Reality hits New York student

It finally hit me Thursday afternoon.

Tuesday was a 12-hour adrenaline rush. Wednesday I walked around in a state of shock.

Thursday reality sank in: New York would never be the same; this country would never be the same.

After what I've seen this week, I don't think it would be right if everything went right back to normal.

Makeshift memorials have sprung up everywhere in my neighborhood. The south end of Union Square Park was a mass of letters, candles, flowers and other offerings until Friday morning when a rainstorm washed away most of the papers that had been taped to the ground.

Soggy and torn sheets of paper and large areas of melted wax are scattered through the park. A tower covered in an American flag and surrounded by candles and flowers withstood the rain.

What affected me the most, though, were the faces of people I would never have seen if this mess didn't happen.

Attached to buildings, lampposts and subway entrances everywhere were flyers with pictures of missing people who were working in the World Trade Center or assisting with the rescue.

A photocopied flyer for Michael Richards read, "African American, 6 feet tall, 165 pounds, beautiful smile, brown eyes." He was last seen on the 92nd floor of tower 1 of the World Trade Center.

Giovanna "Gennie" Gambale, 27, was last seen on the 102nd floor of tower 2.

Others, like Joe Hunter, a New York City firefighter, rushed downtown to assist Tuesday morning and haven't returned.

Perhaps the most touching images were the ones of parents with their children.

Thomas J. Ashton, an electrician's assistant, held a newborn baby in the photograph attached to the flyer made by his family. He was 21 years old, only two months older than me.

All of the faces in the photographs were smiling - some were taken with friends and some were taken with family.

It was those photographs that pushed me over the edge. They were everywhere.

And everywhere I looked, people had cameras - documenting every inch of what they know is a changed city.

Although I was already overloaded with images of bodies falling from buildings, the constant reproduction of United Airlines Flight 175 hitting the second tower and people wandering through streets covered with debris so thick it looked like a snowstorm had hit downtown, even I have been carrying around my camera for the last four days.

All the images of explosions and destruction in newspapers, on television and on the Internet seemed unreal to me. The faces of missing people, though, were real.

I cried for the first time since Tuesday and, also for the first time since the attack, felt the need to get away from Manhattan.

I wanted to go home, but I didn't want to get on a plane. I wanted to take a train somewhere - anywhere - but didn't have a place to go.

Underground transportation was out; air travel was definitely out.

Last night I received an invitation to join a friend and her family for dinner at their apartment uptown. She lives on 95th Street - four miles from my apartment and four miles farther from the mess than I me.

I accepted, and I think I might walk.


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