September 11: My Experiences
Another Anniversary - Spending it with Family
Well here we are again. The anniversary of September 11th. My kids are 17 and 14 and both are in high school. They have read about that terrifying day in school several times and my son, oddly enough, reads all the conspiracy theories on the topic. I try not to think to much of it anymore. I still work in Downtown Manhattan so I'll see all of the day's activities close up if I want to stroll by.
But this year, I'm going to work from home. I'm not going to get in the way of the people who are still grieving so many years later. For years I went into work and I made myself think "they aren't going to beat me by making me stay home". And they won't.
But my family has never understood how I felt about it and has always asked me to stay home. I guess I didn't understand how they felt about it either, so I always went into work. Now, with my kids just starting school and my wife starting a new job, I decided it was time to listen to them and just work from home. I'm sure I'll watch some of the day's activities but I no longer need to prove to anyone that I can handle the memories of the day.
We should all grieve for the losses of that day: regular people, first responders, even the emergency workers who are suffering now with illnesses due to exposure, the buildings and the innocence we all lost that day.
We should never forget that day...
11th Anniversary - 9/11/12
Here we are again. September 11th is right around the corner. People have started asking me again for insight into the events of 9/11 since I was actually there - running through Battery Park, trying to outrun the ash cloud that we didn't know anything about. Were there chemicals in the cloud, was it blisteringly hot, would we choke to death when it arrived? Too many questions and no answers made the panic even worse. Presented below are later thoughts on the events of 9/11 and the original story I wrote 2 days after it happened. I tried to capture everything so that my kids would know what really happened, and not have to read it out of a history book. My children were 3 years old and 6 months old at the time - now they are 14 and 11 starting high school and middle school. We can still see the after effects of 9/11 on Staten Island where we live as many streets, over the years, have been renamed and redidicated to the memory of someone lost on 9/11. The memories will never fade....
It is now 10 years later. The memories will never fade. It has been a tough day, as is every September 11th. I still count my blessings that I was able to get home to my family that day.
Presented below is my story from September 11th, 2001. From the first rumble of my building, the World Financial Center, to staggering up my block covered in ash and how I've felt at times since then, it's all here.
What to Expect
There are many of you out there who want a closer view of the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, if no other reason, than to simply better understand what happened that day. I have been asked numerous times to post this story somewhere for all to read.
Please be patient and understand that I wrote this 2 or 3 days after it happened. My children were 3 years old and 6 months old at the time and I wasn't sure how I would feel about the experience when they were old enough to ask questions. That time will come soon as my children are now 11 and 8 years old and this tragedy, this historical event, is something they now learn about in school. I wanted to get it all down on paper, the thoughts, the feelings, the actual experiences, before any of it changed in my mind over time. This is a detailed account of my experiences that day - I hope you find it useful in dealing with this event. Be forewarned - this is a fairly long and detailed story..
The Full Story
Chapter 1: A Normal Morning Turns Bad
I am not a victim, I am a survivor, and that is how I will always see myself when I look back on this event. I’m’ writing this all down because many years from now I may not remember all of the details and I want my children to know why the world is the way it is, since I believe that from this day forward everything will change….
I am also writing this down for my own sanity. Both family members and friends have been calling for the last two days and every time I recount what I went through, I feel worse. Not about what I did or how I reacted since I did what I thought was right. I feel worse because every time I recount the story I remember the things that no longer exist.
Tuesday, September 11, began for me the way every day does. At 5:00 a.m., I got out of bed, took a shower, went downstairs to get dressed and retrieve my lunch from the refrigerator, and quietly left the house. Everyone, as usual, was asleep. I walked the two blocks to the bus station and quickly was on an X1 express bus to Manhattan. Nothing interesting ever happens and I usually read the newspaper on the bus or go to sleep. This morning I was up and just watched the bus fill up with passengers, just as it does every other day.
I got off the bus at 6:45 a.m. in front of Century’s, and at this point, I am also standing across the street from the World Trade Center. The towers stand tall and cast a long shadow at this early time in the morning. I cross the street (Church Street) and pass the Krispy Kreme donut shop. I continue to walk through the plaza that lies in the center of all the World Trade Center buildings. I also pass the fountain that sits in the center of the plaza and some retail carts that aren’t yet open for business. It’s cool this morning but nice out, even in the shadows.
I continue my walk to work by walking across the North Bridge which connects the World Trade Center to the World Financial Center where I work. The bridge spans across the West Side Highway and is frequently used for special exhibits. Currently, there are pictures covering the windows of the bridge picturing the snowy landscape of Quebec. They are nice pictures but I doubt anyone wants to think about snow just yet.
At approximately 7:00 a.m., I arrive at the World Financial Center South Tower where I work for Merrill Lynch. I walk through the turnstiles with a “good morning” from a security guard. These guards see me come through here everyday at this time. I take the elevator up to the 28th floor and quickly get to my cubicle. The computer was still on from the night before so I sat down, unpacked my lunch and began to check my email messages. There was nothing urgent in any of them so I went ahead and checked out some online sites. My fantasy football team, in particular, concerned me at the time because one of my key receivers, Ed McCaffrey, was lost for the season with an injury he sustained during the Bronco-Giant game aired on Monday Night Football. This all may seem very trivial but it’s important to make it clear to readers of just how normal everything appeared to be.
I went to the cafeteria to get breakfast, which was a milk and 20 ounce Diet Coke. I had bought a large box of cereal the day before and the soda was my caffeine fix, I’m not a big coffee fan. I got back to my desk and continued to do things I usually do. My wife called me around 8:35 a.m. and we talked about plans for the day and other usual things. My co-worker, Chris, who sits in the cubicle in front of me, had come in and said good morning and was quickly on the phone himself.
At 8:45 a.m. my building shook.
Chris looked up from his phone conversation as I did and we both shrugged our shoulders at each other. We both got off the phone as other people were saying that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Everyone went to the windows to see what had happened. We looked almost straight up from our position (28th floor of the World Financial Center South Tower), and we could see that the side of the building was definitely on fire. Huge amounts of paper seemed to float through the air and as I looked around, I could see that the paper had traveled several blocks. When I looked down at the street below (West Side Highway) I could see several cars were dead in the street and had been in various crashes, probably from the shaking of the buildings and the ground when the plane originally crashed into the tower. Fire trucks were quickly arriving on the scene with police following close behind. People could be seen fleeing the World Trade Center complex from every exit.
We also watched someone jump or fall from the tower, we couldn’t really tell, who appeared to be on fire.
One thing that worried me was that debris was falling quickly to the ground below and I watched several firefighters just miss getting hit as they weren’t aware of the danger. After a few large pieces of debris had hit the ground, I saw police and firefighters watching for more debris as other firefighters were getting their equipment ready. In my building, the overhead loudspeaker came on announcing that we were safe but to stay away from the windows since there was danger from the falling debris.
Most people, at this point, continued to watch the first building but I had been on the phone with my wife when the plane hit so I called her back to let her know that I was safe and that we were told to stay in the building. She didn’t think that was a good idea and said so. Nevertheless, we continued our conversation for another few minutes when the second plane crashed and our building shook again. Chris had been watching at the window and stopped at my cubicle to tell me that a second plane had just crashed into the other tower and that we had to get out. I told my wife that we were leaving immediately.
Everyone in my building was saying the same thing as we all headed for the center stairwell where we were always told to go in case of a fire. Everyone on our floor, on every floor, headed for that stairwell and one thing could be heard coming from everyone, “One could be an accident, two is deliberate!”
We were in that stairwell for 10 to 15 minutes, making our way down and out of the building. It was hot and we were all anxious to get out but nobody was panicking. Everyone checked everyone around them to make sure they were alright. One person losing control in the stairwell could have caused lots of problems. I descended the 28 floors with a few co-workers that I knew around me, and several others that I didn’t. When the line of people stopped moving down, we were told that the lobby was full of people attempting to exit through the turnstiles. We continued to the bottom of the stairwell and went into the lobby. Somehow, they had opened the back glass wall and people were leaving the lobby through both exits.
Once I got outside, I, and everyone else, tried to use our cell phones, since you couldn’t use them in the stairwell. I eventually did get through and told my wife that I was out of the building.
Chapter 2: From Bad to Much, Much Worse
I was outside, as was everyone else who worked in the World Financial Center. All of the boats from Hoboken were quickly approaching as New Jersey residents headed home. The boats were filling quickly, to capacity, and leaving. Many people, though, were simply hanging around in the park along the water. Many people were on the phone, some were consoling co-workers who were overcome with emotions, some were just talking business. I decided to try to find any of my bosses to let them know that I was out and heading home. I walked north along the water but could only find a few people I knew, and nobody from my group. One was from my previous job that I had left four years ago. I talked with him for a minute or two before I continued my search. All the while, both towers are burning.
I also ran into former co-workers from a different department and asked if everyone was out. Nobody knew anything and I guess that actually made sense. Thousands of people were being evacuated at the time. I continued walking north until I ran out of people, so I began walking back south. I retraced my tracks and moved around to see areas of people that I had passed before. I did find several people from my floor who knew my face and they did say to go home. I had figured that was my best choice, since I couldn’t actually find anyone else. I passed the World Financial Center where everyone was out and security guards were directing people to go as far north or south as possible. Since I live on Staten Island, the logical choice was to go to the South Ferry. I walked a block or two and passed many people who were acting as if nothing was wrong. I overheard people talking who were amazed at the fact that the towers didn’t collapse. I hadn’t really thought about it but I simply continued walking along with many other people.
Suddenly, and without warning, the first tower began to collapse.
I was between one and two blocks away from it when I heard it, along with everyone else, and looked almost straight up to see what was happening. By now, it has been on television hundreds of times but I was right there. Clouds of smoke, ash and debris began to come right down and a wave of ashen clouds was coming my way. I watched it coming and decided, rather late, to run for my life. I think everyone else did the same because all at once we began running. This was true panic.
I was near what I guess is the northern edge of the large park that sits north of the ferry station. I had never walked through this park before and here I was, running full throttle through it. Actually, I ran through it, jumped over it, whatever I could to try to outrun the ash cloud that I knew was coming. We didn’t know what was in the cloud of ash or how hot it was, or anything else for that matter. We quickly understood that no matter how fast we ran, we couldn't outrun the cloud.
I came to my first obstacle, a two and a half foot tall cement wall that led onto a raised lawn in the park. I hopped up onto it and landed on a rock, twisting my left ankle in the process. It didn’t matter. I kept running, as did everyone else. A woman fell next to me, I helped her up and kept running. I hopped a park bench and kept moving but the ash cloud was already overtaking all of us. As the ash began to get thicker, I saw a huge birdbath that was full of water. Many of us threw our clothes into it. Two people jumped into it and had to be pulled out so they could keep running. I helped pull one of them out and then dunked my left arm into the water. Two people fell in front of me but were attempting to get up quickly. As I went around them, I helped one up so that they could keep moving and so that I didn’t step on them.
I kept thinking about my children and my wife.
I ran just a little longer but it was no use, you couldn’t see anything. The ash had completely overwhelmed the entire area. I put my wet sleeve in front of my face to breathe through and to shield my eyes. People bumped into me as I climbed over another fence but I had completely lost my sense of direction. The crowd of people continued moving in the general direction that we had been going in when we heard screaming coming from in front of us, where we believed the Staten Island Ferry to be. People were now coming at us and nobody could tell you anything. I saw a truck nearby where someone was handing out masks. They ran out of them before I even got there. I couldn’t breathe very well but the bigger problem in my mind was that I couldn’t see and I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know this park and I could barely see the person in front of me, much less the buildings that I knew were off to my left. I hopped another park bench but a noise attracted my attention. A woman was hiding from the ash under a low evergreen tree that offered a few feet of cover under its branches. I got under the branches and several other people followed me in. It was still difficult to breathe and we couldn’t see much beyond the park benches in front of us. Whatever had set the people running from what we thought of as the ferry, was over. Everyone seemed to be heading south again. This is when I realized the pain in my other ankle. I remember stepping into some kind of depression in the grass and twisting my right ankle but it didn’t really matter at the time it happened. Now I noticed it a bit more.
The woman who I had originally been under the tree with said that she didn’t live far from here and was going home. I, and a few other people, were invited to go to her apartment to call whoever we needed to. I followed her, since I assumed she would lead me back to the buildings, which she did. I now knew in which direction everything should be in so I headed to the ferry, only to find it closed. I went across the street and climbed the steps to One New York Plaza. I pushed through the revolving door as I coughed out some ash and some people patted down my shirt to knock some of the ash off of me. They also asked me where I was coming from. I told them and continued to walk through the lobby looking for my friend who I thought worked in this building. I couldn’t find him so I sat down. I was still coughing a bit, but I brushed myself off more and then began to walk around.
They were allowing people to use the lobby phones since it was obvious by that time that most cellular phone service was out. It made sense really since all of the antennae were on top of the World Trade Center towers. As I got in line for the phones, a second wave of ash and smoke came through the canyons between the buildings and they told us that the other tower had collapsed. The building security took the phone back in case they needed them. Police were everywhere in the streets and in the buildings directing people to go north if they could.
Most of the people who had been in line for the phone left, leaving me at the front of the line. I called my wife to let her know that I was safe in a building across from the ferry. (I actually spoke to my mother-in-law because the house line was busy so I called her line so that she could relay the message.) This call was probably around 11:00 a.m., nearly and hour and half after assuring my wife that I was safe outside. After making the call, I sat near the front revolving door of the building, the one I came in through, and several other people sat nearby. We all got water when they brought down water coolers and we all received masks when they became available.
I was asked if I was all right. My ankle, at that point, hurt a great deal. I knew that I was hurt but I couldn’t really feel it until now. Now, in this building where I was resting, I could feel it. I continually asked about the ferry. When the ash had settled again, and the sun was shining above, I went over to the ferry terminal. The sun, I realized, had never gone away, the ash cloud had simply been so thick that you couldn’t see the sky above it. I got on a ferry and was on my way home at 11:30 a.m. On the ferry, we were all given life-vests “just in case” something happened.
I heard all sorts of horror stories on the ferry, told my story a few times, saw the other people around me covered in ash. Some of the people were crying and even more people began crying when they looked out the ferry window and realized that there no longer was anything to see. The Twin Towers were no more. The bus ride from the ferry brought me in contact with teenagers who had heard that something had happened and some adults who simply had no idea that anything had happened.
I told my story on the ferry, I told it on the bus and I’ve told it to concerned family and friends since then. I’ve also seen it on television many times, and of everything I hear and see, I still can’t believe what happened and what I’ve been through.
When I watch what happened and I see places that I used to walk through every day, I still can’t believe that none of it exists anymore. The Twin Towers, the North Bridge, the Krispy Kreme donut shop, Borders, the fountain, they’re all gone. The Duane Reade and the subway stations that I used to refill my Metrocard in, none of it exists anymore. None of that comfortable work environment will ever be the same again.
And I will never be the same again.
I don’ like the way I feel, I don’t like the fact that my wife is scared for my life every time I go to work, and I really don’t like trying to explain all of this to my three year old daughter who already understands far more of this than I’m comfortable with. I just want to get back to my normal life, or something as close to it as possible. I hope I never have to go through anything like this ever again and I hope I can eventually get the disturbing and horrifying images of this event out of my mind. I don’t want to forget it, I simply want to live better with it…
After Reading This
Well, I hope you found what you were looking for in this account. I can't say that I hope you "enjoyed" the story but I'm sure you understand what I mean. If anyone has questions, I have no problem answering them. I have to admit that before writing this story eight years ago now, I wasn't sure how I would handle questions but I think discussing it helps.
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