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It seemed like it took forever for him to arrive. I felt I couldn't be absolutely sure he was alive till I saw him, so after waiting inside for as long as I could, I went downstairs and stood outside the lobby. When he appeared, his face was red, he looked a little sick, and he was covered in sweat. But he was alive and that's what mattered. We held on to each other for awhile and he talked in snatches about watching someone die. But his story came later, and it's still coming today as he occasionally recalls stuff he needed to forget.

 

We went up to my office and he asked me if I had gotten his message. *What message?* I said. So he had me listen to all my messages and this time, I heard his. When you listen to it, you can tell the exact instant the plane crashed into his building. It happened while he was saying his own name. We still have a copy of the recording. We kept it for posterity.

 

One of my colleagues had a television in her office, so everyone gathered there to watch the replay of the North Tower falling down. Then we all prepared to go home.

 

Except there was no assurance that we could get home. All the bridges had been closed, as were many streets. But we were anxious to get to Brooklyn. If there was any single place left that was safe, it seemed like home was that place.

 

It's been five years now, and New York City still doesn't feel safe. It still feels like a terrorist target, especially on those days when something happens. And I don't mean just the multiple bombings on international flights that Scotland Yard recently thwarted. I also mean days like last Fourth of July, when the police roped off the street we live on as well as four or five other blocks in the Park Slope area because there were a bunch of suspicious packages found near several mailboxes in the neighborhood.

 

Those kinds of things keep us wary. The big international things make us nervous. The smaller incidents close to home do too. But we won't leave New York City. It's our home. Our hearts live here. It's where we belong.

 

I know if you want something, you've got to take calculated risks, so I've spent my life taking a few. Maybe more than a few. But I must admit, sometimes the big bad world looks a bit badder than it used to. And I worry about humanity's ability to retain its humanity.

 

I have long believed that people who work in fields related to children have a little more hope than people in other professions. Because we look at children and see tomorrow. Maybe those kids will grow up and can make tomorrow a good time to be alive. Maybe.

 

But they're going to have a tougher job than I used to think they would. We're going to have to work harder to help them grow up to be the kind of people who can do that job.

 

CHARLIE'S SIDE OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER STORY/PART 2

 

On 9/11 after my building collapsed, I left Soho and walked up to the HarperCollins building in Midtown Manhattan. I wanted to see Catherine. I wanted to hold her. And then I wanted to go home.

 

I did see her. I did hold her. But at first it looked like going home was going to be a problem. All the bridges had been closed. Many streets were too. Catherine and I decided to walk as far downtown as we could. If necessary, we would find a place to stay for the night until the Manhattan Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge reopened.

 

We started the long walk home. So did thousands of others. We passed a hospital where doctors and nurses stood outside asking for blood donations. They expected huge numbers of patients to arrive any minute. Huge numbers never came. Not this time. Most of the people inside the Twin Towers either escaped with few injuries or never made it out.

 

We had to make detours around areas the authorities had cordoned off. Some areas, like Grand Central Station and the United Nations were heavily guarded. Sometimes various building security guards chased people away and wouldn't let them walk by their buildings. Everyone charged with guarding the safety of the city -- even a small portion of it -- was nervous that day. But other New Yorkers were eager to converse. As we made our way downtown, we exchanged stories with some of the other pedestrians. The streets were filled with people trying to get home.