September 11, 2001: A Day in My Life

11 Sep

WTC

It was a magnificent day until it wasn’t.

It was the one morning I was watching the Today Show, instead of Sesame Street, while my 16 month old son played quietly in his room. By this time, I would typically have been in my office in New York City’s financial district, but because I had a court appearance in the Bronx, I was still home.

A plane flew into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. There was no further information except the image of a smoking tower amid a cloudless, sunny morning.

I called my husband whose office was in the World Financial Center, a building attached to the WTC by a footpath. I left a message.

I sat down on my bed, still wet from a shower, still thinking this was just a tragic case of pilot error.

A plane flew into the second tower. Another one flew into the Pentagon. A 4th plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

The world was falling apart.

I  never went to court that day and the people that made it to my office were shattered and scattered and shellshocked. One work friend was literally thrown by the sheer force of the explosion, landing on the sidewalk, several feet from where she was standing, shoeless and covered in jet fuel. She spent the rest of the day walking back to her apartment, barefoot, and would later  permanently wrap her clothes in a bag, unable to wear them again, yet unable to discard them.

I still did not hear back from my husband, who, at the time the first tower was hit, had emerged from the bathroom to stare at a gaping hole in the WTC; a tower literally eviscerated. He and his co-workers watched coverage of the attack on a TV at work and when the second plane hit, he immediately left the building only to witness people jumping to their deaths on the sidewalk below. He overheard one woman next to him asking “they’re all going to be all right, though, right?” He turned away and started to walk from the bottom of Manhattan to the top, where we lived on East 75th Street.

I called him, repeatedly. I paged him. I beeped him. I used every form of communication available in 2001. I could not find him.

After an hour of circling my apartment, glued to the TV coverage with the babysitter–who had simply arrived for another day of caring for my son but instead found herself watching history unfold with me–my husband finally called.

“I’m ok. I have to go, there’s a long line at the payphone, but I’m on my way home.”

I watched as the first tower imploded, like a graceful horror show, a choreographed demolition, taking with it the thousands of lives inside. The second tower followed. And then there was nothing but white dust, debris, shredded and whole sheets of paper floating aimlessly, mayhem, sorrow, and tragedy.

My husband did not arrive at our apartment until that afternoon by which time we received calls from as far as Switzerland, wanting to know that he was ok. That he made it. Because, as you know, so many did not.

“The towers are gone!”

“No, you mean they’re damaged. But they’re still there. I saw them.”

“No. They’re gone. Completely. Gone.”

I still can’t believe it.

My father showed up on the shore of Long Island, to perform triage duty for all the anticipated survivors they would have to dispatch for fear New York City’s hospitals would not be able to handle the swell of patients. Not one person arrived for treatment.

For days we could still smell the destruction as far away as our 75th Street apartment. I could see smoke all the way downtown, from the park on York Avenue, as I pushed my son in a swing. I recall the eerie quiet and palpable fear attendant with my first post 9/11 subway ride. There was a large bang and the entire train car screamed. It turned about to be nothing, of course, but New York was not herself. Nothing was.

For weeks I would watch from my office window, barges carrying the destroyed remains of the familiar WTC facade up the East River, like a long somber funeral procession. For months after that, life was constantly interrupted by memorial services for NY’s courageous first responders that lost their lives. Traffic stopped, bagpipes played, it was, so very sadly, endless.

I want you to know, more than anything, that this is a good story. My husband came home to me and our son while so many others did not. The amount of families broken and heartbroken by 9/11 is staggering. I know several people who never returned to their wife’s embrace, their mother’s smile, their child’s laughter. There is no end to the amount of horrific stories this awful day in history created. I forced myself, as a start, to read all of them profiled by the New York Times in the months that followed. But those were just blurbs among lifetimes and families and love; not enough.

September 11, 2001 scarred New York City, New York, and the United States of America. That skyline, which I have loved my whole life, which relentlessly draws awe and emotion, was forever altered. It is and always will be beautiful. But it will never look right to me again. There’s a small piece of New York there that’s missing. That can’t be replaced. Or forgotten.

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