My entire body is pressed against the wall of the bank. The morning sun has disappeared and the sky is pitch black. The air is gone. The man who grabbed me and threw me against the wall, an emergency medical worker whose name I never learned, shouted at me through the darkness to take off a rubber glove and place it over my mouth. I never felt panicked but I remember thinking that I was going to die and my husband would never know what happened to me.
This is the flashback I had the instant I heard Osama bin Laden had been killed. On 9/11 I left my building, located half a block from the World Trade Center, to help with the rescue effort. I felt the floor shake when the first plane went into the North Tower. Watching from my window 17 minutes later, I saw the second plane hit the South Tower as if it had been guided there by some unseen hand.
What made me go out onto the street was the people jumping from the upper floors of the towers. They looked like tiny, lifelike dolls sailing through the air, ties and dresses lifting above their heads, shoes flying off their feet. I remember having the clear yet obviously irrational thought that they would need help once they hit the ground. This is why I was standing next to a group of emergency workers on the corner of Broadway and Cortland with rubber gloves on my hands when the first tower fell, causing the sun and air to vanish in an instant.
For the past decade, I've often struggled with what happened that day. Maybe I even have a little survivor's guilt. What if I'd made different choices, such as running towards the towers as they collapsed, the way many other people did in the confusion? On any given day I might have been on one of the top floors of one of the towers attending a meeting, or perhaps cutting through the plaza on my way to my office which was in the building located just across the parking lot with the tiny church at the center. If I'd done any of these things, perhaps I wouldn't be sitting here listening to the news of bin Laden's comeuppance.
My palms still sweat whenever I see a plane flying over Manhattan. I have recurring nightmares of walking through ankle-deep ash and stepping over disembodied limbs to find my husband. Even now, I keep an emergency bag at the foot of my desk.
I'm not the only one with issues either. I've spoken to many people who were there that day who still hesitate before they step on a subway for fear of being caught in another terrorist attack. Some of them avoid Times Square and other crowded places because they feel too much like a target. I know one runner who hasn't used the bike path on the West Side because she can't bear to look at the skyline without the towers. I can relate.
And yet, after my flashback passes, I take a deep breath and remind myself how lucky I am to be alive. I am grateful for my wonderful husband and my beautiful daughter who was born five years after 9/11. All the evil and hatred bin Laden perpetrated hasn't stopped me or anyone I know from carrying on with life. I look out my window and listen to the hum and rattle of downtown Manhattan's reconstruction and I feel a sense of pride at how we New Yorkers have moved on despite everything.
Today I'm also thinking about my friends and colleagues who didn't make it out of the towers. I don't know if bin Laden's death brings closure for any American, but we can take our moment of quiet jubilation and know that there is some sense of justice at last. So long as Trump doesn't spoil it by asking for a long form death certificate, it's a good day.