September 11, 2011: Maria Scileppi

September 11, 2011: Maria Scileppi

I woke up this morning to an email from Justin, my roommate from 10 years ago. He wrote, "Thinking of you on this day -- I feel lucky to have been surrounded by friends during those wicked weeks."

Everyone remembers exactly where they were when it happened. I was in New York. I'd just landed my first job in advertising. Four months later we lost a large account and I was laid off.  Four days later, September 11th happened.  Within one week I had lost my job and then my city was attacked. I didn't know which way was up.

On the morning of 9/11 I was at the gym in Park Slope. As I climbed onto the elliptical machine I noticed the two women next to me riveted by the tv.  The attack on the Twin Towers was being replayed. I stayed on the elliptical machine. Then the second plane hit. I wanted to get home. I'll never forget the smell of electrical wires burning. There was an electricity in the air and everything was very very very quiet.

I found my roommate Justin shaking in front of the tv drinking a bottle of wine. I joined him on the couch. Once I realized it was a terrorist attack I called my mom. All the phone lines were dead and I knew she'd be panicking in Chicago. She didn't love the idea of me moving to New York although she soon saw it was the right thing. I sent an email to let her know I was okay.

Our house was the central hub for our friends. At least three nights a week people would just show up with food to grill, wine to drink and cigarettes to smoke. We'd fire up the grill on the back porch and help each other as we navigated our early careers.

Where do you go when you're city has been attacked, chaos is in the streets, phones are down, all trains and buses have seized?  Justin and I started calling our friends working in Manhattan. All the lines were down and so we waited as one by one friends showed up to our doorstep, all of them part of the mass exodus of Manhattan. Ah, you made it. Hug. Can you believe this. Come in. Hug.

I remember it as our countries darkest hour. But it was also an amazing demonstration of humanity. We all became a lot more human in our vulnerability. Even New York. The tragedy brought us together. For New Yorkers who happened to be out of the city on that day, there's a certain conflicted regret that they weren't there. I remember how polite New York was for three weeks after. Everyone had more patience with each other, we all slowed down a bit. We looked each other in the eye. We held doors open for each other. We were all a little bit softer.

That time was a blur. We drank our selves to sleep each night.  We had a reason to be together, to huddle closer and lean on each other in a way we hadn't before. With tragedy comes a humbling flash of necessary humanity. Necessary, because we have nowhere else to go, except towards one another.

Chicago is my home now but there is something about surviving 9/11 that will forever keep me connected to New York.


About the Author: Maria Scileppi is Director of Chicago Portfolio School and an artist that likes to manipulate GPS data for the sake of social art. You can find her at @mscileppi and

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