Pools of tears

Our walk took us to Brooklyn, or close anyway, when I stopped and turned to Cristi.

“Should we continue into Brooklyn, which I love but could be somewhat empty at this time of night in this area, OR, do we turn back now, cross back over the bridge and head into the city to see Ground Zero?” I asked. Cristi was game for anything. So to be sure we’d both see something new, we turned back and retraced our steps across the Brooklyn Bridge. We stopped for a few photos (again) and set our sights on the tallest building straight ahead: One World Trade Center.

I have to say, on this trip (and probably many others), I wasn’t much of a city girl when it came to crossing busy intersections, so as I dilly-dallied at the curb, the “No-Walk” sign blinking, Cristi constantly teased that we “could’ve made it.” She was right, of course, but either I was taking photos with my big-girl camera or fussing with the Hipstamatic app that was always acting up on my phone. Getting anywhere takes a while when I’m traveling. I take my time and often stop … even to take photos of manhole covers. Seriously.

As we got closer to the site, and the steps ticked upwards of 17,000 for the day on my iPhone “Health” app, we lingered a moment. This time, because we both wanted to … this time, because of a cemetery. An absolutely perfect, spooky, dark cemetery located adjacent to Ground Zero at St. Paul’s Chapel, another spot that became very important after September 11, 2001, when volunteers gathered here for relaxation, food and rest. I stood and reached through the iron gate, snapping photos with my phone of tombstones so old they had lost all their detail. Worn by decades of weather and time. This church opened in 1766. It’s hard to even believe, really, surrounded (sadly) by glossy storefronts such as Staples and AT&T. But this? This was old. It was rough. We loved it.

But then, out of nowhere, it hit me.

“I don’t know if I can do this.”

I hadn’t even for a second considered that I may not be ready to go see the site. It’s not as if I had any involvement in that day, other than to wake and begin the day taking care of a 9-month-old baby. I remember standing at the television, bawling my eyes out as I watched the towers collapse and people covered in soot running, stunned, from the scene. That’s as close as I had ever been to this spot. I never made any plans to come here. I was intrigued by it, of course. I said I’d like to see it and to pay my respects. But now, within a few moments of the site, I was stricken. I had a hard time taking a deep breath.

I wasn’t ready.

“We don’t have to do this,” Cristi said, her sweet, loving motherly side always right there when needed.

But I had to. I would regret not seeing it if I didn’t move my feet just a few more steps. The sky was dark. By now it was nighttime. We were drawn to the tall, bright building like moths to a flame.

We followed Broadway past the churchyard, headed down Fulton, turned onto Church Street behind the cemetery and ducked down Vesey Street, this section, at least for the moment, only a pedestrian walkway. The area is still surrounded by fencing and gates … a working construction site. Even at that late hour, welders shot colorful sparks of fire into the air as they worked on the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub. It’s a piece of art in the making.

We kept moving. One foot in front of the other. Past guards. Past many guards. And more guards. An entryway to PATH and a federal office. Both looked new. Both probably are. Knowing what this area looked like 13 years ago explains why everything feels clean and new now. Because it is. It has to be. Everything “old” is gone.

More steps. We were wondering if this was even the right place. We made it to West Street, and it seemed we were missing something. Or everything. We didn’t see anything resembling a memorial, only the sparkling new One WTC building, also known as Freedom Tower. That is, until we turned the corner to see the green of trees and grass. A yellow plastic chain fence surrounding what is now the memorial park.

Neither of us had done our research, so we went blindly into this. A sign warned that the area would close in about 40 minutes.

We had arrived.

***

We aren’t saying a word as we walk into the area.

This is it. Straight ahead of us, right in front of the new building is a large, square, black pool filled with water. It’s the footprint of the North Tower. The original WTC 1.

The memorial is called “Reflecting Absence.” It and its twin partner (the footprint from the South Tower, WTC 2) are in place to honor the victims of the September 11 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Beautiful, young green trees surround the pools. The names of 2,982 victims are cut into the bronze pool ledges, lit from beneath, water falling down the walls.

A few flowers are balanced into the carved-out names, left by wives. Husbands. Children. Parents. Friends. Colleagues.

And those like us who are here to remember and honor.

And this is what does us in.

Cristi walks away. I walk the other way, fiddling with my camera.

The tears are flowing now, hidden by the dark of night.

We are two of the only people left at the pools as closing time descends quickly upon the site. I slowly walk along the walls, dragging my fingers as I do along the names of the men, women and children who died. I look up at the new WTC 1, its glass walls acting as mirrors, reflecting the light of the pools onto its exterior.

I’m actually thankful of all the new life here. The new trees. The new grass. The new buildings. The ongoing change and growth. I’m glad to have seen the Twin Towers in the 90s, reaching up to the sky. I’m thankful to not have had to have seen them as they ended that horrific day.

It’s almost closing time.

I take a deep breath and turn.

And that’s when I see it.

Inside the glass front of the 9-11 Memorial Museum, right there next to me, is a towering steel beam.

A remnant of what was once here. Before hell rained down.

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