I work in northern New Jersey…every morning on my way in to the office, I come over a hill and see the Manhattan skyline, depending on the weather. That morning was the last time I would see the Twin Towers and that skyline…it was a clear morning and the view was incredible…even travelling at 60 MPH.
I got to work at about 8:45, and at around 9:10 the guy who delivers our payroll came in and said “Hey, the world trade center got hit by a plane”. I looked at him and said oh really, thinking someone must have gotten sick and hit the top antenna in their single engine plane…not that big of a deal.
Then I realized that people in my office were glued to their pc’s and someone turned on a radio…as we have no television at work. The more I listened the more frightened I became. My first thought was of my girlfriend (I’ll call her R.)who works(ed) at Tower 1 at the security desk. I immediately picked up the phone and dialed her work number, not knowing the extent of the damage and what else was happening. No answer, just ringing. Then I tried her cell phone, same thing. Then we learned that Tower one had gone down and that they weren’t sure about the stability of the other tower. Just then the phone rang and it was the president of the company’s wife (I will call her L.). She was hysterical and I thought for a minute that she was at the tower. Then she said, “I’m across the street at One Maiden Lane. I’m ok. They are evacuating us. Where’s my husband?” I told her that he wasn’t in yet, and I could hear that she was trying to keep it together. She said to me “Tell him to call me on my cell. We are on the move.” and she hung up. My heart started racing again, and I tried my girlfriend R. again. No answer. By now we had heard about the Pentagon and the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. At this point no one was working, we were all glued to our PC’s trying to get CNN or CNBC or something that would tell us a clearer picture. We heard radio announcers from WNBC just trying to update us on what was going on and when both towers came down, I think the announcer was crying. The president’s wife (L.)called again, and she said she was safe and that she really wanted to speak to her husband (who was still not at work) and all I could do was ask her if she was alright and that I would pass her message on. About five minutes after I last spoke to L., her father called from Florida, and he had conferenced in L’s. sister. In a very shaky voice, he asked me if I had heard from her and that they couldn’t reach her. When I told them that I had talked to her numerous times that morning and she was safe but scared, they both began to cry. I felt terrible, My sisters called me, one from Maryland, and one from Japan and they were both crying hysterically, which only upset me more, and I couldn’t tell them about my girlfriend R. because I didn’t know. My 15-year old called from school, crying so hard I could hardly understand a word she said. I felt as if I were in a nightmare of the worst kind and I actually pinched myself a number of times, but I was awake and it was happening. The bridges were closed, the airports were closed, it was like war only no one could identify the enemy.
I could not take the strain. About noon I let my boss know that my best friend R. was in there and I wasn’t going to be any good to anyone, and I left. As I left, I could see the black clouds of smoke and cried all the way home. Not an easy thing to do driving 60 MPH trying to use a cell phone. I drove to a friend’s house so I could pull myself together before I went to pick up my daughter at school (but I couldn’t get into the school CODE RED), and it was for the first time that I saw the complete horror of what had happened at all three sites. I just cried and cried because there was no other emotional way to get out the fear, the anguish at seeing people in New York walk the streets like zombies, the masses walking over the bridges with no shoes and dirty…I cried because I knew we had lost thousands no matter how many fire trucks and ambulances went in. I did this for about an hour, not really talking or doing much else than dialing my girlfriend’s cell phone. Then I tried her brother (NYC transit cop) and got no response either. I think if I could have gotten across the GW Bridge by walking, I would have tried, but my friend talked me out of it saying that I needed to be here for my daughter.
When she got off the school bus, she was much calmer, but very worried about our friend R…. I told her that I had been trying her all day and just didn’t know. We just held hands and cried.
Going home, I realized that I could not sit there and do nothing. I went out into the village I live in and looked to see where I could go and pray. We have about five churches in the walking distance, as well as a mosque. Unbelievably, only one church was open, I went in to the quiet and sat down and prayed. Prayed to whomever for those who were gone, those who were missing and those who were wounded. I especially prayed for my girlfriend R., who I still had not heard from. I think that by praying I actually got some peace and the pastor of the church was kind enough to pray with me. I walked out of the church feeling hopeful and better than I had most of the day.
I got home and went to sleep because I just couldn’t do anything else. I remember hearing the phone ring, and I didn’t answer it. When I woke up, my daughter said “That was R. She said to tell you she was safe and she’s fine.” I could have kissed the sky with my relief. She did call me back, saying she got out, she was safe and that she was very tired and that she would talk to me later.
To this day we have not touched on the subject except to talk about her co-workers who didn’t make it, and how fortunate and grateful she is that she did. She lost her purse and her cell phone, but to her it’s nothing. The shoes she wore that day are on a pedestal in her living room. I asked her about that and she said, “Just to remind me when I feel bad that I’m blessed by God to be here.”