Raising an Urban Family in the Shadow of 9/11
Kathy Zucker and her husband watched the World Trade Center attacks from Manhattan and Brooklyn. They are raising their children in Hoboken because they feel safer here.
On September 11, 2001, my husband and I were a childless married couple living on the twentieth floor of a landmark building in Brooklyn Heights, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. I got a phone call from my husband moments after the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center, back when everyone thought it was a small commuter plane that had a terrible accident.
I was working from home that day, so I turned on the TV in the background. And then the second plane hit the south tower and I knew it had to be a terrorist attack.
I rushed across the hall to my neighbor's apartment and watched in terror while the towers burned and then collapsed like the foundations were made of matchsticks. Within an hour, I evacuated to a friend's home deeper in Brooklyn because we were sure the nearby Brooklyn Bridge was the next target.
In the following days of military rule in Brooklyn Heights, with tanks and troops armed with AK-47s lining the streets while my husband was trapped in Manhattan because there was no public transportation to Brooklyn, we had no cellphone service as I tried to get in touch with family members who knew that I usually took a train to work passing under the World Trade Center. I felt trapped on an island with finite borders. All I could think about was fleeing as far away as possible.
The feeling intensified in the months after 9/11, as the effects of the attacks lingered on and on. Formerly pleasant late-night dog walks turned morbid when the wind shifted, bringing that distinctive and horrible smell of barbecued metal. We had already been planning to move to a larger apartment, but suddenly Hoboken seemed like a safer option. At least I wouldn't be trapped by bridges and tunnels if I needed to flee the New York City area.
Ten years after the attacks, my husband and I are the parents of three- and five-year old children who know nothing of that day. How do you explain mass murder in your backyard to a toddler? You don't. Last year my four-year old daughter noticed the towers of light for the first time during the ninth anniversary of the attacks. We nodded and agreed when she said they were pretty lights.
My husband and I are haunted by reminders of 9/11 whenever we go into Manhattan, but for our children, it is a magical playland where they see ballerinas festooned in Christmas lights perform in public squares. In a few years we will explain that some very bad men hurt a lot of people in tall buildings there, but for now, they can retain their innocence about life.