There’s no one else on the street.
I try twice to look back at the tower that still stands, but the cloud is too thick. We run. In our stupid Birks. Down to where the street dead-ends. South. Other people running. Now more in earnest. I wonder why. As I pass a cop (he’s wearing a face mask), he yells: The second tower just collapsed, get the hell out of here!
It occurs to me that if I had opened the outside door at the bottom of the stairwell two minutes later, we probably wouldn’t have survived.
We keep running until we get to the water. Smoking fragments of glass and metal rain down on our heads. E and I hold hands while we run. I pull her across the street and we use the FDR as cover, running beneath it so debris doesn’t land in our hair. I sneak two looks back. The smoke, the faces, the bloody people running and screaming.
Breathing feels like chewing and swallowing. We don’t stop running until we get well beyond the Brooklyn Bridge, and the breeze off the water has cleared out the air. I’m wondering about our building. Did the windows hold? Are the others trapped in the basement?
We wander until we hit Houston Street, take a left. Sirens and ambulances and screaming cops.
After we discover that our friend on Mulberry Street isn’t home, a stranger lets us into her apartment. E has to use the bathroom. I do too. Wash the soot out of my eyes.
Call my mom, who starts crying, which starts me crying. E calls her folks. We don’t know where to go. So, reflexively almost, we go to Buffa’s for eggs and bacon. Sweet old waitress is very nice and concerned. Radio on, real loud. President saying: We will hunt them down and punish them. Palestinian teenagers on TV, laughing and waving flags.
Stop at grocery store to get tampons and toothbrushes. The line wraps all the way around the store. I also buy this notebook.
298 Mulberry Street, NY, NY
We spend the night on our friend’s living-room floor. I dream in the morning of the falling businessman with the flailing arms. He swims through the air toward me. When he’s right in front of me he says: I’m dead.
Over and over, this happens.
We go to the one open clothes store in the area. We walk in and, almost immediately, the Middle Eastern owners come through, announcing: We’re closed, we’re closed. I am holding a pair of Converse sneakers (navy), some socks, and a pair of boxers (that end up being the biggest Medium I’ve ever seen). I still intend to pick up some shorts, T-shirts, etc. I almost start crying, tell him that all I have is the clothes I’m wearing. He looks horror-stricken. “Of course,” he says. “You take your time.” We go across the street to Chase Manhattan Bank and I take out $300. I give half to Erica, who has no wallet. Walking out of the bank, I realize I’ve left my notebook on the counter in the clothes store. I take off running. When the only thing you have in the world is a red spiral with 12 pages of journal entry and a pair of Cons, those things take on an extraordinary significance. The store owners let me in to retrieve my red notebook. Back outside, I drop it into the shopping bag and notice, for the first time, the name of the store: Ground Zero.