New York City & the Towers This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

     On September 11, 2001 I was changed forever, although I didn't know it at the time. On that day, all I could think about was the audacity and incredible planning that must have gone into the calamity.

In the following days, the human tragedy came to light, but no one, least of all me, could grasp its full effect until months later. Only then would I realize that not only was a part of New York gone, but a part of me was, too.

My journey through September 11 began in late July. It is a family tradition to travel to New York, and for good reason. They're not lying when they call New York the greatest city in the world. Anything and everything you can imagine is there, from museums and historic sites to some of the best sports teams in the country.

As always, we took a train from Washington, D.C. to Penn Station in the heart of the City. We were all excited as our train entered New Jersey, wondering what experiences awaited us. We looked out the windows, knowing what we'd see. To the northeast, past the ocean, was a large black area, almost a dark fog - New York.

The train continued its northbound course and we continued looking out at the black fog. An even darker form began to emerge. It grew more vivid with each moment, and gradually separated into two dark forms, both immense. This is it, I thought. In the next second I saw a red light floating above one. A moment later, like a man walking out of darkness into light, the twin towers of the World Trade Center came into view in all their glory. They were all we could see or think about. As time passed, the rest of the skyline came into view, but it was the towers that kept our attention. They kept watch over the city like two immense titans.

The towers stayed in view until we entered the tunnel. As always, when we finally exited the station, I was faced with a bit of a culture shock. It was like going from idle to full speed, emerging from a peaceful train to hear car horns, yelling, engines running, and the other sounds of the city. No more relaxation. Everyone's in a hurry, and this mood immediately transfers to you. Our paces quickened, our demeanor changed. All the way to the hotel I peered out the taxi's windows, looking up at the tall buildings of the city I loved.

The rest of our trip was rather normal - we visited museums, went to shows, and just walked around. A sharp contrast from the small town we live in, and I loved it! None of us could get enough. We grabbed any opportunity just to go out and take in the atmosphere.

There was one slight deviation from our plan, however. On our last day, we decided to go to lower Manhattan to visit the Stock Exchange. After the first three years, we had stopped going to that part of town, since it was out of the way.

We had never been to the Stock Exchange, though, and as expected, it was great to see the spot that literally controls the country and is featured on the news every evening. When we realized we had a few more hours before our train left for Washington, we wondered what to do. Then we looked up. Ah, yes, the World Trade Center! We could see its north tower peeking high above the surrounding buildings. It was only ten blocks away, so we decided to visit again.

I don't remember much about the walk there, only that it felt like forever and that I kept looking up, up at the building that seemed to soar above the clouds. Finally, we arrived and headed into the rear entrance, but not before I paused and looked up as high as I could. I still couldn't see the top. I became disoriented and began to fall backward, but this was my intention. It was a game I had played every time we returned to the Center, which I suppose is a testament to the towers' sheer, unbelievable height. After I had enjoyed my fun, we made our way inside through the turnstiles.

We immediately realized that something was wrong. This wasn't the lobby we remembered. I began to wonder if they had remodeled it, but after a minute we realized we were in the wrong tower. Of course,! we were in the north tower, but needed to be in the south tower. If nothing else, now we could say we had been in both.

We made our way across the enclosed bridge to the south tower. Now we were back in familiar territory, and knew the drill. We grabbed tickets and ran to the lines for the elevators. After the usual search through the metal detectors and frisking by the security guards, we entered the elevator, quite possibly the best part of the visit. At an amazing speed, we rocketed up 110 stories in seconds. I felt quite puny.

Nothing can describe what it was like to be on that viewing deck. Filled with a crowd, the area was bustling with excited visitors. We nabbed a good window and peered down at the city. Amazing. That's all you could think. It was as though you were God peering down at your creation. Miles of land could be seen, not to mention the best view of New York City ever. Cars seemed as small as pennies on the floor - smaller, in fact. It was so high, you couldn't see people no matter how hard you tried. Simply put, it was one of the highlights of my life, seeing this view that seemed reserved only for the divine.

While looking through the window, I failed to notice my father and brother disappear. I looked everywhere - through the restaurants, the viewing area, the trinket shops. As a last resort, I made my way up to the very top. No luck. I managed to stay there for a while, through the wind and the intermittent raindrops, looking past the edge of the roof and into the city. Again, I was dumbfounded. I noticed they had finally put up a fence. Who would have ever imagined?

I decided to head back to the observation deck and eventually found my family. We then returned to the basement to the subway station that took us directly to Penn Station.

On the train home, we talked about our trip as we looked back at the city, and the towers. Good-bye, I thought. See you next year.

Then came the attacks of September 11. I was thrust from a normal day into a living hell of shock and terror. It was all over the television, that horrible view of the dying towers erupting in a string of fire and black smoke. The replays of the hijacked airplanes slamming into them were even worse. It was unimaginable. The huge explosions and the fireballs that followed, all happening in the buildings I had been in less than two months before. I was in a state of disbelief and wonder. Who? What? How? Why would anyone do such a thing? Even in the early stages, I wondered how many people had, you know, died. And then all of a sudden, they were gone! Gone! The towers had vanished! How was that possible?

The days turned to weeks, and the weeks into months. I even began to grow tired of the constant talk. What's done is done, I thought. I felt separate from it. It was as if it was a disease, and I was immune from its effects.

Then came my awakening. It was the summer of 2002 and we had planned to return to New York - we had to. I had colleges to visit, but we all knew the real force - our longing to see it for ourselves. Had it really happened? I was ready to return to New York and see the twin towers standing strong, seeming to grin and say, "We were kidding! We're still here!" This was clearly impossible, but we still had that hope. Maybe, just maybe, it had all been a dream.

We drove to New York full of the same expectations as in previous years. The buildings were all there, it seemed, but then we looked toward lower Manhattan. I shuddered. There was nothing, nothing at all. The titans had fallen. There was nothing but blue sky, a large space filled with nothing. We were all silent. I began to get choked up. It was all too sad, too dark.

We visited Ground Zero on our last day. It was curious how less than a year before at the same place I had been filled with hope and amazement, and now I was filled with sadness, anger and regret. We left almost as soon as we arrived. It was too sad.

Years before I had formed a connection with the place, now hallowed ground. Sure, I don't live there, and I don't pretend to have any idea what it was like to be there that fateful day. I have no real connection to the people who perished, to the people who survived, or to the heroes who worked for so many months.

My connection is with the place itself. They were my towers. They were my favorite place in New York. When they fell, it was as though someone had taken my special place. I'd felt the towers would always be there, happy to see me year after year. I would almost call it a friendship, if you can have such a thing with a place. That friendship was cut short, but the connection is still there, and flourishing. Now I feel even more connected to that place.

Maybe this parallels the spirit of those involved in the actual tragedy. Despite losing a friend or loved one, they grew even stronger. But still, the friend is gone, which may explain why I still weep when thinking of the memories I once shared with these fallen companions.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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