September 12: 20 years ago today

I was one of many turned away at the blood donor station, and a cat’s meow has haunted me ever since.

On September 12, 2001 I felt like I had to get out of my hotel room, and away from the constant CNN-watching. It was already clear that I wasn’t getting out of New York that day…bomb threats to JFK and La Guardia made sure of that.

But what to do?

Many, many people have asked me if I walked “down there.” And the truth is it never occurred to me. I didn’t want to see, and I didn’t think I could be of any assistance, and it seemed morbid.

So, instead I decided to give blood.

I have never given blood before. I’m not deathly afraid of needles. I feel a little iffy when I get blood taken, but I’m not passing out or anything. Still, somehow, I have never given blood. I asked the front desk where the nearest hospital was, and there was one about 20 blocks or so away. I forget which one, maybe Lenox Hill.

So, I set out on my walk. The streets were still creeply deserted, bereft of any automotive traffic. So the city was strangely quieter than usual. And because the wind was blowing the Southeast (meaning that the cloud of acrid debris-filled smoke from the WTC was blowing away from where I was) and there were no cars, the city smelled quieter than usual too.

And yes, the weather was still beautiful.

I walked. I think I walked up Broadway mostly. And along the way, I saw a cat up in a window, about 5 stories up. It was meowing. Repeatedly. And all I could think was that this cat was wondering where its owner was. That perhaps this cat had been alone all the previous day and now today, and no one had come to feed it, and on one had come to pet it, and it didn’t know why, and it certainly couldn’t understand why. And there were probably hundreds of animals in the City in the same predicament.

And it is still this part of the story that chokes me up when I tell people. Just last week I told two girlfriends about my 9/11 experience, and this is where I got teary. It is that image of something so forlorn and so forgotten and so unable to rationally understand…now or ever…what happened.

Just a cat in a window, meowing, calling out. And me wondering if anyone was going to be answering that call.

I made it to the hospital, and was turned away. They just had too many people. They could take my number and call me when they needed me to come back, they said.

And I, in my naivete, said, ‘Oh I’m at a hotel, and I’ll probably be going home tomorrow.’

I walked back on a different avenue. To avoid the cat.

I don’t really remember what I did the rest of the day.

But I can guess. I watched TV; I smoked cigarettes; I talked to California on the phone; I made reservations for new flights and saw them get cancelled. And I watched the parade of people with their flyers come on TV.

And that was heartbreaking. Just heartbreaking. Unimaginable.

But I still have to avoid thinking about that cat in the window.

Previous posts in the series:

20 years ago on September 10: I was thinking “this is the best trip I’ve had to NYC in years!”

20 years ago on September 11th: My bag was packed and sitting on my hotel bed.

Note: I first wrote this series of posts back in 2004, three years post-09/11. I shared them first on a personal blog platform that went away. Then posted them on, which was ported to and then those links, too, were broken. So now I’m trying again to find a home for my annual remembrances. I have not edited these since 2004.