It smelled like shit and hot sugared donuts, like whiskey and burning rubber, and the sickeningly sweet smell of infant vomit. It was thick with ash and the smells of burst pipes and carpet burning. But what made it awful, that kind of awful that made you cover your mouth and hope you could hold your breath until you got away from the smell was knowing that there were people in that smell. And fear. You were breathing someone's frantic last moments, their panic and fear, and their aching longing for the ones they loved and the unfinished lives they were trying to save by running harder and leaping down stairs and out of windows and over bodies of others who had already lost. You were breathing those people and it was terrifying. And although you wanted to get away, you wanted to get closer. The streets were closed and the area was draped in yellow tape and only the emergency vehicles were coming and going from the area. Ground Zero. But something inside wanted to get closer. To see it nearer. You could see the sheared building tops, the raw metal reaching into the sky, the smoke that still billowed days later, and you knew it wasn't a pretty place. If it smelled like that why would you want to get closer and see the smell? Why? It was terrifying.
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This piece is an excerpt from a much longer project that I worked on for my capstone project at GMU. It was the account of my visit to New York in October of 2001. I will never forget that smell as long as I live.