I spent the evening of September 10th at home. The Brooklyn Cyclones (the NY Mets Single-A minor league team) were on the verge of a championship. They had a stellar inaugural season. I was listening to the game, engrossed in a group chat full of friends and fans. The Cyclones won that game and were one win away from the title. Being an avid Mets fan, therefore a Cyclones fan, I went to bed excited. Little did I know the world was about to change. Forever.
The next morning I woke up to an unusally beautiful day for mid September in NYC. I got dressed with two things in mind for that day, work and a first date that was planned for that evening. I left my apartment and started towards the D train. I felt something different in the air but couldn’t put my finger on it. Everything seemed uneventful, until I arrived at the office…..
I worked for Bear Stearns in Metrotech Center, Brooklyn. Not far from The City (aka Manhattan for non-New Yorkers). I worked in Human Resources and was always the first one in. I may have been there for 10 minutes when my phone rang. It was Tommy, one of my colleagues. He sounded confused. He had been in a cab on the way to work and told me to turn on the news. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing from the cab. The top of the WTC was filled with smoke. He would be in as soon as he could. I hung up the phone and turned on 1010 wins.
The reporters were as confused as anyone else. And for the first time, at least for me, I heard panic in their voices. “There’s a huge hole in the building, toward the top, maybe about 3/4 of the top. It looks like it’s the Tower with the [radio and television] antenna. There’s smoke and debris is falling.” An airplane had hit the North Tower. The reporter was on her rooftop in NoHo and saw the plane strike the Tower.
I immediately thought it was an odd accident considering the clear skies. I ran to an office window which had a clear view of the Towers. There it was, the top floors of the North Tower were up in smoke. Colleagues started trickling in, some had already heard about the fire at the WTC. We stood there, almost frozen, watching in disbelief.
But it’s just a fire…..The FDNY choppers and engines will contain it and extinguish it. Right? Kind of like when the helicopter hit the side of the Empire State Building all those years ago. I kept praying there were no major injuries or casualties on the floors that were up in smoke. At least let there be nothing severe. God willing.
We took turns checking news updates. We all started making calls and sending e-mails to friends and colleagues who work in both Towers. Some phone calls resulted in voice mails, while others had busy signals. The worst were the e-mails that bounced back.
I was finally able to reach Jeff, an ex who I had remained good friends with. He was ok, and told me that everyone was told to remain calm and stay at their desks. I pleaded with him to leave and told him what I saw from my view.
Smoke. Debris. One image I will never forget. Ever. Four people, holding hands, as they jumped out of one of the towers, one of them holding a white cloth of some kind, maybe a shirt. (I remember later on, a friend who made it out told me “Had I been trapped, I would have done the same thing. Better to jump and die quickly, than to suffocate and burn.”)
Jeff told me he would call me back.
I ran back to the window to join my colleagues and here came the second plane, smashing into the South Tower. Now it was obvious. This was no accident.
I wasn’t sure which Tower Jeff was in, so I ran back to my desk to call him. He answered and didn’t sound so calm this time. He, along with another co-worker, decided to leave. He would call me when he was somewhere safe (two days later I found out Jeff was ok). Back to the window. We let out gasps and screams as we saw the South Tower collapse. It looked like a house of cards falling.
“World Trade Center destroyed” – The news ticker on the bottom of the office television.
World Trade Center destroyed. What in the actual fuck was happening?
One of my colleagues started praying aloud. I’m pretty sure I blacked out. Another colleague screamed that he was leaving to grab his kids from school. The rest of us stayed in the office, making calls to family and friends who were in the Towers, and sending e-mails (still bouncing back). At this point I saw that I had voice mail and it dawned on me that someone may be concerned for me as well. Sure enough, I had messages from friends checking to make sure I hadn’t gone to the WTC that day. My turn to return calls.
Holy shit. The pentagon was hit.
My immediate thought? This is war. I assumed WWIII was breaking out right then and there. I was watching the end.
Misinformation and panic…..
We had heard there was a fourth plane that crashed, it was heading for the White House but landed in an empty field in Pennsylvania. We also heard 12-13 planes in total had been hijacked and all but the four that crashed had been unaccounted for.
Women who had worked in the Towers began arriving at Bear Stearns. They were tired, scared, and red-faced. Some had run so fast from the WTC that they had lost their shoes. It’s common for NYC women to wear comfortable shoes to work, and then change into heels at the office. Anyone with extra shoes at their desk gave their spare shoes to the shoeless women who escaped the Towers.
My colleagues and I immediately started planning our safety and discussing whether we were safer sleeping overnight in the office, or staying at the hotel across the street. Was going home even an option when we didn’t know if there was another target?
The City had shut down. Air traffic, bridges and tunnels. All closed.
A few of us decided to walk home, as long of a walk as it would be, we would carry each other if we had to. Once outside of One Metrotech Center, I noticed people scattered, sitting, their faces covered in white dust. They had escaped. They looked [understandably] defeated even though they had survived.
The walk home was solemn. No cell phone service and pay phones weren’t working. The scene was like something out of a movie. We all walked silently. Retailers and priests were standing outside of stores and churches, handing out water, offering any help needed.
It felt like the longest walk. At some point, the husband of a colleague picked us up with his car. I don’t even remember how she contacted him. It’s kind of a blur.
When I arrived home I hugged my cats. I called my Mom, and then I called my friend who lived three doors down. I eventually made my way to my parent’s house. I remember friends who live on my parents’ block coming in and out, sharing shock, disbelief, stories and tears. I felt numb. I barely heard a word the President said. My parent’s wanted me to spend the night, but I wanted to be in my own bed. On the way home I stopped at a bodega to pick up cat food. The man at the register was Middle Eastern. His expression was a mirror of mine. We looked at each other with empathy and said nothing to each other but “get home safe.” As I got to the bodega door, I turned and looked back at him. We shared another sad glance. I walked out of the bodega, went back home, and threw out the clothes I had worn that day. The weren’t dirty, or physically damaged, but for me, they now carried a feeling I needed to forget.
That night I stayed awake. Numb. Dazing in and out.
Suddenly September 11th turned into September 12th. A new day. I watched the sun rise, knowing that my world, my City, my skyline as I had known it, would never be the same. And neither would I…..