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When the South Tower began to fall I was the last convert, I took root on Cedar Street for the second time for people passing me by. Then I ran, just in a hurry, right in the direction. I stood behind a bagel cart in Nassau Street and then a small glass wall at Chase Manhattan Plaza, then a cloud hit me, black and heavy. I found the door open, so far I do not know, and I went through it.
It was just a lot of drawing. Many, many people have died. I saw the dead. I know the downside is everywhere in the fall. People around me died. I thought I was going to die. And I didn’t. There are such rulers and I know my place in it. I lost no one. I have never fought a battle that followed. I did not return home from the war without a member or friend. I simply stumbled to the bottom of Manhattan for two hours.
When I heard the North Tower going by, I tried to throw myself through the glass door to enter another store to be safe. When I woke up, I was embarrassed in the midst of the fear I had. Someone told me to go to the hospital and the advice helped me. I moved oxygen tanks, pushing people on wheelchairs from triage to wards. I helped someone get into an ambulance that had arrived from the Jewish Orthodox Church in Queens. Then there were no more people, and I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and spent the rest of my life.
If you grew up white and American in the late 20th century, you grew up knowing that nothing bad could happen to you. Accident, perhaps – disaster, but not disaster. And what I did on the morning of September 11 was I became one of those people where bad things happen. It’s a big group of people. They include many people around the world.
I was then 26 years old. I am now 46, with a wife and four children. I told myself that what happened next made me unhappy every year. Then last month, everyone in the house was asleep, I started thinking a lot. Dust. Thuds. Shouting. I sat alone in my basement crying, crying, uncomfortable, with waves for about an hour. Then I opened the door of my room, woke up my wife, and told her I wasn’t finished. How can I be?
I think of terrorism now as a function. I don’t take the political goals that every terrorist does, because I don’t think they do. Crime only shows the powerful. I always play, announce and grow, because that’s the point. I play one game with one message: Once I can do this, you have to watch it and always remember it. I have been left with a repulsive attitude toward politics of all kinds – flags, clothing, weapons controls, street riots, work, even a fist slapping on the desk. I have lost my patience to watch everyone play at Revolution.
After 2001, I spent a year refusing, then quit my job and resumed drinking for two years until the money ran out. I thought about committing suicide but my mother made me promise not to, so I didn’t. That’s why I started slowly from the beginning, as a journalist. One of the funniest things about this project is that you meet people who solve problems. I have found that those people are not interested. Real change is tedious. It requires a lot of courage and attention to detail. It tries to win a little bit.
I still love real drama. I sit in the dark and watch everything, thanks for a beautiful moment. In 2000 I met Philip Seymour Hoffman at Sam Shepard’s Really West. As soon as the lights went out, the assistants took Sean Connery into the crowd and placed him in two rows in front of me. In the second act, Seymour Hoffman entered a stage full of toasters that his man had stolen, filling them with slices of bread. Bread was resumed, and I thought “I feel toast right now, so does Sean Connery.” I will be happy for that moment forever. I will remember it forever.
That is an unforgivable problem with fear. It is a work that you must remember forever. I’m one person, of thousands standing there, 20 years ago. I kept going, and during that time it sometimes arrested me again. I remain a prisoner, in a chair in the dark. A group of guys played the way they wanted and that they were important, and the least consequence of all this destruction was that they ruined the years of my life. I live with my wife and children. At first I thought that meant I had won. I still suffer from chronic problems. I’m good at managing, but I haven’t succeeded. No one wins.
In 2015, I went to Paris cover the experience of other children who think it is okay to kill people. They also showed off in a spectacular display, shooting right there in the stadium in the dark. Last night while I was sitting there, I talked to the bartender who had pulled over, and fled the Parisians into his bedroom. He was so impressed by the man who saw something bad and did not even think about it. I told her the only thing I could do, the only thing I knew was the truth. You will not forget this. You will not be well at all. I’m sorry.
Brendan Greeley is a fundraiser for the Financial Times