9/11 & The Scars of Being a New Yorker

What once existed did not have just one angle to be seen from

It’s that day again. There will be moments of silence. Moments for prayer. People will share stories. s Tears will fall heavily. Graves will be visited. Blessings will be sent to those who passed, both on that day and due to the effects on their body from that day. TV personalities and news reporters will push political agendas while blogs and newspapers put up imagery to remind you of what was once there but no longer is. This is what 9/11 has looked like every year for the past 17 years.

Every morning on 9/11, I wake up in a bad mood that I cannot explain and go through the rest of the day with an indescribable combination of anxiety, angst, frustration, rage, and fear. My story about 9/11 is long and complicated. It’s not something I want to keep repeating after all these years of searching my emotions, but I can simply say this: it scarred me. No, I was not down by the towers. I was fortunate enough for that. But I was in Manhattan on that day and what many people don’t know as well as what the media has always failed to report was, this city was broken in more than one way on that day. So the irony that on this Tuesday, September 11, there is actually something I would like people to understand about what this day felt like 17 short years ago.

New York is synonymous with the word crisis. Be it crime waves, financial meltdowns, crippling weather, inept government, corruption of the highest order, gentrification, etc; there isn’t something this world can face that this city hasn’t already been through and mastered somehow. 9/11 was different though. The World Trade Center Bombing may have been the most recent form of terrorism that the city could remember on the scale of how many people got hurt at one time but the events of this particular day eclipsed such that bombing on an unheard of scale.

Now everyone knows the story. Everyone knows what happened with the planes, the towers, the people on the ground, people who jumped from buildings as they burned to death down to the people who have passed away from multiple forms of cancer due to toxins in the air from the rubble. None of this can nor should they ever be disputed. Yet what folks don’t understand is the pandemonium the rest of the city endured. Many New Yorkers who may not have been close to the towers at the time but were still able to see them collapse had no idea what was going on nor how to communicate with others for lines of safety. This left the city in a standstill for hours and that means the streets were in full panic mode.

What I saw on that morning as I was kicked out of school was hundreds of people fearing for their lives. I saw people under the distinct impression that the entire island was under attack and more than likely traveling anywhere, especially near landmarks and monuments, meant certain death. Yes people walked the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges for instance, but there were just as many people worried those bridges would be the next targets.

There was fighting. There was screaming. There was people running aimlessly in a complete blind state of fear and getting hit by cars as they ran into the street. There were police with their hands on their guns as people kept trying to get passed them to run into the subways. I was only 17 at the time, but that was the first moment in my life where I got to imagine what the implication of war looked like and what it may have been like to live in cities across the planet where bombings and civil unrest were common. New York never had that feeling prior to that moment. Our attacks usually came from within. It’s clear nobody ever assumed an outside attack could truly come to fruition beyond Cold War-era paranoia.

It has always shocked me that the news media in this city never have investigated the effects on New Yorkers from that day; not from the perspective of being by the towers, but what changed for people who lived or were on the island the day of and had no clue what to do. Without clear lines of communication and a lack of leadership at the moment, many of us were in the dark. I believe many people ended up with some form of anxiety, even to the heights of PTSD. I know I am not the only person who still has mixed emotions.

I watched a man yank an old woman out the back of a crowded bus and knocked her into the street so he could take her place. I saw people in the fetal position on street corners because that was their only natural reaction. There were chances to witness people deciding to take their lives into their own hands because they were not ready to be victims of a terrorist attack. These events happened. These feelings occurred. These stories should have never been erased but sadly, they never even got told.

Being a New Yorker comes with a ton of stereotypes and misconceptions. Yet a title we have thoroughly earned is that of survivors. We have pulled through so many situations and I doubt that legacy will change any time soon. However I do ask that if you know any, ask them how they feel today. Listen to their stories, whether they make sense or not. Because a lot of us are still not alright after all this time, and there may be a chance that won’t change. Scars last forever after all.



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Joel Philip

Joel Philip

A wonderful fusion of Brooklyn, whiskey, the Caribbean, and snark all wrapped into one person who may or may not be a wee bit touched. You decide. @risingdemise