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Saturday, September 10, 2011

It was just another Tuesday.

It was the beginning of my first semester as a freshman at UC Berkeley.

I had an 8 AM class, so I got up early, got ready, ate breakfast, and walked the four or five blocks to campus.

I did notice it was eerily quiet out but chalked that up to it being early.

I passed a young woman talking on her cell phone, saying something like, “I can’t believe they flew into the buildings!” And I thought, “Wow, that sounds serious.”

My class that morning was in a relatively large lecture hall, and everyone was chattering, though I don’t think it was a full class.

I stayed fairly blissfully ignorant, getting my books and notes out, until my professor, an older Japanese man, came into the hall.

He told us that planes had hit the World Trade Center and that he had been unable to reach anyone in New York City. In fact, he said there weren’t even busy signals on the other end when he called.

I thought I was going to pass out, picturing a large gaping hole where the city that had been the only home I knew used to be.

At that point, my father, stepmother, and two cousins all lived there.

As far as I knew, the city had gone down in an explosion and my family had gone with it.

I quickly exited the classroom and returned to my dorm room, determined to find out what had happened to my family members in New York.

I reached my cousins first, who were living in Brooklyn and could not see across the street for all the ash that was floating from across the water.

I found my dad online. He had decided in the early morning that day not to go do to a meeting downtown.

My aunt in Oakland called me, reminding me that her husband, my dad’s brother, was in New York for a gig with his band. Staying at the WTC Marriott.

She couldn’t reach him, he had left her a message saying that something had happened to the hotel and she’d “probably hear about it on the news.” She told me that she was OK but that if she was too freaked out, she would come and get me to be with her.

I got off the phone and sobbed so hard people could hear me downstairs.

I stayed on the internet with my dad most of the day, checking in, hearing updates about the city, wondering where my uncle was.

Feeling like this place that had been my home for most of my life was a place I didn’t know anymore. Was a place I might never know again.

I missed it.

I felt more like a New Yorker and less like a New Yorker than I had ever felt.

Late in the afternoon, I got a message from my dad that my uncle had just walked in to his apartment.

He had evacuated the hotel and spent the day walking all the way from downtown to West 82nd and Central Park.

I cannot tell my uncle’s story of that, of course, though I have asked him many things and he has told me many things that I find unfathomable.

I called my aunt immediately and was the one who told her her husband was OK.

I lived in New York City again several years later, and I gained an adult perspective of the city, late in its healing phase.

The train creaking past and never stopping at Cortlandt Street station, the barricades around Ground Zero, the phantom lights that went up every year, in tribute.

Of my twenty-eight years, I have spent seventeen of them as a New Yorker.

It is absolutely my hometown, a part of my identity I cannot deny, a part I cherish, even.

I love it and I hate it.

But I do miss it.

And I will never forget how far away and how intensely close I felt to it on September 11, 2001.