Story by Ryan Bartelmay. Photos by Ryan Bartelmay and Steve Johnson.

Click here to see a Flash presentation of all the photos in this collection.

The island of Manhattan is eleven miles long, and the World Trade Center sits on the southern tip in the financial district. It is below those famous neighborhoods you’ve heard about from the art world, Greenwich Village and SoHo; it is also below the campus of New York University, Little Italy, TriBeCa and Canal Street. If you were to go to Staten Island or to see the Statue of Liberty, which lies in the Atlantic Ocean south of Manhattan, you’d pass underneath the World Trade Center and then catch a ferry three stips away at the South Ferry station. I’ve learned all this from maps because I’ve never been further south than TriBeCa. I moved to New York City three weeks ago and live in an apartment building in Morningside Heights at 120th and Amsterdam, across from Columbia University, eight to nine miles away from what is being called in the media "ground zero."

I took these pictures a few hours after the WTC attack because I felt the need to document what had happened as a way to understand it. I’m not sure the documentation served the purpose I’d hoped it would. I’m still not sure how I feel; I am still confused and overwhelmed by the incomprehensibility. The event is similar to being sucker-punched (I'm not trying to trivialize the situation here). This happened to me once, when I was a junior in high school. After basketball practice, I was attacked in the school parking lot while I was walking to my car. A guy and a group of his friends came up behind me, and one of them hit me in my left ear. It was dark, and I didn’t see it coming. I didn't go down; instead I turned around, looking confused, holding my ear and wondering why. They were waiting for me to make a move and calling me names: "Come on pussy. Do something!" In the end, I ran away. I’m not a fighter and have never considered myself to be one. My first impulse is always to RUN. I knew if I did hit back, even if I took out all of them, they would still be in the hallways at school everyday, and they could attack again. I’d always have to look over my shoulder. In the times I saw these guys after the incident, I could feel them staring at me. I knew they felt better than I did, stronger. In fact, I’m sure they felt like winners.

As a country, of course, we will not run. Nor do I believe we should run. But on the same note, I don’t believe we should hastily launch a few hundred Tomahawk Missiles and position our ships and planes and ground troops for war. Are we at war? In a sense, yes. But this form of war is not the war our military is trained to fight. The only analogy I can think of to comprehend the differing attack methods is that of the Revolutionary War when the American revolutionaries didn’t fight the traditional line-up-a-hundred-yards-away-and-shoot-a-musket-rifle-at-the-enemy method but instead used surprise attacks and trees for hiding behind, etc., etc., to level the playing field against a much larger and better equipped British Army. So, how can we expect to fight a war against an enemy that doesn’t fight in a "traditional" manner and doesn’t even target military targets but civilian targets with the goal, first and foremost, of a staggering body count?

I'm not in favor of emotionally using force. Any force that is used must be carefully contemplated. Any time lives are at stake, the repercussions, not just political gains, should be considered. I don’t want to see our country stoop to the level of killing or maiming innocent people who happen to be walking down an Afghani street when a flock of our B-52s dump a few hundred tons of steel. Guilt by association, whether the association is citizenship, skin color, location or whatever, is not always guilt. We certainly didn’t storm McVeigh’s hometown and kill his mother, father, brother, sister, friends or neighbors for his heinous crime. Nor should we have.

Since the days of the World Trade Center attack, I’ve gained a new understanding of the fear Israeli and Palestinian people carry with them day to day. As a New Yorker, when I get on a subway, I will look for stranded brief cases. In the streets, I will avoid double-parked cargo vans. I’ll be reminded when I hear a plane flying low, buzzing overhead. It may sound absurd or even reactionary, but how can I feel safe knowing that war is strike and counter-strike, strike and counter-strike?

It was while walking back up Broadway after seeing the destruction of lower Manhattan for myself that I saw the guy with the flag. He was walking northbound. His face, as you can see, was solemn. He carried the flag gingerly, but thrown over his shoulder like a rifle. He was not walking fast, but he was walking away. I’m not trying to project any sort of larger meaning on this man. I could attempt to end this essay in metaphor, but that would be literary. Metaphor is something that happens intellectually, in the mind. It is a way to logically (or illogically) make a connection to better describe or comprehend something at hand.
This event defies comprehension. A whole generation of people (my generation, as I’m only twenty-six) now has an entirely new perspective on the world in which we live. In a matter of moments, our lives were forever changed. Not long from now, probably less than a few weeks, we will likely be citizens at war. And citizens at war live in fear.