Originally Published: September 10, 2011 10:06 p.m.
PRESCOTT - It seems to happen every year: As the summer heat gives way to the crisp days of autumn, Amy Rea is transported back.
Once again, she is reliving the September day when the perfectly cloudless New York City day was juxtaposed with the horrors of the 2001 World Trade Center attack.
"It was a blue, blue sky - clear as a bell," Rea, a former New Jersey resident, who now lives in Prescott, said of Sept. 11, 2001. "Sometimes on a beautiful day, I'll remember that it was that kind of day on 9/11."
Even though 10 years have now gone by since she was among those with a front-row seat to the tragedy, Rea cannot control the occasional images that take her right back to the eerily quiet streets and smoke-filled skies of that day.
"You get hit with a memory and you don't know why," she said. "As time goes by, you sort of distance yourself."
But with the 10th anniversary of the attacks, those memories are closer to the surface.
While Rea left the East Coast in December 2010 to get a fresh start, living with her father in Prescott, she said she often thinks about that bleak day in New York City.
Like thousands of others, Rea was in the midst of her daily commute from New Jersey to Manhattan when the first attack occurred.
Her first inkling that something was amiss came when one of her fellow bus passengers shouted that the World Trade Center was on fire.
It was upsetting news, certainly, but Rea said she did not immediately think of terrorism. "My thought, along with most of those on the bus, was that a small plane must have crashed into it," she said. "I was thinking, 'What a horrible accident.'"
It wasn't until she was taking a cross-town bus from the Port Authority to her office in midtown Manhattan that Rea heard the news that the second tower had been hit.
That news set off a surreal day for Rea. She and her dazed coworkers initially attempted to begin their workday, but they soon resorted to making calls to assure friends and family that they were OK.
With all of the bridges and tunnels into the city closed down by then, Rea said it became obvious that there would be no getting home to New Jersey that night. She began looking for somewhere to stay, and ended up spending the night with a friend of a friend.
"There was virtually no traffic, which is unheard of, and people out in the streets all had the same blank, shocked looks," Rea recalls. "All you would hear now and then was an occasional car and a lot of fighter jets above."
From the rooftop of the apartment building where she spent the night, Rea looked south toward lower Manhattan, and saw nothing but a big cloud of smoke.
As the day of the attack evolved into months of cleanup and loss, Rea said, she dealt with emerging from "a funk."
For years, everyone she met from the city had a story to tell about Sept. 11. "Meeting people, it always somehow came up," she said.
Rea's bond with New York City went back decades. After moving with her family to New Jersey as an 8-year-old, she lived in the area for much of her childhood and adulthood. She attended New Jersey's Rutgers University, and then almost immediately began her career in magazine publishing in Manhattan.
Throughout that time, Rea said her family forged a strong connection to the World Trade Center. Her father worked for Merrill Lynch in lower Manhattan, and she and her sister sometimes visited him there while the Twin Towers were under construction.
And when she graduated from Rutgers, Rea had dinner at the Windows on the World at the top of the World Trade Center's North Tower.
So, even though she did not personally know anyone who died in the attacks, she felt the loss nonetheless, grieving over the stories of the victims.
Generally, Rea said, obituaries only occasionally offer in-depth, personal details of the person's life. But her local newspaper, New Jersey's Star-Ledger, opted to publish full stories on the terrorism victims.
"Every one (of the obituaries) was like that - how they grew up, why people loved them so much," she said. Obviously still emotional about those long-ago newspaper stories, she said, "I couldn't not read them; I don't know why."
Now, with a decade of perspective behind her, Rea sees Sept. 11 as having a mixed legacy.
On the downside, Rea said the tragedy seemed to bring out extremes in the community. She pointed, for example, to the 2010 protests over plans for an Islamic center near Ground Zero.
"Things became so black and white - if you're not with me, you're against me," she said.
Still, she has noticed that some people have become more generous with their time since seeing the impacts of the attacks.
And for her, the depth of the tragedy brought a new outlook. "If I go through something bad, I think, 'It could actually be worse.' There's bad days, and there's bad days."