9/11



Today is the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  Every year the media starts earlier and earlier with the memories and tributes to 9/11.  I'm actually starting to write this on 8/30 because there are so many articles and photos bringing that day to mind.  I decided I should get this down while the emotions are here.

This really isn't so much a punch as just a chance for me to document that day as I remember it.  That way someday when my kids are studying this event I can let them read this and they'll know where their dad and mom were that day.

It was a gorgeous, beautiful, stunning day in New York City.  I still remember walking out of the subway station in midtown that morning and I noticed what a beautiful day it was.  I can't remember what the previous day's weather had been, but I remember noticing what a perfect day it was that morning.  I remember thinking I couldn't wait until lunch time because I wanted to sit outside and enjoy the day.  I remember what I was wearing that day.  A black skirt with a tan and black striped shell and cardigan sweater and black flats (thank God I'd chosen flats that day).

I think part of the reason the city looked so beautiful and rosy to me that morning was because I was wearing a shiny new diamond for the first time.  Just the night before the Hubs had gotten down on one knee and asked me to be his wife.  I was bursting with the news and couldn't wait to tell my friends at work.

I glided into the office ready to make my big announcement when I noticed everyone crowded around the big screen TV in my boss's office.  We worked for a private investment bank and at first I thought there was something big going on with the market.

"What's going on?"  I asked.

"Shh," my coworker said.  "A plane flew into the World Trade Center and now the building is on fire."

My coworker had worked in the WTC the first time it was bombed in 1993 and she remembered how difficult and scary it was to evacuate that building in those days.

"This looks bad," she said.  "They've got to get those people out."

"Where is the plane?" I asked.  I'd seen way too many Hollywood movies and I expected to see the tail section sticking out of the building or something like that.

"It's gone," another coworker said.  "It was just a little Cessna.  Didn't have a chance against that building."

We watched the live feed for a bit longer until we saw the second aircraft come into view.

I said, "What is that other plane doing there?  Don't they see the building is on fire?  They should get out of the way, they're going to accidentally hit the building."

Yeah.  "Accidentally."  That's what I said.  See at this point we had no idea there was a jetliner inside the first building and we never fathomed for a moment that second one would hit the other building.

But sure enough, as we and the rest of the world watched, the plane sliced right into the south tower.  We saw the plane disappear into the side of the building.  I waited for it come back out the other side and it didn't.  The building swallowed it whole.

We were stunned.  Quietly, someone next to me started to cry.

Another coworker came running into our office and began wildly looking out windows.

"What are you doing?"  I asked her, "You can't see downtown from here."

"I know," she replied.  "I'm looking for more planes.  We're under attack!  I'm going down to the street.  I'm not staying up here any longer."

We were on the 31st floor of a non descript high rise that would not make a statement to bomb.  But she had a point, we were surrounded by famous landmark buildings like the Seagram Building and the Citibank Building.  I hadn't even thought about more planes yet.

I just wanted to click my heels three times and end up back in Kansas.

We stayed glued to the TV until we saw both of the buildings fall.  My coworker who had survived the first WTC attack was stunned.  She estimated 40,000 people had just lost their lives on live television.  She remembered how slow and chaotic the evacuation of the building had been and she couldn't imagine that it had changed at all.  (Thank God a lot of lessons had been learned since the first attack and the buildings were evacuated quickly.)

The phone rang and it was our boss.  He was stranded in London because of all the now-grounded flights.  He was pissed off and wanted us to get him home.  I'm sure he was trying to click his heels too, but instead of being sensitive to what was happening, he was just an asshole.  He asked for the Dictaphone so he could start working on an anti-terrorism speech.  I guess that's his way of dealing with stress and grief.

My normally calm and composed coworker snapped at him, "We just watched thousands of people die!  The planes are grounded!  Go back to your hotel!"

We all stayed close to the TV most of the morning.  I called the Hubs (fiance) and my mom back in Kansas and told them I was doing OK.  We weren't quite sure what to do.  My boss kept calling in and asking to be connected to various dignitaries so he could figure out what was going on.  He kept dictating memos to me over the phone.  After about an hour or so we decided to leave Manhattan.

Everyone was leaving their offices and heading back to the presumed safety of their homes.  We decided to leave too.

My coworker and her husband lived near me in Queens and we were trying to figure out how to get home.  All of the public transportation was suspended and the bridges and tunnels in and out of Manhattan were locked down.  If we wanted to get home to Queens, we were going to have to hoof it.

I called the Hubs and told him where to meet us in Queens.  We were going to walk across the 59th Street Bridge and meet him somewhere on the other side so he could drive my friends home.

My coworker and I shut down our computers and gathered our stuff.  Her husband came into the office with 2 bottles of water each.  "It's going to be a long walk and we need to be prepared," he said.  I had not even thought of that.  I didn't even have my cell phone that day.  I'd left it on the charger in my apartment.

We grabbed our waters and started walking.  We walked out the back door of our building onto Lexington.  I'd never seen the roads so empty of non-essential vehicles.  Taxis, limos, buses, vans, cars were all out of the way.  Lexington runs south towards downtown and it was full of screaming emergency vehicles from all over the metro heading down to the WTC.  We crossed over to Third Avenue, which runs north.  It too was full of emergency vehicles going to the wrong way on a one way street.

That day I saw a side of New York City I'd never seen before.  People were scared, but they were not panicked.  People were helping one another and taking turns, being helpful.  I saw employees of an athletic shoe store encouraging women in heels to come in and grab a free pair of tennis shoes for their long walk.  I saw people lining up in orderly fashion at ATMs waiting patiently to get cash.  I saw friends and strangers comforting one another.  No one ran, no one pushed, no one yelled.  We just walked together.  In stunned silence really.  Some people were crying quietly, others were on the phone with loved ones.  Everyone was just trying to process what was happening around us.  The sky was still clear and the sun was shining brightly, but our world was becoming very dark around us.  I felt such a heavy feeling of doom settling over me.  I noticed a pregnant woman walking behind me and I thought to myself, How could you want to bring a baby into this horrible world?

By the time we got about halfway across the 59th Street Bridge we could see a lot of people ahead of us stopping and looking downtown.  This was our first glimpse of what was left of the WTC.  Many people were taking pictures of themselves with the huge clouds of smoke billowing behind them.  At the time I thought it was in poor taste, now I'm not sure.  Ten years later we're so used to taking pictures of EVERYTHING that something of that magnitude might actually make a lot more sense than "Look at this giant blister on my toe."  I wish now I had my own pictures from that day to document the tragedy that I witnessed.  Already the details grow fainter and I think pictures would help me remember better.

We stopped for a moment to look at the site to just let our minds absorb what we were seeing.  Two huge skyscrapers gone in a cloud of ash and dust.  It boggled the mind to really look down towards lower Manhattan and see that cloud and know there was nothing there.

While we stood there thinking about the destruction and loss of life we were witnessing, 3 fighter jets screeched overhead, very low.  People on the bridge cheered and said the usual stuff like, "Yeah!  America!  Go get 'em!"  Stupid patriotic shit like that that you see in Michael Bay movies.  All I could think was, How do you know those are American jets?


When I voiced my concern out loud my companions looked at me like I was insane.  "Who else would it be?"  I was asked.

"I don't know.  Whoever hit the buildings.  Maybe now they're sending in the fighter jets to take down the entire city."

"Jen, you're crazy.  It's over.  Those are Americans.  They're protecting our airspace.  Nothing can get through now."

"Hmm.  If you say so," I answered.  "I'm just glad we're not walking home across the Brooklyn Bridge or the George Washington Bride though."

"Why?" they asked.

"Because no one's really heard of the 59th Street Bridge.  No one would care if this one blew up, but those other bridges are famous.  You know they're going to blow up once they're full of people walking home.  Everyone knows that when something big happens in Manhattan they lock down the bridges and tunnels and people have to walk.  Once those bridges are full I'm sure they're rigged to blow up."

I was serious.  Dead serious.  It just made complete sense to me.  Why stop with two buildings?  The city was on its knees, it was time for the kill.  I just kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Everyone stopped talking to me and we walked the rest of the way pretty much in silence.

We found the Hubs in Queens and he shuttled us all home.  It had taken about 3 hours to walk to our meeting place.

I spent the rest of the day holed up in my apartment watching the live coverage.  I didn't want to leave my couch.  I had the weirdest thoughts like, That's the picture I'd put on a flyer if my fiance was missing. Or I wish Super Man was real.  He'd kick Osama's ass.  I stockpiled water and I put $1000 in cash under my mattress and called it "Flee Money."

Ten years later I'll spend the anniversary of 9/11 taking my kids to the circus.  I'll be slightly concerned that we'll be in a "soft target" and the threat level has gone up for the anniversary.  Ten years ago I didn't know what a "soft target" was or that there was even a threat level.  A lot has changed and it pisses me off that this is the world my children are being raised in.  Our innocence has been stolen and I wish I could get it back.  I'm not naive, I know that we created Osama and that the U.S. runs all sort of shit behind the scenes where we make and break world leaders overnight, but I just wish our government would have taken their head out of their ass for a moment and looked at the big picture before they started wheeling and dealing with Osama bin Laden and his crew.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was there too! I had all the same reactions as well. The only thing different was that I was DOWNTOWN! But, reading your blog today, I finally got to laugh about it. (if that makes any sense)

Babble Blog said...

Thank you for sharing. WOW! I was in Houston, terrified, and newly pregnant; it must have been horrible for you. Again, thank you for your raw, honest emotion.

stlmom09 said...

I lived there too and it's still difficult to remember. Maybe I'll write out my memories for my kids to read one day. Thanks for this post.

Beth said...

Thanks for sharing. I'm crying, here.

Dee said...

I was 19 years old, an E3 in the US Army assigned to the 82nd Medical Detachement in Fort Leavenworth, KS. I was halfway done lacing up my second boot that morning when I looked up and saw the 2nd plane hit. I knew something was happening and I was a bit scared. I called my Dad, hoping he could offer some type of solice having served Desert Storm. I called the hangar to speak to my NCOIC and find out what the protocol would be going forward. It took me 3 hours to get onto base that day and I only lived 5 minutes away. They were checking EVERY car thoroughly. It was 24 on 24 off for several weeks. Our Unit was out of Fort Worth, TX and they were one of the first troops sent on deployment. Our detachment remained on the ground. Many of my friends were not so lucky and I have mixed feelings about not having served overseas when so many of my whom I love have injuries and even faced death during their time of tour. I will never forget that feeling, the uneasiness.... the fear.

Amy said...

Wow! I am glad I read this. I was not there, I was/am in a little city in Alabama. I saw it on TV when the first one hit and heard it on the radio on my way to work about the second. I remember the fear I felt, all the way down here. No one is going to attack Birmingham,except the people that live there, Atlanta, maybe. I watched online, as much as I could. We didn't go home, we worked and wondered if we knew anybody that died that day. Sorry to bable on, I have PMS and have had alot of caffine this morning.

Kim at Let Me Start By Saying said...

I, too, was the first one in our office (financial technology industry) who turned to our General Mgr and said in a voice that would one day become My Mother's Instinct Command Voice: "We are under attack. Get everyone out of here now." We were way up in a high-rise nestled between Grand Central & the UN.
I always had a camera on me. I didn't take any until I got home, but the following days, weeks, months I did. We have them in a waterproof bin. One day, when the kids are old enough, we'll explain. We'll try to explain.

Jimjams said...

A very moving account Jen - I would have taken your worries seriously because it's those kind of what-ifs that make sense to me. However it's the part about the free tennis shoes that gives me the biggest hope - human beings are essentially good, it's just such a shame that it takes real evil to bring that goodness out sometimes.

Unknown said...

I cannot imagine what you must have gone through, Jen. I was terrified in Illinois. I was back to work after having a newborn and was in my office, hooked up to a breast pump. My milk stopped cold when I turned on the TV.

Anonymous said...

Here in Pennsylvania, I at the time was running a day care out of my home. I was holding a precious 3 month old in my arms and had the news on. I saw the second plane approaching the tower and at first thought it was a news helicopter. Then, when it crashed into the tower - - speechless. I started switching station to station to see what was going on. At around 10AM, a friend called and asked if i had seen what happened here in PA, about an hour from where we live. Sat there stunned, wondering what in the world was happening.

Unknown said...

I was in a very small town in Louisiana. We had just separated from the Army (and each other) and I was getting ready to go to work. I remember standing in the livingroom of my best friend's house, watching the footage and being physically unable to button my chef coat. I stood and stared at that screen for what seemed like an eternity. See, I grew up in third world countries. I knew what terror was. I swore I would have my kids back home in the States where it was "safe". The world became a very frightening place where nowhere was safe that day. My kids were 2 and nearly 5. all I could think was "Dear God! Where can I run to save them?" I went to work. Nobody came in to eat. I didn't speak. I finished my shift and got home and held my children and wept. Wept for the loss of life, the loss of security, and the loss of the illusion of safety. I knew I could never make the world safe for my kids, now, I pray that their generation can.

Kristi Miller said...

Thank you, Jenn ... I feel like you and I have shared tons of laughs and today, our first tears. Beautifully written!

Jennifer Clark said...

Jen, I sobbed reading this. I know the terror of that day, I was only a minute from downtown Pittsburgh, and saw on TV the panic and dismay. They had assumed the 3rd plane would hit our city. I dont know how to feel about the end result of that. This; was your most powerful writing yet. Thank you, and I completly agree...Love and Peace, Jenn.

Anonymous said...

Jen - I was also working in midtown at the time, right next to St. Patrick's Cathedral. I had the same thoughts as you that day. I walked across the 59th Street Bridge to get to Queens where we met a car service to get us home to Long Island. It took 6+ hours, but I got home. So many didn't. I don't think I will ever forget my feelings that day! I remember what I was wearing (black skinny capris, khaki sweater set, khaki shoes.) Thankfully I always commuted in sneakers - a fact that I was so thankful for that very day! The memories still feel so alive and scary. I can still feel the tension of the day.

Anonymous said...

Very touching account. I can't imagine the horror of being so close to the devastation. How terrifying. However, you lost me with the last sentence. What do you mean the U.S. created Osama?

help4newmoms said...

I was in PA and my husband was in mid-town that day watching as the first plane hit the world trade center. He didn't get home until 3 in the morning - he was lucky to get out at all. He was a zombie for a week having been holed up in a nearby office building listening to the horror of the folks in his office hearing of how loved ones had perished and watching as folks jumped to their deaths and the buildings collapsed. Make no mistake,al qaeda hates us, they always have hated us and our Freedom and they always will. THe US has created nothing - we have been a constant beacon of freedom in the world and they hate us for it.

JoAnn Gardner said...

A friend of mine suggested I read your blog and the first one I read was about Todd Akin. I laughed my ass off. I too was in NYC on 9/11/01 sporting a brand new rock I received the night before. I was newly pregnant and my now husband gave me the ring on our "night of the ham" celebration. (long story). I was working from home in Brooklyn that day and my husband was working way uptown near Columbia. My sister-in-law called. I thought she wanted to hear all about the ring, but she told me to turn on the television. It was surreal. Such a gorgeous morning filled with such happiness and hope for the future was soon the darkest day I could remember. The one good memory I have is the one you describe: Everyone took care of each other. There was no looting and mass hysteria. There were New Yorkers coming together to care for their injured city and all of the survivors that were left. Thank you for this post.

HippoAnon said...

I was 20 years old at the time. I lived (and still live) in a tiny town on the Oregon Coast. I was on a public bus with a couple of friends from work, heading to a tattoo appointment when the news came over the radio. The bus driver turned up the volume, and I remember being stunned, numb. When we got to our stop, I remember sitting on a bench, and then the information finally sunk in. I wept. I still didn't know the extent of the loss of life, or the fact that many people jumped to their deaths from those towers. But, I knew that those planes left nothing good in their wakes. I went ahead and kept my tattoo appointment, and decided on a Celtic knot... it represents interconnection of life and mankind’s place within the universe. Fitting, I thought...

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