The morning of September 11, 2001 started like any other day; little did any of us know that it would be a day that changed our country. I was ironing clothes, preparing to leave for work. I lived in uptown Manhattan with my husband and cat, and worked in lower Manhattan, only a few-minutes-walk from the World Trade Center.
News of the first plane hitting the North Tower (WTC 1) was on the news channels – I watched it as I ironed. My husband called – he was looking at the smoking tower from the top of the building where he worked in mid-town. Everyone was glued to the television, listening to the radio, or had their eyes trained upwards looking at the smoking tower. There were a lot of theories circulating, lots of speculation both in the news and among everyday people as to what was going on. No one really knew. Then the 2nd plane hit. It became evident that this was not an accident, it was a terrorist attack.
My husband saw the second plane hit from where he stood. More rumors started to fly about additional attacks - some people thought they heard that the white house had been hit, others correctly identified the Pentagon. In a disaster situation, it’s often hard to disseminate reality from fiction, and this was never clearer than during the first hours of 9-11. Phone lines still worked at this point, albeit it took a few tries to get through. I talked with my supervisor, and it was agreed that everyone should stay home and not come to work until we knew what was going on. I was still in communication with my husband, and he said his job was also considering letting them leave, so he’d be gathering his things and heading to the subway once they gave word. Then the buildings started collapsing, and all seeming normalcy was suddenly thrown into chaos. Subway service was halted. All traffic including public transportation was frozen to lower Manhattan. Bridges and tunnels were closed. People were advised to walk, and if they didn't know where to go, they were advised to just walk north. My husband went north - he walked and took the bus when he could; I drove down from Washington Heights to 63rd Street, the furthest I was allowed to travel downtown with a vehicle. I tried to call my husband – I called and called and called – my attempts were met with either a busy signal or a recorded message that told me all circuits were busy. I parked and waited. And waited. And waited. The waiting was the worst. I started worrying. I kept trying to call, and finally one short call went through and the breath I'd been holding in my chest was released. My husband was close.He would meet me where I was parked. All I could do was wait some more. I watched the throngs of people who passed, the fear and panic on their faces. I watched the people who had walked up from downtown Manhattan, their clothes covered in soot, business suits ripped and torn, faces & hair caked with a grayish powder…the pulverized remnants of everything that had been in the towers. Once I saw my husband coming down the sidewalk, tears streamed down my face; everything I'd held in all day finally came out in one emotional exhale.
|Photo credit: Michelle Reynoso|
In the days that followed, it was heart wrenching to see all the pictures of people who were missing posted on the sides of buildings; to watch the coverage of the search for so many missing people and to see so few rescues. I reached out to friends. We shared stories. We shared theories. We shared sadness. I discovered friends who narrowly escaped the tower collapse, others who saw the planes hit the towers as they circled the airport to land, and others who lost loved ones there. Those days were some of the scariest and darkest days I have experienced in my lifetime.
I will never forget what happened on 9-11-01. I hope none of us do.