NEW YORK — A decade later, images from Sept. 11, 2001, remain vivid in the minds of most Americans. Plane crashes. Collapsing skyscrapers. Staggering people covered in dust. Horror. Shock. Confusion. Fear. Heroism.
And those once-random numbers, now forever conjoined by tragedy — 9/11. They trigger poignant memories and stand as a mile-marker in millions of lives, especially in New York. There, the unthinkable was witnessed first-hand, not through TV news clips. Two-thousand, seven-hundred fifty-three people died in the attacks on New York, according to the city’s official count. The plot, carried out on a sunny Tuesday morning by teams of suicidal hijackers aboard four commercial airliners, killed another 184 people at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and 40 more in a grassy field near Shanksville, Pa., but the wounds inflicted upon New York tend to symbolize 9/11.
Steven Chelsen wears his own reminder.
On a steamy afternoon earlier this summer, the 44-year-old Staten Island man stood at the corner of Church and Vesey streets in the financial district of Lower Manhattan. The sound of heavy construction, carried out daily by nearly 3,000 workers, filled the hot July air. Concrete trucks churned.
Cranes hoisted steel beams. Street cops cleared pedestrians from the path of dump trucks heading into the site of what once was the original World Trade Center, and what will be the new World Trade Center — also known as “ground zero.” Chelsen works there as a mechanic for Local 1 of the International Union of Elevator Constructors.
With a hard-hat tucked under his left arm, Chelsen extended his right arm to reveal an intricate tattoo. It features a portrait of a New York City firefighter, Roy W. Chelsen, his brother, “a fighter” and “bigger than life,” as Steven put it. The “28” on the helmet represents Roy’s firehouse, Engine Company 28, on the Lower East Side, where he’d served since 1985. At the bottom are three sets of numbers, all containing a sadly ironic similarity — 11/9/59 (Roy’s birth date), 9/11/01 (the day that changed Roy’s future), and 1/9/11 (the day Roy died).