Some days I’ll never forget. The events are so etched in my memory I can at once be brought back to the exact feelings I experienced. My wedding day, and the births of my three children are the good ones.
Then there are the bad days, and September 11, 2001, may be the worst of all. The panic and grief overwhelmed me as I watched the towers burn and fall on that horrible Tuesday 10 years ago.
The first memory is that it was a gorgeous late summer day in New York. We had been in our new home just a few weeks, and everything still had a new scent to it. The paint was fresh and the walls were clean and waiting to be adorned with pictures and decorations.
It was also an extremely stressful period in our life, with some of my worst fears coming true.
Five days after we closed on the house, my husband was laid off from his job. Anyone would panic, but for us, it was our personal nightmare come true.
I was five months pregnant with our second child, and the pregnancy was getting complicated. I had just switched from my regular ob-gyn to a high risk pregnancy practice. I was going to need to be very careful and get as much rest as a mom with a two-year-old and a new house could.
Despite all the turmoil, I woke up that beautiful September morning feeling happy.
My husband is a financial writer, and some freelance work was beginning to come in. A few days earlier, he had a one-day assignment at the New York Stock Exchange, and he stopped in a coffee shop in the World Trade Center to go over his notes before coming home.
Joe was in his home office interviewing a source for a story. The next day he was supposed to fly down to Washington to cover a conference. I loved having him around. It seemed like I was really going to need help, and maybe it was working out for the best that he was freelancing now.
I was also enjoying living six blocks from my parents. I had lived in Manhattan and Queens for 18 years. It had been a long time since I was able to see my parents on a regular basis. I could hear my mom and then-two-year-old Tom playing in the sun room and listening to Blues Clues.
Gratitude filled me as I was making Tom’s new bed and looking at his big boy room. The clouds my sister and brother-in-law had just painted a week ago were finally dry, and I loved the new airplane border.
I was pregnant. We had a lovely house. We still had some savings left. Joe was getting work. We would be okay. The sun was shining. The radio was playing the oldies music I loved. Life was good.
As I was finishing making the bed and arranging animals on Tom’s bed, the music stopped and the news cut into the broadcast. The announcer said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. My mind immediately downplayed it. I’m a born and raised New Yorker and do not jump to conclusions or panic easily. I figured it was a small private plane that got into some odd trouble.
Not forgetting my assistant skills from my working days, I wrote a quick note to my husband and put it in front of him as he was talking on the phone: Two planes hit the World Trade Center.
He looked at me and said something to the person he was interviewing.
I ran into the sun room where my mother and Tom were playing. I switched the TV to a news channel. All of a sudden, there was President Bush telling the world that two commercial airlines had hit the World Trade Center, apparently the work of terrorists. Our country was under attack.
The three of us were glued to the TV.
Then the phone started to ring.
People calling to see where Joe was. People calling to see if we heard from my sisters and brother in-law, all who worked in various offices around midtown Manhattan.
My sister worked right by Grand Central Station and was panicked. There was talk of evacuating office buildings. No one knew if there would be another attack, or when or where it would be. Everyone felt vulnerable.
At some point, we heard news about the plane crashing into the Pentagon. TV reporters said people were jumping from the towers. I could only imagine the terror inside.
I know Lower Manhattan pretty well. I had worked in the area for a while and visited the World Trade Center on many occasions. Joe and I dined at Windows on the World for our fifth anniversary and spent the weekend at the Marriott Hotel adjacent to the towers.
Thoughts raced through my head as I watched the nightmare unfolding on TV.
We started going through a list of the people we knew and where they worked. Who did we know who worked in or around the Towers? Are they safe? More phone calls.
Joe, my mother, and I were just stunned as we watched the reports come in. Tom must have heard something about people jumping from the buildings because for weeks afterward Tom would say “People jumped from buildings.”
After what seemed like an eternity transifxed to the horror on the screen, the unthinkable happened–the World Trade Center’s south tower collapsed into a massive smoke cloud.
None of us could absorb the shock. For close to half an hour, we watched the horror continue to unfold with the north tower. Then the unthinkable became all too real for the second time in 30 minutes.
With both towers of the Trade Center gone, there was this odd void in the Lower Manhattan skyline that didn’t belong there. What had just happened was just too much to process. It seemed as if the world had ended and we were watching it on television. Safe and sound in the suburbs. My friends and family in the city.
Some time in the next hour came the report of Flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania.
Watching the towers fall as if they were made of Tinker Toys and Legos is something I will never forget. The thought of all the people in the building, gone forever. I was fixated on the horrible thought of what their families were gowing through. All that death. All those firemen, police officers, and paramedics just doing their jobs. All of them rushing into a nightmare to help others.
Out in the suburbs, the streets were quiet. People didn’t talk much. We couldn’t get through to anyone in the city and had no idea where my sisters and brother-in-law were.
Every so often a plane would fly over and send pure panic down our spines.
My father left his office early, and my parents, Joe, and I just continued watching the news as I continued doing for weeks after.
I would watch women and men show pictures of their loved ones, hoping that someone would be able to tell them anything.
TV reporters I had watched for years were crying and visibly shaken as I had never seen them before.
The world had changed.
I was terrified for my son and the baby I was carrying. What kind of world was I bringing them into?
A stuffed lamb for our oldest son and one of his favoritie books, The Runaway Bunny, were gifts from a former colleague of my husband who had been at a conference in the north tower that morning. Other co-workers got a cell phone call from him as he said he and other conference attendees had found a stairwell and were trying to get to safety. That was the last communication with him.
Thankfully, our lives were not touched directly. My family was safe, and our closest friends were unharmed. But it was hard to feel grateful, when all around us people were suffering.
Four months later our daughter was born on January 11. Five weeks after we brought her home from the hospital, my husband started a new job. We all were encouraged to move on yet remember. Life went on.
Yet that day and the days that followed are etched in my consciousness. I still think about everyone who was lost and the memorials that are held every September. My heart aches for all the lives that were lost that day, and all the lives that have been lost since because of that day.
Today we live in a world where terrorist threats seem common, and young men and women who should be in college, starting jobs, or with their families are now fighting two wars.
The one thing I try to impart to my children about September 11, is that although we saw what real evil could cause on that horrible day, we also witnessed many more examples of what real love and sacrifice looked like. In the end, good triumphed over evil.