One Week Later
Manhattan, September 18th, 2001
In 2001, I lived in Chelsea on 21st Street near 8th Avenue. Yes, that would be the corner of gay and gayer. My third floor apartment overlooked the playground of P.S. 11, the William T. Harris K-5 School. A few days after the attack, on the outside of the wall around the playground, the school began posting drawings that the children had made, presumably allowing them to express their fears and anxieties about the attack, by letting them make paintings.
Every morning and afternoon, I'd pass that wall of the children's drawings. And I'd be forced to slow, then stop, then linger. No pedestrian was able to walk past the drawings and ignore them, not one. We'd stand there silently, shoulder to shoulder, our eyes shifting from one taped-up depiction to the next. The younger children used familiar motifs with arrows pointing to stick-figures of "Mommy" and "Daddy", but with the unfamiliar addition of planes and flames. The older children depicted the towers themselves, often with explosions or people falling from the sky. One repeating theme was a tiny figure in the corner of the picture with an arrow pointing to it, and the word, "Scared."
On Tuesday, September 18th, one week after the attack, I was heading past the school around 9pm just as a violent rainstorm began. I went around the corner to pick something up from the deli, and when I came back past the school, I could see that the rain was ruining all the children's drawings. Some of them had fallen down into puddles, others were turning into runny messes of non-toxic paint.
A woman walking past exclaimed, "Oh, no! All those kids' drawings are being ruined!"
I said, "Yeah, it's a shame. But I guess the school wanted to leave them out here day and night as long as they lasted."
She and I looked at each other for a second, then she said, "Do you think it would be alright if we saved a few of them for ourselves? They're just gonna be piles of goo in a few more minutes."
I agreed, and we both selected two drawings and removed them from the wall. The first one I pulled down was nearly soaked all the way through and I had to be careful not to let it fall apart in my hands. When I got home, I laid it across the radiator in my living room and let it dry for a few days.
The artist, a kid named Jesus, captured all the key elements of that morning. The towers, the two planes, the figures running from the buildings. He even seems to have included one of the jumpers, leaping headfirst from the north tower, indicated by it's rooftop antenna. Note the unhappy sun looking down at the scene.
The other picture I took off that wall still brings tears to my eyes, and I've looked it a hundred times.
This picture didn't get as wet as the other one, but it's still hard to pick up that both towers are crying as they clutch each other.
It rained all night that night. On my way to work the next morning, a school janitor was moving down the wall with a rolling garbage can, picking up all the soggy pictures that lay ruined in the mud puddles, and ripping down the few that still clung to the wall.