September 11, 2001 began as a sunny and beautiful Tuesday. I recall waking early and then heading for work. I had the choice of the R train local or the E train express (which terminates at WTC) and I took the R train to get a seat and have a comfortable, if slower, ride to work.
Nonetheless I got to work early after stopping at Starbucks. I work west of Central Park, and I casually read USA Today on line while sipping iced tea. I noticed a small notice of breaking news about a plane hitting the 84 floor of WTC, and immediately thought of the small plane that had struck the Empire State Bldg during WW II. Nonetheless, I thought I would give my Mom a ring out in the Midwest just to make sure that she knew I was okay and that I did not work near the WTC. I woke her up and let her know about a small plane crash and that I was okay.
Minutes later, I turned on my Walkman and got the full story developing of what was unfolding at WTC — 2 planes with passengers striking each tower. I was numb and in complete disbelief that someone could plan and execute such a willful act of horror.
From my office I could not see what was happening, largely because it was not high enough (9th floor) but also because of the large buildings in midtown between us and the Wall St. area. However, as one even happened after another, in the hour or so from the initial strikes, to the Pentagon, to the first collapse, I thought anything was possible. I had never felt such a deep sense of terror before; it was numbing. I pieced together information by radio and then the company had set up CNN on widescreen for the employees to watch.
Together we watched the second building fall and replays of the other events, news commentary and the tracking of the four planes. It felt like it was never going to end, and I was worried if something might happen to us.
By 11 am it became clear that at least for that day, the terror was done. A colleague and myself took a walk and wandered to the edge of Central Park. We could not see the smoke, but the streets were filled with sirens, people wandering, heavy traffic fleeing the island. It was not yet lunch time even.
The rest of the day was spent in making plans to leave, decisions on what to do for the rest of the week, getting emergency money just in case, seeing who in the area might have space for people living off of Manhattan Island.
A co-worker and I left in middle afternoon and walked with thousands of others west to the 59th street bridge. In waves, the police let huge crowds leave on the bridge and only minimal cars and trucks. We walked over the bridge, which offered a clear panoramic view of the disaster scene in its entirety. The smoke from the sight billowed up high and far to the east, eventually merging with the clouds in the air apparently. It was a site that was incomprehensible. We were glad to get to Queens, bu had no idea what to expect there.
On the Queens side, there were thousands of people trying to find one another. It looked like the 7 train was running in Queens, but it was absurdly packed. Luckily, my co-worked had made arrangements with a friend and her boyfriend, who gave up all rides back to our homes. It took about 2 hours due to the extreme traffic. I got to my apartment about 4 pm and just felt completely exhausted. I turned on the radio and heard about the collapse of 7 WTC, it just felt it would not end. I called my parents again, and then watched ABC coverage of the disaster.
September 11 was 10 days before my birthday. I was too scared to return to Manhattan on Sept 12, but forced myself to do so on Sept 13. For a while I felt hypervigilant of the other sdubway riders and thought there might be another bombing or the release of a biological weapon into the subway. Anthrax did come shortly after, but in a different way, of course. Every time we heard planes overhead we winced for a moment.
Slowly I healed with others and reconnected with my friends and our favorite areas to hang out, which were largely off limits until the areas below 14 St were reopened that following Friday. The candle vigils swept through NY and printouts of the missing were posted everywhere, but I especially recall seeing a mass congregation of them on the wall at St. Vincent’s Hospital and throughout the Village on any sort of empty wall area. Overwhelming grief was palpable.
I visited ground zero 30 days and 6 months after the attacks, it brought back some of the feelings I had experienced on September 11, although they subsided largely when I returned to another area of NYC.
I try to explain to others what it was like that day and I am not sure if they really get it completely. Sometimes I cannot believe I was in NY when such a horrible thing happened, a mere 5 miles from me. A coworker of mine had been a temp with our firm part time and also with a firm at WTC, it just happened to be her day with us, so she is still alive. She knew many people who perished that day, I knew only one who died that day, although he left a wife, child and unborn child.
It is hard to believe now that it was real or that I was so close to where it had happened. Still, I believe in God and in America, and continue to try to live a conscientious and loving life despite the horror and utter senselessness of September 11, 2001.