10 Remember 9/11: NYU Student Ruta Rimas
NYU graduate Ruta Rimas talks about her experiences as
a student living in Lower Manhattan on 9/11. (Video by Maureen Foley)
By Maureen Foley
The Red Line Project
Posted: Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011
Ten years has passed, but Ruta Rimas can still remember what she saw on that bus ride to NYU’s campus on Sept. 11, 2001.
Rimas, then a 19-year-old NYU student from the Chicago area, lived five minutes away from what is now ground zero. She said the events that day influenced her as a person and left memories she would like to forget.
“At times I do feel things, extreme sorrow and sadness and incredible anxiety,” said Rimas, describing what she has felt for the past decade.
“Since that time, I’m deathly afraid of flying, I hate it. It’s been a very emotional, personal freeze.”
She said she continues to struggle with these conflicting emotions, and the magnitude of what happened 10 years earlier, only now being able to actually talk about it.
Rimas described the twin towers as she had seen them, just days before the 9/11 attacks. She can still picture herself standing beneath them with her roommate, after they took a wrong turn. She looked up and marveled at their mass, on that beautiful Thursday evening.
“It was one of those moments when I felt very much a part of the city and a piece of the city," she said. "It was just a New York moment; one that has stayed with me for a very long time.”
On the morning of Sept. 11, she took her regular 8:30 a.m. bus to get to campus from her dormitory. Traffic became gridlocked. She looked out her window to see an older man waving his arms frantically and pointing at the twin towers.
“At this point, we could see a hole in the tower but thought it was too small to be from a plane,” Rimas said.
The bus re-routed and Rimas made it to her class, although her cellphone service was lost. When she got out of class, she learned that both twin towers had fallen.
“The smell had already begun to creep up to campus,” she said. “Anything south of West Fourth Street where I was standing was all white, you couldn’t see anything."
With Lower Manhattan shut down and campus access cut off, NYU took over The Park Hotel and The Sheraton, where Rimas was given a room and $200 from NYU for clothes.
Rimas came into contact with many rescue workers in the hotel, but one in particular stood out in her mind. In the lobby she saw a man with a familiar mustache, and she immediately recognized him. He was from what is now an iconic picture -- he's helping to carry Father Mike [Mychal Judge], the NY Fire Department chaplain and one of the first recorded victims of the 9/11 attacks.
“Those rescue workers down there were such heroes to me,” she said. “I couldn’t speak, I was in complete and utter shock to recognize that man from that photo.”
Rimas said she will never forget the walk back to her dorm for the first time, still feeling denial and shock after two weeks. Nor will she forget the missing persons posters everywhere.
“Most of all, I remember the smell of New York after that,” she said. “It’s a very distinct smell, it’s the smell of burning metal and it sounds so disgusting, but of barbecue combined [with it]. I’ve never smelled anything like it before.”
Although she was fortunate enough not to lose a friend during the attacks, she said she felt a piece of herself lost after 9/11. She talked with her parents, but it was her two roommates she really leaned on -- and they leaned on her -- for emotional support.
“Starting from 9/11 throughout my entire college experience, there are a lot of details that become very hazy because my response was denial and numbness,” she said. “I had to compartmentalize what had happened and the scale of what had happened. It’s only something I’ve been able to start to deal with in my adult life.”
Rimas, who graduated with BA in jornalism and creative writing from NYU in 2004, still lives in New York. She works as a book editor with Simon & Schuster.
She said she felt a sense of closure when she heard the news of the U.S. Navy Seal team killing Osama bin Laden last spring. She vividly remembered watching the news that day.
“I never thought that someone’s death would provide closure,” she said. “I’m not happy about his death, but the relief I feel about his death is scary to me.”
Rimas, who grew up in Riverside and graduated from Fenwick High School, said some of her old college friends are heading out-of-state, wanting to be completely detached from what happened 10 years ago. She said she doesn’t blame them, although she remains in New York City.
“It’s tied me to New York City in a way that I never thought it would,” she said. “I feel like I am a part of New York, my history is tied with New York’s history.”
Next story: DePaul campuses on 9/11
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