I don’t know why I remember walking down the streets of New York with my mom and my friend Stephanie when I was 14-years-old. It was mid- February, right after the September 11th attacks, the air was frigidly cold, and the streets were empty. That sounds like an oxymoron for New York. Still, there were hardly any people, and the only cars around were police cars, and the officers staged on street corners.
We had just gotten off of the train. As we headed up the stairs, the smells from the subway and of Canal St. collided. The scent instantaneously grabbed my attention, as it was a strange but almost slightly familiar smell. But I just figured this is New York!
As we continued walking and taking in the chilly air of the city while walking to my Aunt’s building, one of the officers immediately stopped us. He asked us what we were doing and where we were going. We all pointed to the tall high rise in front of us, and as my mother explained, we are visitors staying on the 27th floor of the building. He let his guard down and explained that the area was off-limits. He hesitated to explain why at first, but he looked at my friend and me, then back at my mom, and gave the most honest answer he could.
He told us that there are crews working night and day cleaning up and searching for remains. The minute he said remains, it hit me: The smell.
What I was smelling was not the traditional scent of the streets of New York. I was smelling tragedy, fear, pain, anguish; I was smelling death. The more I breathed in, the flood of confusion from that day came pouring into my subconscious. When I looked at the officer, I knew he didn’t want to explain that to a couple of kids, but I understood and appreciated the truth.
My mother apologized on our behalf and thanked him. We walked in a different direction to get to my Aunt’s building. Before he completely left my sight, I continued to look back at the officer as he patrolled the area, turning cars and people away. As he grew smaller, I couldn’t help but think that all that was lost and stolen from me on 9/11 was my innocence, and I wondered what was lost or stolen from him that day.