Monday, September 11, 2006

Where were you?

9-11 is to my generation what Kennedy's assasination was to my parent's generation. The "Where were you?" moment you are always interested in hearing from others. Here is mine:

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

I was living in New York. My husband and I had an apartment in Queens with a beautiful view of Manhattan. The morning of 09-11-2001 began as it usually did, My husband got up way before me and left for work and I got ready and headed to the street for my morning commute. I was standing at the bus stop, reading my book. Had I looked up, I would have seen the 1st plane hit the tower. I continued my commute from bus to subway. As I walked into my building at 35th and 7th, the security guard hollered after me as I entered the elevator:
"Did you hear?"
"A plane clipped the World Trade center"
"Holy Shit!"
"Yeah, wierd, huh?"
...and the elevator doors closed....
As I rode up to the 14th floor, I remember thinking a prop plane must have clipped the antenna on the top of the tower. Sucks to be that guy... he is going to be in a lot of shit for that one....
The doors opened again and I see our receptionist scrambling to answer phones, in between each ring and "Please hold" she yells at me... "You better call your family!"
Oh my God, something happened... one of my grandparents died... someone was in a car accident... my mind raced as I flew to my department which was still dark. No one had made it in yet and the message light on my phone was blinking red and the phones were ringing at every extension. I pick up my phone.
"This is Rebecca..."
"Are you okay... is Mike okay?!?!" my mother asked in a panicked voice.
"Yes, I am fine, what's going on? Are you guys okay?"
"Becky...didn't you hear?!?! Two planes hit the World Trade Center!"
At this point people have heard my voice in the office and are coming in screaming, "... there are more planes... they think one might hit the Empire State building!" (Which was 2 blocks away)
"Mom, I gotta go... I'm okay...I gotta get a hold of Mike... I will call you back."
I try calling Mike's cell but get a rapid busy signal which means there are no lines available.
"Isn't there a TV in here??"
"Uhm, yeah... over here..but it has shitty reception, we gotta move it to the window"
"They have shut down Manhattan... nothing in or out"
"I got it...I got it...."
Our entire office crowds around a small black and white screen for more information,
for what seems like forever, listening to commentary saying nothing but to stay put.
We all try to call out but nobody can get a line....
Damnit Damnit Damnit.... I gotta get a hold of Mike....
"Oh my God... they are jumping!"
Then suddenly... rumble, rumble, rumble.... the Tower 2 collapses.... inaudible gasps followed by shrieks and sobs....
My mind kept racing....
"There were people in those stairs... THERE WERE PEOPLE IN THOSE STAIRS TRYING TO GET OUT!!!"
Panic... pure panic as the streets fill with smoke and debris.... and it hits me... OH MY GOD... MIKE PICKS UP HIS TRUCK FROM DOWN THERE!!! He is trapped... he is trapped under all that debris.
I continuously speed dial and redial between my husbands cell and his work, praying for an available line.... I get through to his dispatch. They tell me they haven't gotten a hold of anyone because all the lines are busy, but he can assure me that Mike already got his truck and was uptown before the tower collapsed.
"Do you swear to me?!?!"
"Yes, ma'm... I assure you he is fine"
Rumble, rumble, rumble... tower one ... gone.... tumbling like blocks and sand.
I gotta get a hold of my family... dial/redial... mom cell...Karen cell....Karen cell....
"Hey it's me"
"Are you okay... are you okay?"
"I'm okay..."
We exchange "I was so scared" and "I was so worried" about a thousand times. Someone in my office realizes that I have gotten a line out.
"Can you have your sister call my parents and let them know I am okay?"
So my sister then uses her home phone to call my co-workers' familes and let them know we are okay.
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know... there is no way in or out of Manhattan. The subways/tunnels/bridges are closed. I guess we stay here until we are told we can leave."
"You can't get on the subway...what if they bomb it"
"I don't know... I don't know...."

Around 4 o'clock we hear they are letting people get out of Manhattan. I gather my things and head down the elevator. I took the eerie walk to the subway. There were no cars... not one. The streets were empty except for people, dust and debris. I got on the subway and exchanged "can you believe it" looks with total strangers on the train. As the 7 train came up from the river to its elevated above ground tracks in Queens, an entire train car of people crowd the windows facing West to view the empty hole with rising dust and smoke where the Twin Towers used to stand. The only words spoken were, "Oh my God...."

That night the only sound you could hear were the jet planes racing over head continuously. I remember asking Mike if it would be okay if we slept with the TV on that night. I needed to hear the TV in case an emergency broadcast signal came on for real.

The next day I became dizzy reading the scroll on the bottom of my TV. I was glued to every image played and re-played, every new theory, every new expert. I called our best friends, Todd and Allison.
"I can't watch anymore"
"Neither can I....let's go get a drink..."
We met them for dinner to escape the constant news on the TV, and walked into a resturaunt with TV's in every corner. As much as we wanted to escape it, it was comforting to have them on in case anything new came on.
Todd saw both planes hit.. he was a stock broker with a perfect view of the World Trade center from his window. When the second plane hit, he flew down his building and caught the last train out of Manhattan before the city was closed. He watched the towers fall from the platform of the Queensboro Bridge stop.

There was a great urgency to do something... to just head downtown and start pulling debris and helping with the search. It was very clear from the TV that unless you were a professional, you would be turned away. Late that night in the bar, the front doors opened up as two very dusty and very worn firefighters walk into the bar. There was a mad rush in the resturaunt to thank those two beaten men and fights to pay for anything they wanted. They humbly bowed their heads, shook off any praise and retreated to a corner for some space to clear their heads.

Thursday morning, we were told not to let the terrorist win... head back to work with our heads held high. I walk into my office, put my things down, and head to the bathroom.
The alarms go off.... I come out of the bathroom and look around at all my colleagues standing in the hallways looking at one another for someone to decide what to do. At this point the emergency exit opens from the outside as a security guard calmly but sternly asks us to leave the building.
"There has been a bomb threat at Penn Station" (which is across the street)
Panic...PANIC.... we head to the emergency exit stairs to crowd into the hundreds of people flowing down from floors above us.
Floor 14
Floor 13
Floor 12
(Oh my God this was what it was like for all those people)
Floor 11
(I realize a friend is having a panic attack and stumbling down the stairs in her heels)
"Take your shoes off"
"I can't"
"Hold on to me... we are going to get down the stairs... HOLD ON TO ME"
Floor 10
Floor 9
(We are not moving fast enough... dear God....dear God... please please)
Floor 8
Floor 7
Floor 6
(Will we know it when the bomb goes off? Will we feel it?)
Floor 5
Floor 4
Floor 3
Floor 2
Floor 1....
"Ladies... please head North towards Times Square... everyone...PLEASE HEAD NORTH!"

We follow their instructions and head North. As we are quickly moving in mass uptown, we are hit with a crowd of people heading downtown. After pushing and struggling to get further uptown, I stop and ask someone where they are coming from.
"There is a bomb threat at Times Square!"
"There was a bomb threat at Penn Station!"
I turn to a cabbie sitting in his car parked on the side and ask him what is going on and he informs us there are bomb threats everywhere... Penn Station, Times Square, Grand Central, you name it.

I find a large group of my co-workers and explain what I have been just told. My boss turns to us and says, "Ladies... that's it... go home and don't return until all this settles down... nothing is that important and I won't jeopardize your lives until we know more." We all hugged and smiled and got teary eyed because we were all scared to death to get on the trains and head home. We couldn't get back into our office for safety and we surely weren't safe on the streets. I prayed every step down the stairs to the subway and every breath until I was safely off the train in Queens.

The events of those days will never leave me, but they cannot compare to the pain and anguish suffered by those directly affected by this tradgedy. I hate the fact that those events caused a predjudice in me causing me to stare at every Middle Eastern man who got on the subway with a long coat or back pack. I asked for forgiveness the moment the thought would cross my mind, but could never fully let my stare go....

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