Visiting the World Trade Center Memorial
I’ve wanted to pay my respects at the World Trade Center Memorial since it opened, but it has eluded me up until now. Visiting requires booking a visitor pass in advance, and when I had tried, it had been sold out for weeks at a time.
Maybe that was just because it was the summer, or maybe they’ve since made more passes available. At any rate, when I arrived in New York this February, plenty of passes were available for nearly every time slot.
I met up with my friend Wandering Earl and we went through several levels of security before being admitted to the memorial. Snowstorm Nemo was scheduled to hit that evening; it was already wildly windy and rainy.
In 2003, a contest was launched for a memorial design at Ground Zero. More than 5,000 people from all over the world sent submissions. The winning design, by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, turned the outlines of the Twin Towers into fountains, the water falling into a void. Names of the victims are embossed on the edges, grouped by where they were on that day.
My first thought? They did a wonderful job. It couldn’t have been easy to memorialize something so raw, but this memorial hits all the right notes: it’s simple yet powerful, somber, and the size of the fountains underscores the seriousness of the tragedy. It’s a beautiful memorial — one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Emergency personnel are honored as well.
Walking through, Earl and I talked about where we were on 9/11. Earl happened to be in India. American tourists there were freaking out, he told me, thinking the airspace over Pakistan and Afghanistan would be closed and they’d be trapped in India for weeks. Their worries were unfounded.
My own 9/11 story was more conventional, but a bit unusual.
I was 17 and had just begun my senior year of high school. I remember snippets of that day in vivid detail: how my friend Beth grabbed me in the hall and told me that she had overheard the guidance counselors saying that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
How we spent our entire Field Bio class listening to the radio, everyone afraid to speak as more horrifying details unfolded.
How my heart broke for the family members of the victims, especially those who took desperate phone calls from their loved ones moments before their deaths.
How I was terrified that we would break into war. Would war come to America? Would people be attacking us? Would it get so bad that we’d need a draft? Could women be drafted?
How Beth, our friend Lisa, and I ran to our fourth period English class and told our friend Alexa. She didn’t believe us at first. How the principal got on the intercom at the end of fourth period and announced what had happened. By then, planes had crashed in New York, in Washington, in Pennsylvania.
But as stunned and frightened as I was, it wasn’t enough to pull me away from the drama club. That day, as the drama club’s vice president, I had volunteered to help out with the male callback auditions for our production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Was my presence there necessary? Not whatsoever. All I had to do was press play on a boombox again and again as each of the boys called back for the lead role of Joseph sang sixteen bars of “Close Every Door.” Why did I do it? Because every single move I made since the seventh grade was calculated precisely to put myself in the best graces of the director.
We had only one director, and he didn’t just direct productions: he also managed every single aspect of the shows and the drama club itself. I was one of many drama club members who walked on eggshells around our director with huge smiles on our faces at all times, doing anything and everything we could to paint ourselves into the most positive light possible, hoping that would eventually lead to the ultimate prize: a major role in a production. And it wasn’t just the students. You should have seen some of the parents.
So I wouldn’t dream of letting a national tragedy, the single most important news event of my lifetime, pull me away from a chance to be helpful to the director. I went to the auditions. I pressed the play button. Every guy who had earned a callback was there. Not one of them skipped it.
“Is there anything else you need me to do for you?” I asked our director as we finished up.
“No, Katelyn. You can go home,” he replied, then half-smiled, half-grimaced. “It’s an important day in history!”
I walked into my house to find my mom, my dad — home early from work — and my thirteen-year-old sister sitting on the couch motionlessly, watching the news. The screen was filled with a loop of fiery explosions of the Twin Towers against the bright blue sky. They didn’t even look up when I walked in.
That’s when it hit me. This was far more serious than I even imagined.
I’ve never written about this before.
I’ve always been deeply ashamed about my behavior on that day — how I couldn’t tear myself away from “helping” at the male callback auditions to go home and be with my family. I knew that 9/11 was bad — but it wasn’t enough to get me to shake my ridiculous commitment to the drama club for one afternoon.
But I was just a 17-year-old doing what a 17-year-old thought was best. Even if it was doing nothing but pressing play on a boom box.
Essential Info: The World Trade Center Memorial requires reservations to visit. You can reserve visitor passes here. Entry is free, but they request donations.
Reservations can be tough to come by, so try to reserve them as soon as you know when you’ll be in New York.