(Originally sent in an email to friends and family, 9/11/02)
I think it would be nice to memorialize the events of September 11, by sharing our personal experiences. Here’s mine.
I was on the subway going to work. I live at 112th Street, and my office is on 22nd Street, so I only use one subway, the #1, going from the 110th Street Station to the 23rd Street Station.
On this particular day, the subway stopped at Times Square (42nd Street) and an announcement was made, no downtown service. As we left the car, I overheard someone say that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center, and it was an attack on our country. Some people laughed, and I laughed, because it was absurd.
I walked out of the station and started down Seventh Avenue. I had forgotten all about the World Trade Center. I was focussed on getting to work, which was a mile away at this point, and I knew I’d be pretty late. As I walked down the avenue, I noticed groups of people congregating around stores with televisions in the windows. But I was still oblivious to “news” or anything untoward happening in the city.
When I reached 22nd Street, I turned east (my building is between Sixth Avenue and Fifth Avenue). When I got to Sixth Avenue, I could see people looking south. So when I reached the corner, I looked south.
The World Trade Center appeared at the end of the avenue. Because it was so tall, you could almost see the entire expanse of the building, from the ground to the roof. And both buildings were on fire. It was an amazing sight, like nothing I’d ever known before. Immense, billowing smoke was pouring out in a southern stream.
Although I was mesmerized by the sight of the fire, I rushed to my office. When I got there, the president of my company was coming out the door, saying, “I’ve got to go home. It isn’t safe. The country is under attack. The WTC and the Pentagon have been hit.” I asked him if everyone had gone home, and he said they were all on the roof of the building. So I went to the roof.
Here was an even better view of the buildings, nearly unobstructed. About 2 minutes after I got up there, the first building (2 WTC) collapsed, pancaking down, creating havoc, debris, and untold dead. Everyone on the roof was speechless, though there was some sobbing, I don’t know from whom. I myself was stock still, shocked but fascinated, still finding it absurd and yet pregnant with ramifications for the future.
I stayed on the roof for another 45 minutes, watching the second tower fall. Then, with the others, I slowly walked down the stairs of the building to the street, and I walked home (about 6 miles away). There was no panic in the streets that I saw. Everyone was walking slowly home. Cell phones didn’t work, so people lined up outside payphones. I knew my chances for calling anyone were slim, so I waited until I got home to call my parents in Salt Lake. They had watched the entire event on the television, and my mother’s first words to me were, “now you know what Pearl Harbor was like.”
At the time, my niece’s husband, Chris Williams, was staying with me. He arrived home some hours later, and we were grateful to see each other. I spent the rest of the day, and the rest of the week, watching the news coverage like everyone else. We didn’t return to work until Friday.
Although I was a witness to these events, I wasn’t personally affected in any way (although my hometown, Summit, NJ, was hard-hit — it was featured on 60 Minutes, and one well-known casualty, Todd Rancke, was someone who had dated my little sister). There is probably some stress-related trauma which I’ve experienced as difficulty concentrating and other physiological symptoms, but for the most part, I am unharmed and unaltered by the experience. But it certainly was vivid, perhaps my most vivid memory of all.