No one will ever forget 9/11/01. I cannot believe that it has been 12 year since this day. It boggles my mind and still weighs very heavily on my heart. It’s a solemn day and one to hug your loved ones closer…because you can.
This is my story of that fateful day.
I am sitting here wondering if I should write this particular post. It’s something that I have struggled with from time to time but never committed my story to words even though I have shared it verbally many times. 9/11/01 was a day that changed the world. It was the saddest event in American history. So many people suffered loss on this day. I consider myself a lucky person because I did not directly know anyone lost on this day. However as a New Yorker my heart was broken as my beloved city was so brutally and cruelly attacked.
Two every day events happened the day before that kept my family safe. My sister left to go back to medical school on 9/10/01, she arrived safely in Dominica the day before 9/11. Also my dad had been in the hospital for gall bladder surgery and his discharge was done at 7:30 PM on 9/10/01 because of some mix up with the doctor giving discharge orders but not signing off. Luckily I got that straightened out and we went home.
I woke up on Tuesday, 9/11/01 just like every other day. I was still living at home and working at my old job at the software company. We didn’t have to be there exactly at 9:00AM so my schedule was flexible. Since my dad was just home from the hospital I spent some time with him and left later that usual but not late enough. I remember how blue the sky was on this morning. I remember it was a beautifully warm summer day. I wanted to wear my new strappy high-heeled sandals to work because summer was ending and this was probably one of the last nice days. At the last-minute I change my mind and opt for comfy flip-flops. I remember saying to myself how lucky we are to have such a great day. In my thoughts I thanked God for this day. I felt truly happy on this morning.
I got to the train station and looked at my watch. It was 8:45 AM and I was still in Queens a minute before the first plane hit the north side of the World Trade Center. Of course I didn’t know it at the time. As I was waiting for the train I was listening to my CD player and rocking out to some freestyle music. I got on the train which was somewhat delayed. I even remember this girl sitting next to me asked me to lower the volume on my music. “Yeah, whatever!” I thought. There were continuous delays on the train, it stopped at each station for a very long time. As usual the train conductors never said why there were so many delays. When we got to the 42nd – Time Square station we just sat there not moving. A man walked on to the train and said, “a plane hit the World Trade Center.” I made a face at what he said and completely wrote him off as being a total idiot. Like typical New Yorkers people pretty much ignored him. How could a plane hit the World Trade Center? I was so mad that he could say something so ridiculous. I thought at the very least it was a news helicopter that got caught on the many antenna’s on top of the buildings. I never imagined that what he said was true. Never!
Finally the train got to the 34th Street station. As soon as I got up to the street I started to call my parents on my cellphone. The call failed once. The call failed twice. The call failed a third time, a fourth, a fifth etc. I was getting worried and walked quickly to my office which was a block away. The people on the street seemed tense, confused and hurried. I felt something was wrong. I got up to my office and as I walk to my cubicle I look at the various TV sets in the managers’ offices. Oh My God! It’s real! The man on the train was telling the truth. I stare in shock at the TV screen. Live pictures of the Twin Towers burning. I’m crying and move to my desk to call home.
I call my mom and I ask her what is going on. I’m in tears now as she tells me what she is seeing on TV. At this time I hear that the White House is being evacuated and reports say a plane is hijacked at La Guardia Airport (this turned out to be false) and all I can say to her is, “Mommy! Karen! Mommy! Karen! Karen is on the plane.” It doesn’t register in my mind that my sister left yesterday and she is safe at school. I can’t separate the two days. I’m crying because if my sister had decided to stay one more day who knows where she would be. I start to breakdown at the mere thought of that and I think how lucky we are. She puts my dad on the phone. He’s just recovering from surgery so he asks me to calm down for his sake. I tell him that I want to go home. He says okay that I should tell my boss and make my way home but to realize that the trains are no longer running at this time. I should take the bus or walk home. I tell him I am going to call my best friend and walk home with her.
When I get off the phone I hear that planes are landing all over the U.S. maybe even all over the world, fighter jets are making their way into the air space to protect New York. I’m freaked out because my office at the time was two blocks away from the Empire State building. There is so much confusion. There could be more planes on the way to cause more destruction to my city. I want to go home and one of my co-workers tells me that I can’t. I should stay with them in the city and I think he said go grab a drink. I’m enraged at the thought of that. I step up to him and say, “I am getting back to Queens even if I have to swim across the East River. My dad is just out of the hospital I need to get home to him.” They are smart and don’t try to stop me.
Luckily I reach my best friend, who was working in the city some 20 blocks away from where I am. We talk about what we can do. I ask her to walk home with me. She can stay at my parent’s house until I can driver her home. She agrees to wait for me and I say good-bye to my co-workers and start walking. I’m on 6th Avenue and when I look towards downtown all I can see is the black smoke in the sky. I can smell the burning and I hear the fire engines racing towards the World Trade Center. I walk and cry until I reach best friend’s office. She is waiting for me outside her building. We hug and cry unable to believe what is happening. I’m so grateful that I am with her because she used to work in Towers and had only recently changed jobs. I thank God she wasn’t down there today. I think I would have lost if had been working there. We go up to her office to use the rest room and get some water for our long walk home. I think we call our parents and tell them we are together. It’s a comfort and relief to know that no matter what else happens we are together.
As we head out from her building we notice everyone is leaving the city. With everything shut down (trains, buses, bridges, tunnels, etc) no one is coming into NYC. It’s hot, we are scared, and heartbroken. The vivid image of the black smoke is something I will never forget. It is visible from where I stand at the corner of 57th Street and 5th Avenue. We finally get to the 59th Street bridge and the traffic is horrible. People are everywhere. In the packed buses leaving the city. Hanging from the pickup trucks or any type of truck that can hold a person. People are quiet, sad and friendly. You can feel grief all around you. The city is wounded and spirits are broken. As we approach the middle of the bridge we have been walking for at least an hour together. For me almost an hour and a half. The walk from my office to my parents house is about 8 miles.
I am so tired and I feel like I will never get home. When we finally get into Queens, I breathe my first sigh of relief. Whatever happens now we are closer to home. Closer to my family and I am with my best friend. There are no cabs or buses to get us closer to my parent’s house so we keep walking for another hour until we get there. I don’t know how I would have made it home without my best friend. Being with her help calm my mind and feel less scared. My parents hug us both when we finally get home. I ask about my sister. How is she? Does she know that I am OK? My mom says yes she knows I’m okay but the phone lines are not working properly so I can’t talk to her. She will call us later or we will call her.
In Dominica, my sister did not find out about the attacks until after her first class was over and she walked into the school library which had the TV’s on. Of course she thought of her family in NYC and because I had clients downtown she feared I was in that area. I wasn’t but she couldn’t know this. She knew my cousin worked down by the World Trade Center and maybe another cousin as well. This hit her like a ton of bricks because she was so far from home. I can’t remember if she told me this happened at school or somewhere else but there were Muslims students celebrating the attacks. My sister snapped and yelled at them. I don’t recall the exact words she yelled back at their ignorance and what had been done to her city…her family…her country. Luckily friends pulled her away from the scene. She couldn’t reach my parents because of the phone problems the city was having. Her roommate called someone in Buffalo, NY who spoke to my parents and relayed the message that I was okay and on my way home. I think I finally spoke to my sister at around 3:00 PM. We just cried together on the phone. I have never wanted to be with her so much but I was grateful she was safe and not on a plane on 9/11.
My parents, best friend and I sat glued to the TV watching all the events of the day. By the time we got home the Towers had fallen. The devastation went from bad to awful. My cousin’s husband stopped by our house. He was a cab driver and we were glad to know he was okay. He called my cousin, told her he was okay at our house and stayed for a while. I wanted to take my best friend home but the roads were all blocked and cars were not moving. I was afraid to leave my parents alone just in case anything else happened. My cousin’s husband offered to drive my best friend home since he lived in Long Island and had to go that way anyway. A ride that takes no more than 20 minutes took hours but she got home safely as did he.
Slowly the phones started to work and calls came in from all our family members and friends. Each of us checking up on each other. Not really sure where anyone was that day. It was a very tense time just waiting to hear everyone had been accounted for. That afternoon when I walked Max, people in the neighborhood were on their stoops waiting for their loved ones who were still walking home. I remember looking up at the bring blue sky. As I did two fighter jets flew over my block. Fighter jets protecting the sky over NYC. I could not believe it. Prior to this I had only seen the fighter jets was when they did the fly overs at the stadium. The world had changed. Life as we knew it ended and a whole new world began. So much innocence and life was lost on that day.
I watched the news on TV for two whole weeks. There was nothing else on. No one could think about anything else but the events of that day. My heart cried out every time I heard a survivor’s story or the story of someone looking for their child, father, mother or friend. Eventually I went back to work. I was scared to get on the train. As the weeks passed, months passed, even years later I could not bring myself to ever visit the site of the World Trade Center.* For me personally it’s scared ground and not a tourist site. I was never at the buildings when they stood tall in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, I will not visit now that they are gone.
This story was written in 2007 and originally posted on my old blog.
*Update: I did eventually visit the World Trade Center in the Spring of 2011 with my best friend and her husband. It was part of a blogger event, a tour of downtown and the Statue of Liberty. The Freedom Tower was just being built. I cried as we walked across the one remaining walkway over the West Side Highway. There use to be two. She hugged me and we both recalled a different memory from our Senior year of high school. With our friends we had driven down to the World Financial Center and we were running across those walkways being silly teenagers. Playing in the shadows of the World Trade Center…carefree, happy, and so innocent. Never imagining a day when the buildings would no longer stand.
To all the people who lost family members and friends on this fateful day, my heart and prayers goes out to you.
To my city, I love you forever.