My trip to the Twin Towers

Claudine Zap
Claudine Zap
The Upshot

Soon after the Twin Towers fell in New York City from the attacks on 9/11, my father sent me a photo: Me standing behind my younger sister Carolla at the top of the Observation Deck on the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

The picture, not the greatest quality, was taken in April, 1980, and still managed to bring back memories of the moment. Since my dad lived blocks away from the towers, I tended to barely give them a second thought. The visit that day was the only time I ventured to the platform outdoors.

In 2001, with the towers gone, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia that seemed, well, unseemly given the human toll. I felt that along with mourning the loss of life, the city had lost an element of its iconic skyline that I also missed.

Of course, the feeling hadn't been all that warm when the towers first went up, and were greeted more as an eyesore than an architectural achievement. The boxy silhouettes were vilified for their blocky design that looked like "glass-and-metal filing cabinets."

As a kid, the towers were merely a backdrop to the cityscape. They were my compass -- always showing me south when I was north of the buildings.

Locals tended to stay away from what became a serious tourist trap: The buildings always bustled with a mix of business and visiting gawkers. In its time, the site welcomed some 80,000 visitors daily.

But on the day the photo was taken, we had reason to do something a little different. For one thing, there was a transit strike that brought the subways and buses to a halt. My sister and I were visiting our divorced dad in lower Manhattan, where Wall Street emptied out on the weekend. So we strapped on roller skates and headed the short distance to the local attraction.

As my dad, also on skates, tried to keep up with us, an observer summed up my father's skating skills with an eye toward us sisters, "They're OK," The man weighed in. Then at my wobbling dad: "You're dangerous."

Arriving incident-free at the South Tower, the skates came off and bundled into bags. We headed straight for the elevator (security checks were only added after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing), which took us with ear-popping speed to the 107th floor. Two more short escalator rides later and we finally emerged at the 110th floor and headed outside, where my dad snapped the photo that he managed to dig up all these years later. At that observation deck, cars looked like dots, clouds passed by at eye level. The air was abrasive. The Statue of Liberty looked petite.

A decade after the photo first surfaced, I see a tower that is no longer there, and at my sister who is also no longer here -- she died of cancer in 2004 -- and remember a day when we almost touched the sky.