When you are 28 you feel like you have the world in your hand. You have a thousand opportunities in front of you. You just have to have the courage to reach out and grab them with all your strength. So he did Martina Gasperotti twenty years ago. A dream in the drawer, to learn to speak English fluently. And a one-way ticket to the most chaotic city in the world: New York. One morning, that of 11 September 2001, while he was fulfilling that desire, everything inevitably changed.
For her. For the rest of the world.
“I was in New York for three days. I still felt the effect of the time zone. I woke up very early at 5-5.30. I was wearing the adrenaline of the first day of school. That feeling that makes you understand that you are starting something new. I took the subway from Brooklyn and then the bus. I remember having a coffee and taking a walk. I was very early, so I decided to waste some time by going to see the panoramic restaurant where I was going to have dinner in the evening. The restaurant was located inside one of the Twin Towers ».
When he crossed the entrance to the North Tower, he was on the phone with Mama Carla. For the occasion, before the big departure, she had bought the last mobile phone on the market. A purchase designed, to always hear his family in Reggio Emilia and not have to have problems between cabins and rechargeable cards.
“I was on the phone with my mom. I remember he was ironing in front of the TV. The whole time she remained glued to the TV. And just as I was talking to her I heard a noise. I didn’t understand what it was. The telephone line was completely down. I thought about the bursting of a pipe. In fact, I wanted to take the elevator to the top of the tower. I did not understand. I was unaware of everything ».
That elevator will never take it. And only after many hours Martina will be able to get in touch with her family in Italy. “I was on the ground floor, I could see people running and running through the windows. So I got out of the tower. I did it only and solely out of curiosity ».
From outside the building you couldn’t see much. Only smoke, dust and that blue sky. Without even a cloud. Then, another noise. “I heard a rumble. The other plane flew overhead and the earth started shaking. At that moment the mind stops going. You no longer ask yourself “What happens? What are we going to do?”. Everything is too fast and far from any fantasy. I don’t remember having any thoughts. I was just saying to myself “What now? Where will the next one come from? We were waiting for the third, fourth, fifth plane ”.
Then, Martina, in a suspended New York, started walking home. The farther he went, the bigger the smoke he left behind became. And just at that moment he experienced the spirit of a city impossible to fold. “As I was walking, people on the street stopped me. They asked me if I needed money to call home, they gave me water and Coke. A sense of solidarity and belonging to one’s own city never experienced before ». His clothes were completely covered in ash and the knowledge that everything was going to change.
A week later he took a plane, this time home. The English school now closed, the city and thoughts were no longer the same. In her Emilia she resigned and started working as a freelancer. She wanted to feel free to choose, make mistakes and improve herself. She wanted to feel alive.
Martina after twenty years is still thinking about that day. There are lights, noises and smells that are impossible to forget, because they stay on your skin and in your bones forever. Like the deafening sound of the explosion or the sound of bodies touching the ground. And then that image, a multitude of sheets that, unaware and free, flew in the sky like simple confetti.
“I think of all those people in the towers. They were conscious in their last moments of life. Besides feeling like a survivor, I feel lucky. It wasn’t my time. It was all a matter of minutes. If I had taken the bus earlier, if I hadn’t drunk the coffee, if… ».
All of Martina’s “ifs” will remain a fortuitous unknown. What is certain is that he did not let 9/11 affect his life. «I had to overcome a trauma but I have never been afraid of traveling. I’m not afraid to take a plane. It is still the most beautiful thing man can do. And I’m not afraid of New York, where I returned for the first and tenth anniversary. Before the attack with the city I had no relationship whatsoever. But for how I lived it, I can only say that it saved me ».
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