Everyone remembers what they were doing on September 11, 2001. I was working at a preschool for autistic children and was awaiting the arrival of the school bus when, unbeknown to me, the first plane hit tower 1. When the bus pulled up and the driver informed me of the news, I ran inside frantically searching for the telephone. My husband worked on the 81st floor.
After trying to get through for about 10 minutes, I feared the worst. I fell to my knees and handed the phone to a friend, asking her to dial for me because I was too hysterical. My brother worked there also, and so did so many other people I knew. At the moment I felt the most helpless, the phone call went through to his cell phone.
My husband was okay, but was still on the 45th floor. His entire office was traveling down the stairwell and he stopped to take my call. He didn’t know exactly what had happened and at the time, neither did I. All that mattered was that he was okay and was getting out.
When I got to my mom’s house 15 minutes later, I saw the television. My mind like the minds of everyone across America, could not fathom that what was happening was actually real. We watched the replay over and over again until they broke in with the latest news – the north tower was about to collapse.
After it collapsed, I waited for the phone to ring. I had spoken to my husband earlier and he was still in the building – had he made it out in time? Something inside me knew he did, or maybe I was just denying what the possibilities could be. Almost 40 minutes later he called from a pay phone in Brooklyn. He was okay and going to stay there until the bridges opened up for us to go get him.
To all Americans, the World Trade Center was and still is a part of American history and a center for tourism. Growing up and working in Manhattan meant it was more than just a place to visit. I shopped there, ate there, hung out and listed to bands in the courtyard at lunchtime. Just a month before the tragedy I took my mom to visit the area because in all her years of living in New York she’d never been there. We had lunch, shopped and visited my husband at work. It was hard to imagine such real places that were such a part of our lives just didn’t exist anymore.
Days after the tragedy we couldn’t help but to feel guilty. Everyone was telling us how lucky we were, how grateful we should be. Seeing the crying families on the television or photos of people jumping out of windows made it impossible to feel any sense of joy at all.
We tried to carry on with our lives, but found it difficult to do so. We had tickets to see a concert just a few weeks after and decided it would be best to go, even though it meant I would have to drive into Manhattan by myself. After the show we went down to the site because I felt I needed to see it in order to help me move on. I cried for almost an hour outside the fence and watched as people worked around the clock to make order out of the chaos. I went into St. Peter’s church, which faced the site, to use the bathroom. The entire interior of the church was covered with children’s drawings from the ceiling to the floor. It brought both a smile and tears to my face. As I thought about the people who were still missing. Even more tragic were the photos hung on fences surrounding the site. The desperation of those who still had hope of finding their loved ones alive was overwhelmingly sad and painful to see.
A few weeks passed and my husband’s office was asked to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show featuring accounts of survivors of 9/11. My husband, knowing it would be a therapeutic experience, went. His boss told the story of how he helped carry a woman in a wheelchair down 60 flights of stairs. Others talked of being trapped under rubble or behind fire yet still making it out. His company was the highest floor where everyone in the office made it out alive.
For a long time we talked about that day. We relived it and cried, remembered things we had forgotten and asked questions. One year later, we discussed every detail of September 11th from each of our perspectives as we often did. Although we still remember that day we’ve since moved past anger and guilt and we don’t relive it everyday as we did for that first year.
Memories of the World Trade Center pop up unexpectedly. When someone asks me where I got the shirt I’m wearing, for example, and it’s one I bought from the Gap in the World Trade Center Mall Or when I recall the story of the biggest roach I’ve ever seen – which just happened to be in the World Trade Center Mall bathroom. I remember the homeless women who always lay on the floor in that bathroom and wonder if she’s still alive.
As the anniversary grows closer my husband prepares to take the day off from work so we can spend it together as we do every year. We’ll remember and mourn those who were lost and appreciate how fortunate we are to be here today. It’s important to us to take the time to not forget September 11th, 2001, and I try to encourage others to remember as well.
Today we live in Pennsylvania. Although we live a simpler life here we’re aware that we cannot escape the perils of today’s society. We just hope we don’t have to live through them that closely ever again.