Twenty Years After

By Lori Perkins




I have been dreading this day, not because I lost anyone personally but because of the frenzied bizarre display of public patriotism and mourning that people who were not there will heap upon those of us who were.


I was not downtown when the towers were hit. I was working from home after dropping my son off at the local public school. My client, the rock star Greg Kihn, called because he had a radio show and I was the only New Yorker he knew he could get on the phone. He asked me what I thought of the bombing of the World Trade Center. I thought he was referring to the previous bombing that had taken place in 1993 (in the underground garage – that should have been our warning) and he told me to turn on the TV. I did to watch the second tower come down. I told him I had to go and ran to the local public school to get my nine year-old. I ended up hosting all the moms and kids from my son’s grade in my home. The kids were thankfully in his room – moms were glued to the TV watching the towers fall over and over and over and over, wondering if this was the beginning of WWIII, trying to be brave for our children, dying inside. My ex-husband, who worked for a major news service, somehow got uptown (he may have walked) to check on us and was so rattled he left his bank card in the machine and I had to lend him money (it’s funny the details you remember).


Somehow we slept through the night, and I took my son to the playground because there was no school the next day. The air 30 miles away from ground zero was thick with stuff. I kept on looking at the sky wondering if another bomber plane was on the way, and decided I couldn’t stand being outside, which was good because that ONE DAY outdoors resulted in my nine year-old being diagnosed with “environmental asthma” for six months.


As New Yorkers we tried to go on, but it was almost impossible. One of my colleagues at a publishing company told me that he kept on seeing repeated images of people jumping out of windows which he had witnessed from his office. He couldn’t go back to work.


And the publishing industry kind of died too. I was unable to sell a book for 20 months as a literary agent, No one was buying anything, because no one was reading anything. We were all profoundly depressed and wondering if what we were doing had any real meaning. Many publishers closed, or collapsed their lists. It was the beginning of the end of the once vibrant NY publishing industry – we went from 27 publishers to about 12 (and now five are left).


New York kind of died too, which you won’t hear about. I went downtown about two weeks after the towers fell to meet with the above-mentioned editor (who left publishing pretty soon after 9/11) and could smell the decay reeking from tiny pieces of flesh that were now embedded in the buildings and roads of lower Manhattan. It was like walking through an invisible field of rotting corpses.


I especially couldn’t read horror or thrillers about the end of New York, and, of course, writers from places like Florida and Canada were just sending their stuff in like nothing had happened to us.


I got dozens of proposals for books about 9/11 as the one-year anniversary approached. It was the last thing I wanted to read. I ignored them the first anniversary, and the fifth anniversary and the 10th anniversary and now the 20th anniversary.


Most New Yorkers haven’t even been to the Ground Zero Memorial, as I imagine most Honolulu-natives don’t go to the Arizona Memorial site. Personally, I know that December 7th is the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but I don’t commemorate it in any way other than to acknowledge it personally. I look forward to the time when we can treat 9/11 the same way.