Remembering 9/11 & Living in NYC on that Day

Today, the world remembers September 11, 2011. 
My husband and I both lived in New York City on that day in history.  He was my fiance – we were not yet married – we had gotten engaged in April of that year.  That day, I had called in “sick” to my job in advertising down on 16th Street, which left me safely perched at home in my apartment on the 36th floor of East 79th Street.  I remember watching the Today Show that morning and getting word that the first plane had hit.  My email inbox was quickly abuzz, the phone was ringing, I remember rushing to get clothes on because I wanted to get downtown to see what was happening.  My initial plan was to jump on the subway and head as close downtown as I could get.  I knew that it wasn’t everyday that a plane happened to hit a landmark like the World Trade Center – I had no idea at first that this was a terrorist attack.  Before I had a chance to leave the apartment, the second plane hit and our whole world was changed.   I knew there would be no going downtown.  I knew that something was gravely wrong and I knew that my city was under attack.   The memories of the hours and days after that will be with me forever.  Time slowed down and I have never experienced such anxiety and panic wondering where my fiance was that day (at work or in meetings perhaps downtown?), which of our friends would have been in the World Trade Center, which of our friends worked in the surrounding buildings (many), and if I was safe in my own building.  My mind and heart were in overdrive.   Everyone in the city tried calling loved ones, the phone lines were jammed and no one could call out to get answers on what was coming or what to do next.  It was the most fear and confusion I have ever felt.  I walked to the roof of my building and watched as our beloved and beautiful city, under attack, went up into flames and smoke.  I feared that more attacks were coming.  I didn’t know whether to stay up there watching or go to the ground.  It was a horrifying feeling.  I remember getting a quick call into my mother, who was a teacher, before the lines went dead and knowing that her school had gone into “lock down”.  It was all pure horror. 
Switching gears…and perspectives…my then fiance was working in the famous “Number 9” building at 9 West 57th Street in midtown.  His office was on a high floor and faced South.  As he sat working at his desk, he saw the first plane fly directly over his building, heading downtown.  He said that he saw planes flying over the city routinely, but this one was flying abnormally low, just a thousand feet above him and he immediately went running out of his office yelling to everyone that a plane was flying very low through Manhattan.  He and coworkers were panicked and ran down office after office until they could get a view of where the plane was going and he said within a minute it had hit and they saw the plume of smoke.  They were in a state of panic and disbelief.  After the second plane hit, they all quickly evacuated the building.  If you look on a map of NYC, the Number 9 building lies at the very southern portion of Central Park.  The plane flew right over them and for all they knew, they were next.  He said it was mass chaos trying to get to a friend’s apartment and to safety once they evacuated.  The whole city was a mess.  In dispair, disbelief and chaos.

 Living in Manhattan through the devastation of that event is something that no television, movie or magazine could capture.  The sounds and smells in the city for weeks afterward are ingrained in my psyche.  People who lived in Manhattan at the time will know of the smell that I mention – it lingered for months  – as the burning and smoldering of the wreckage continued.  We had friends who lost family members.  I had a good friend who went into shock after the attacks because as she was escaping her building next to the WTC, she actually witnessed the people jumping and hitting the ground.  These are things that people living in the city were living through.  It was all very real.  I remember the lines of people lined up around building blocks to donate blood for the victims that we thought would be retrieved and of course, never were.  I remember faces of the lost and missing plastered by the thousands by family members outside of the city hospitals.  Everywhere we looked and walked, people were confused and panicked.  It was the most grief I had ever experienced.  What the families of people who perished went through was unimaginable.  What the city of New York lived through was historic and immeasurable.  The bravery of people who perished trying to save others...incredible.
The memories of how I got down there are a bit blurry, but I do remember a week or so after the towers fell, I somehow found myself in a group of volunteers organized through Trinity Church (through a friend of a friend and I agreed to go), who were down delivering coffee and hot chocolate to the firefighters who were working around the clock.  I remember being down there very late at night and being allowed within the perimeter of the police blockades that were set to keep the public out.  My Aunt came with me to help.  I remember being close enough to see with my own eyes, the parts of the building facade shot by a photographer below (top image).  The firefighters and workers were working around the clock to try to retrieve bodies – they didn’t stop.    I’ll never forget seeing the site up close and how people came together during that time of loss.

My husband and I still remember every moment of that day as if it were yesterday.  Sometimes it is too painful to think about what the families have endured and it is easier to not think about the events of that day. Today, however, ten years later – to remember – we are watching “9/11 – The Filmmakers’ Commemorative Edition (2002)“.  I highly recommend it, if you’ve got your tissue box ready.  You can download it right on Netflix.  It is important that we don’t forget what happened.  This film is the only one that had footage from within the tower as it collapsed. 

“Originally broadcast on CBS in March 2002, 9/11 is an extraordinary record of that fateful day in New York City. This one-of-a-kind documentary was originally conceived as a portrait of 21-year-old Tony Benetatos, a firefighter trainee at Manhattan’s Duane Street firehouse, located seven blocks from the World Trade Center. By the time filming was finished, brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet had captured history in the making, including the only image of the first jetliner striking Tower 1, and the only footage from within the tower as it collapsed. This is not, however, a film about the murderous nightmare of terrorism. It’s the ultimate rite-of-passage drama, more immediate and meaningful than any fiction film could be, with Benetatos and his supportive colleagues emerging as heroes of the first order. Sensitively narrated by codirector and fellow firefighter James Hanlon, 9/11 will endure forever as a tribute to those, living and dead, who witnessed hell on that sunny Tuesday morning.” –Synopsis by Jeff Shannon for Amazon.com

Our hearts and prayers go out to all of the 9/11 families and my hope is that ten years later, we don’t forget.  As a nation and as a world, we must ensure that it never happens again.  Let us be reminded and say a collective prayer.

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