I was there on 9/11
By B-School Babe on September 10, 2011
It is a Tuesday morning and I am gathering my belongings before leaving for work - my job at a big ad agency, one that I've had for the three months that I've been out of college. I walk by my father in the living room and say goodbye to him...then I look out the window and see how beautiful it is outside. I turn around and head back towards my room. "Where are you going?" he asks. "To change," I reply from my bedroom. "You're going to be late...it's almost a quarter to nine."
Ugh. Parents. I can't wait until I have a place of my own.
I pick out a maroon sleeveless top, one with a pair of flip flops on the front. A bit too playful for the office, but on a sunny Tuesday like today at an ad agency, I feel I will be forgiven.
I hear the sound of steel grinding upon steel. Maybe a construction plank that has clearly been mishandled. Or something. Nothing I had ever heard before. I winced from the sound and went back to fixing my outfit.
I hear the few elderly neighbors who are in the courtyard outside my bedroom window, a floor below me. "Oh my gawd, Fran...Oh my gawd!"
What on earth are they chattering about now? I peek outside. A bunch of them have gathered. White halos around their heads, their skin weathered from their years of experience. They are all looking up towards the sky. "It's got to be terrorists," someone says.
Terrorists? Making construction mistakes? On a Tuesday morning? In downtown Manhattan?
I look up... at first, I can't place where they are pointing. The sky is a bright blue with gorgeous white clouds. Then I see it: the tail of an airplane poking out from one of the World Trade Center towers, two buildings that had existed since my childhood and guided me home whenever I lost my sense of direction. It looks like the set of a movie - I half expect a large gorilla to climb the other side. Smoke begins to billow.
Oh my gawd, I think to myself, how did that happen? Did the pilot fall asleep at the helm? How could anyone MISS seeing the towers? And then...shoot, they are going to shut down the area and I am going to be late for work!! I should have left earlier!
"Dad... you have to come and see this," I shout from my bedroom. "I'm looking," he replies as he turns on the news. The newscasters are oblivious. They tell us about the weather and a few other things that I no longer recall. We wait for some special announcement, but they don't yet know what is happening.
I keep watching the tower, the smoke, the tail of the plane. I can't piece it together. None of it makes sense. Should I leave now and try to make it into the office? Should I stay? My dad says, "Don't go anywhere, Sha. Stay put until we figure out what's happening."
I reach for the phone and leave a voicemail for my boss. "D, I think there was radar trouble with one of the airlines and there was a huge accident downtown at the World Trade Center. I am going to be coming in a little late today. I am really, really sorry." I wonder if she'll think I am making up an excuse for why I'm late.
The sound of helicopters fill the area as the media and the rescue teams catch wind of what is happening. Their chopping sounds mix with the now anxiety-induced conversations in the courtyard, the sirens from the ambulances, the horns and curses and buzz that has created a fever pitch of urgency in Downtown Manhattan.
Finally, the newscasters catch up in real time. On TV, we see footage of the plane and where it hit the building. Up close, it looks like the plane literally drove itself into the building...but why would that happen? How could this happen?!
The newscasters are talking and talking, but about nothing. They know as little as we do. They interview a few folks who are on their way to work. Some speculate about terrorists. Others mention they are thankful that they hadn't yet gone up to their office. A few mention the families of those on the plane and the safety of those on the floors affected. It is the first time all morning that I think about the people who may have been hurt. There are people in that building and on that plane. Oh my gawd, Fran, oh my gawd!
Then, we see another plane enter the frame on TV. I look out the window. I see the other plane - in real life - approaching the towers. I think, is he there to help the other pilot? Maybe this is a rescue plane the way they send rescue boats in the ocean?
I watch, from my living room window, as the second plane flies deliberately, intentionally, into the second tower. And the din and frenzy that had been created in Downtown Manhattan stops for a moment. The sound of that horrible screeching of metal on metal hangs in the air. It is suddenly clear to me - finally, finally - that this was not an accident, that there was no radar trouble and that the second plane was not there to rescue anyone. In that moment, my worldview changed forever.
I don't remember exactly what happened next. The newscasters probably started speaking even faster. The people on the street may have started to run off screen. Fran and her friends probably sought shelter indoors. My dad started to make frantic phone calls to find my mom, my brother, my sister.
All I could do was sit on the couch, in my parents' living room, staring out the window at those beloved towers that made me feel so safe as a child, staring at the TV screen where fictional stories are projected and where this one seemed surreal, trying to make sense of everything. Trying to make sense of the world.
In the hours that followed, I spent a lot of time on that couch, curled up in a fetal position, crying and crying and not being able to speak. My dad flitted between packing an emergency kit and fleeing the building or staying in our place since it was a solid structure and we may have be more vulnerable out of doors. I had no opinion. I just nodded whenever he asked me if I was okay.
The most horrific moment was when the towers collapsed. Mass rumbling as the floors imploded, glass shattered and people torpedoed their way out of the area. I looked into the eyes of the people running uptown. Women in skirt suits holding their shoes. Men wearing ties running barefoot. Some people pointing and shouting - this way is uptown, no this way - others too shocked to look anywhere but at their feet. They ran towards our living room window, being chased by a cloud of smoke, and they looked up at me with fear in their eyes. All I could do was look back at them, wishing they could all climb into our second floor apartment, but not knowing whether they would be safer by running or whether we were in danger for staying. When the dark cloud made its way to my building, for several minutes all of our windows in the apartment were completely engulfed in the smoke and debris. I felt our building shake, I felt our windows rumble and at that moment, everything went dark and I thought I was going to die.
Hours later, I ventured outside to get some bread and milk from our neighborhood store. I wore my black platform sandals and purple cropped pants. The streets were eerily silent and blanketed with a powdery, gray soot. Like ashes from incense. It smelled like burning rubber. I trudged through, feeling the powder on my feet and my toes, watching it make little gray dots on the purple hem of my pants.
I looked both ways when I crossed the streets where I had learned to ride my bike and had waited for the school bus as a kid, even though I knew there would be no cars.
The few people who were out also met my gaze and we gave each other weak nods. Smiling didn't seem appropriate...at all. I headed towards the local pizza shop on the corner of Fulton Street and Gold. It was the only place open and a few people had gathered there to talk and listen and talk and listen.
And as I looked up Fulton Street towards the World Trade Center, I saw a gaping hole where the towers once stood. Smoke and fire. Emptiness.
Beyond that, I saw the sky.
This is the first time I have ever written about my experience on 9/11. I would like to dedicate this piece to the families who lost their loved ones and the adults who lost their childhoods. For information about the 911 Memorial and the opening ceremony on 9/11/11, click here.
To view the original blog and other related posts, please visit: B-School Babe
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