only other option is to jump out of the window and plummet to your death on the street below. This isn’t a “what would you do?” question. This is to illustrate the utter desperation of those poor souls. Those men and women were put in that situation by terrorists whose mission was to kill Americans. Fuck, that makes me angry. They made their final phone calls or texts to their love ones and jumped because that was the only way out. Next came the horrific sound. The swoosh and crash of a body hitting the atrium and street from 80 floors above is beyond indescribable. One after another. Then a pause. Then 3 or 4 more. The cacophony was that of sporadic gunshots, or hammering on a construction site. “Were those more bodies?” “I think so” “FUCK!” I hope those who chose that fate found peace in the next life. Below is a picture of FDNY Chaplain, Father Mychal Judge. He was struck by a falling body and killed instantly.

Darkness Fell

As the sun set on the most tragic day New York had ever seen, New Yorkers began to rally. It’s what we do. We pull together and look to serve something bigger than ourselves. Everyday citizens showed up wanting to volunteer their services. Some gave blood, some brought food, some made coffee, while others volunteered their hands and bodies to start digging out any possible survivors. Bucket lines were formed and debris was starting to move. At this time we didn’t know if there were still people alive under all the rubble. Ground Zero, as it was now being referred to, was massive. The smell was obnoxious.

All the power was out in lower Manhattan, which offered it a surreal and terrifying ambiance. When you walked a few blocks away the silence was eerie. The city that never sleeps was in a coma. There were no taxis or buses moving. The air was thick with a grey fog and there was the scent of burning garbage. The streets were covered in grayish-white powder and office papers, briefcases, clothes, vehicles, and glass were strewn about everywhere. It looked like the end of the world had come and at certain moments, it felt like it.  During those quiet moments, thoughts of the missing started to creep into my mind and the sadness hit me hard. Some of the toughest guys I know were dropped to their knees by the uncertainty of friends and loved ones and as the totality of the days events crashed into their souls.

Never Forget

After 9/11, the rally cry was loud. On September 14th, 2001, President Bush stood on top of the rubble at Ground Zero and said “I can hear you!” he declared. “The rest of the world hears you! And the people – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” The crowd reacted with loud, prolonged chants of “USA! USA!” This cry has died out over the last 14 years and most people have fallen back into their bubble of ignorance. Look what is happening in the world currently. ISIS is on a rampage and sympathizers have orchestrated attacks overseas and in the U.S. I think it is time we remember what these evil individuals did to our country. We must remain vigilant and not think for one moment that it can’t or won’t happen again. This 9/11, don’t just get wrapped up in the shows on the History Channel and some of the sensationalism that happens. Try to remember our way of life before that day and how 19 hijackers changed everything. The World Trade Center, The Pentagon, and Flight 93. Try to remember how four planes put our country at a stand still and showed us just how vulnerable we were.

I’ve visited Ground Zero a few times after 9/11. Every time has been equally difficult. I instantly tear up and get the chills. I can hear the sounds from that day and that obnoxious smell fills my nostrils. All the chaos, terror, and confusion comes back as I stare into the pit at Ground Zero. Then the memories of friends; their laughter, their stories, and even the little annoying things they did, simultaneously brings a smile to my face and cold sadness to my heart. Because for me, it all happened yesterday.

– Rudolfo Lespari