I got that text again yesterday morning… from my sister — the one I spent September 11, 2001 with. The tears came, again. And I sent a note to the President of my company (then), who was visiting our fair city and spent that day with me and my sister, watching through our office windows as the attack unfolded and the buildings collapsed. I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my now 11-year-old daughter. I AM reminded daily of 9/11… after all, I named her Olivia, after the olive branch, the symbol of peace.
I am taken aback every year on this day, at how the details come back with incredible clarity. The smells, the sounds, the plane, the people, the stillness of an empty city. My sister remembers every moment too… but she rereads my September 11th post each year to remember again. I’m reposting it , so we can ALL remember. NO, this was not just a historical terrorist attack on US soil…. It was the day when almost 3,000 PEOPLE died. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, children, friends, colleagues. INNOCENT PEOPLE! People we worked with, commuted with, shared a city with, shared hopes and dreams for a safe and peaceful future for ourselves and our families. A dream that lives on… May we ALL continue to strive for that dream, together!
Wishing you all peace and a sense of safety, this day and every day forward! xo Maggie
I can see the two pillars of smoke rising up above the roof top of the building next to mine. I can smell the smoke. I can hear the sirens to the north of me, to the east of me, to the west of me and overwhelmingly to the south… all moving to the south. I am one short mile from Ground Zero. New York City, the city that never sleeps, is eerily silent except for the wail of sirens. I am overcome with a quiet sinking, sick sort of feeling in the pit of my stomach (it is there again even as I type this). A low grade anxiety. It’s not the panic I know the people in the towers must be experiencing, en masse. No flight response kicks in here, a mile north. I cannot make sense of it. I know what I see, what I hear, what I smell. But, I don’t understand. My mind is blank!
This goes on for I don’t know how long. Too long. The televisions blare their hypothesis, finally settling on terrorist attacks. The Pentagon has been hit. Another plane is down in Pennsylvania. There are still other planes in the air unaccounted for. No one can say for sure whether any more planes are aimed at another NYC landmark. I am surrounded by NYC landmarks. But, oddly, I feel safe here… I am in my cocoon. Out there. Outside the windows, it is not safe. I KNOW this!
The President of my company is in town from Dallas. I am the senior executive running the NY office. He finds me. He looks more worried, more confused about what’s going on than me. Maybe it’s because I’m a New Yorker… as though this sort of thing happens every day. “Welcome to our fair city” I say, making light of the situation. Honestly, it’s all we have to keep things together. No one is breaking down. People are doing. Moving. Making decisions. I give instructions to all of my employees to leave immediately… Get off the island of Manhattan as quickly as possible before anything else happens. Before every one else in NYC has the same idea. I’m sure I’m not the first. But, the work ethic here dictates that many will wait and see if this is real. To see if they can get something done before…. Before what? I don’t know. Two of my employees are from “Jersey.” One is 3 months pregnant. She’s barely showing. I send them together, encouraging them to use the pregnancy as an excuse to get themselves on the ferry more quickly. “Push your stomach out, Kerrie, and get going.” I later find out that worked. They were home quickly. Safely.
Time is passing slowly. It feels like I’ve barely just arrived. The phone is ringing. It’s my sister who is adamant that I should not leave, not go anywhere without her. I explain that we’re staying here. The head of our parent company has ordered in food for those few of us who have no where to go. No way to leave. The Long Island Rail Road has already shut down. And, at 8 1/2 months pregnant, I’m not prepared to head downtown towards the chaos to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge like thousands of others fleeing the city. It wouldn’t be good for me, for the baby, to be jostled about in a large and panicked crowd. Not good to inhale the questionable air down town. I decide… we decide together, my sister and I… that we’ll wait it out. Stay put for now. She walks back over to my office where she left me not long ago, so we can be together. Whatever happens, we’re together. That’s a good thing. Finally, we get in touch with family members, but just barely before all the phone lines go dead. The cell phones are mostly not working — too much network traffic, people trying to reach their loved ones — but my phone connects and I’m able to assure my husband and another of my sisters that we are ok. We are together and safe! Safe? Who knows, for sure?
Initially we mingled with my coworkers but the mood and comments were… weird… uncomfortable. So my sister, my boss and I, took to a private conference room, south facing so we could watch. Watch the smoke rise from the damaged towers. And we knew, we could tell, when the first tower collapsed, by the sudden mushroom cloud of billowing smoke. Then the second. This was real life happening right before our very eyes. Not at all like watching it on television.
The day dragged on — the smoke rose up into the sky, the news reports continued, I tried to do some work to no avail — until it was nearly 5:00 pm when things seemed to have… not calmed down exactly. There was no lull. Or, maybe that’s all it was all day… a lull. Nothing had returned to “normal.” It never would. It just seemed like the right time to go. I guess it felt as close to normal as it could. Nearly the time we would have left work… before 9/11. Before the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. We heard that the LIRR was running hourly trains again to help straggling commuters get out. Perhaps that was why we ventured out finally.
The people of New York City were gone… No one! Except for my sister and I. And, one lone photographer, his back to us, kneeling in the middle of Broadway where just hours before a jet plane roared too closely overhead. He had a huge lens on his camera and was shooting straight down the street into lower Manhattan where the building tops were clouded in thick grey smoke. Down a street that would have “normally” been congested with cars, buses, taxi cabs and people. People all over the place. But not today. Not September 11, 2001.
We walked — like the Simon & Garfunkel song says — amidst the sounds of silence in an otherwise noisy city. (Apropos lyrics.) We kept our New York City pace though there was no real reason for it. Maybe again, shooting for something close to “normal.” In Penn Station, there were almost no people, very few riders. A handful, maybe. Most every one had run for their lives earlier in the day. I honestly do not remember the train ride home. Uneventful, I guess, which is a strange way to describe any part of that day. It was wholly the most eventful day of my life!
When I got home, I shed my first tears. Quietly… amidst the sounds of silence. I have shed many since remembering this day over the past 8 years. Remembering and crying… always quietly.