I was in the area the day before the Towers fell. I was picking up comics at a local shop, Chameleon comics, which was a few blocks away from the E stop. My original store in Flushing closed down suddenly a few months ago and I thought it was a sign that I should stop and, you know, get a life.
But next thing I know, its sister store in Manhattan called saying they would still keep my account active if I wanted. They even said they were still pulling comics from my list of titles and had collected all the comics I missed. So I continued collecting but only for a short while from that comic store.
Regardless, I was okay with the situation despite the commute. In fact it might have been made more attractive because of it, an excuse to go to the city, specifically lower Manhattan, an area I rarely had a reason to go to but always wanted to get to know. I explored the area once before Sept. 10 and found myself near the water on the North Cove Marina.
Boats lined up along the water and seats open to the public. I thought I would sit, coffee in one hand and a notebook on another, just watching the sun reflecting on the waves. There was a Borders Bookstore nearby where I window shopped once. I was pretty sure I’d end up buying a book there one Wednesday after a comic-book pilgrimage, and would sit reading it near the water in the fresh air.
But I never got to do that, to go to that Borders and buy some book to take with me to sit down and look out to the Hudson River. The Borders was in the WTC 5 building.
Instead, the next day, my high-school principal, Mr. Pernick comes into my leadership class and tells us news of what happened. He was just recently assigned to the school. Wearing a necktie, looking ready for work as usual and watching us through his glasses, he had to tell a classroom full of students he was just getting to know that a landmark filled with innocent people had just been destroyed. I did not envy him.
We didn’t see footage then and one of my classmates, Tommy, said to the class he couldn’t even imagine it. The only thing that he could think of is that scene from Armageddon. We’d talk later after class and become best friends all through high school. It’s strange to have the beginning of a friendship marked by a terrorist plot, but life is strange.
Probably all of us saw the footage later replayed over and over. The first time was shocking. The third and fourth time was surreal.
How do you imagine that at 14? You were just there the day before. All those people, busily crowding the escalator with you as you rose up from the subway. They’re on a rush to fulfill their own mission for that day, each with a separate story they’re living out.
Someone like you was on the same escalator on that day, surrounded by just as many people, possibly even some of the same people- all of them are gone. The streets, the buildings, that entire scene you saw the day before, everything destroyed, empty and covered with dust.
How do you even grasp that at 14? You don’t. You can’t. At 26, you still can’t.
Instead you live your life, feel sorry for those impacted far more gravely, admire those who did their duty that day, and know life goes on even when it doesn’t always make sense.
I picked up Spider-Man issue #36, the 9/11 remembrance issue, sometime later from a comic-book store in Queens. The title and number was the only thing visible over the mournful black cover. Spider-Man looks downs the falling Towers in horror “Some things are beyond words/ Beyond comprehension/ Beyond forgiveness” and surveys the area for survivors with other iconic characters. The amazing part of this comic might be how much the firefighters, EMT, and police officers, outshine the superhero characters, who serves more as background to a vision of the sad but holy ground.
“Ordinary men. Ordinary women. Made extraordinary by acts of compassion. And courage. And terrible sacrifice.”
In one part of the comic there was a boy waiting for his father. Spider-Man held him back as he screams out, seeing his dad’s body being pulled away. It might have been the first time I cried over a comic-book. And it only took two pages.