Saturday, September 10, 2011

911

Where were you on September 11, 2001? It's an inevitable question as the date approaches, and one that I really don't like to talk about--probably because it ranks right up there with "Motorcycle Accident" and "The Day Dad Left." I like to refer to instances like these as "rug rippers" you know--when you feel like the rug's been ripped out from underneath you. One moment, all's well, and then next you're surprised, and scared, and falling... You're not safe anymore. You're NOT invincible, you can bleed... but I'm going to write it down in full now.

One of my favorite memorials, the Teardrop in Bayonne, NJ.

For anyone that was in the vicinity of New York (it takes us just under an hour to get into the city when there's no traffic), you'll remember that September 11, 2001 was a beautiful day. Not to hot, not too cold, not a cloud in the sky. My kids were 10, 4 and 1 1/2 that day, and only the oldest was in full time school. I'd taken him to the bus stop. The bus came around 8:35 and I must've stayed outside talking to people because I didn't get back until after 9:00am, after both towers were hit. 

My husband had been working for several months at the Trade Center--that day not in either of the towers, but in building 7, which would come down later that evening. My mom had the TV on and told me that Raz had called and that he'd said that a plane had hit the Trade Center. I watched the news open-mouthed. I'd spent alot of time in that area of the city as a child. My aunt had lived on Harrison street, only blocks from the towers. My visits to Aunt Jo's would always include a walk down to the Trade Center. I went up into one of the towers once, not all the way, but from my perch the cars looked like toys and the people like little bugs.

A photo of the Trade Center in 1979 and as I remember it as a kid.
 
Not long after I came in, Raz called me. I asked him what he was still doing in the building. He told me he was leaving. I told him to get out and call me back when he was  out and away. That was around 9 -9:30 a.m. I didn't hear anything until around 3 p.m.. I spent the next 6 hours watching the news, watching the towers fall, watching the newspeople look horrified and confused as they reported that another plane hit the pentagon. I kept calling Raz on his cell phone and kept getting voice mail. I kind of knew that the lines were tied up but I kept trying anyway. His aunt called. His sister called. My family and friends called. I had no answers for them. I had no idea where he was or if he got out. I just kept watching the TV, helpless to do anything.

Finally at around 3 p.m. I got a call from the girlfriend of one of the guys that Raz worked with--they were uptown, away from what would come to be known as Ground Zero and heading for the River. Shortly after that Raz managed to get through, and said he was on a ferry bound for Atlantic Highlands. When he got off, he would start walking up Route 36--hopefully we'd meet each other if the phone service was still spotty. 

I remember going upstairs to get Vincent out of his crib and my legs feeling like lead. Even though I'd talked to Raz, I wanted to see him, know that he was OK. I remember Asim getting off the bus and asking me if Daddy was dead--this still shakes me. We managed to pick Raz up on the highway. Later, he told me what had happened.

This is WTC 7 where Raz was working that day.

Everyone in the office he was working in had heard the first plane hit, but when they looked out, they saw fire and fire trucks. Raz said he thought there was some sort of gas main break and everyone went back to work. Not long after however, the other plane hit and people with offices that looked out onto the square below started screaming. Both towers were on fire, and people were jumping from the windows. That's when he called me--he was getting out. By the time he got his stuff together, he was all alone on the floor. He took the stairs down, helping to carry some people who were having a hard time. Out in the courtyard, he saw things that no human being should ever see and that I won't repeat here. People stood staring and crying. He tried to get people to move, but they didn't; they were probably in shock.

He started walking away and when he got to the area around South Street Seaport, the first tower fell. He said he remembered the sound. He turned around and there was a stampede of people running in his direction. Some people fell and got trampled. Behind them was a huge grey cloud. 

I can't imagine what he saw when the first tower collapsed, but it was probably something like this...

He was near an elevated section of the West Side Highway. He got out of the way and climbed into one of the steel pilings. First the people rushed by, and then the cloud. He stayed in the piling until the dust settled, his shirt over his mouth. When he made his way uptown he ran into Dennis whose girlfriend eventually got through to me to let me know that everything was OK. 

Make no mistake. I am lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky and blessed beyond all reason. Raz made it out fine, and EVERYONE we knew who worked in the area made it home safe and sound--although definitely not the same. Raz would spend the next year working in different locations helping the bank he where he was consulting to rebuild their systems.

It's still hard to believe. Hard to look at images like this one.

That night, it rained. Thunder and lightning--a complete opposite of the day, as if all the souls that flew to heaven rent a hole in the sky. I don't think I slept. For weeks after, I would wake up in the middle of the night, sure I heard planes, and sure that if I stayed awake, I could get everyone out of the house--just in case something happened. Later I told Raz that I thought I was going crazy because I was hearing planes all the time. I wasn't. Crazy, that is--I WAS hearing planes because all the flight paths were rerouted; New York was a no-fly zone.

After 911, I learned what a panic attack was, oh yes. They come out of nowhere--and I mean NOWHERE. It can happen any time, any place, anywhere--and sometimes you can tell what triggers it and sometimes you can't. When mine hit, I would get this feeling of absolute and utter hopelessness, and fear. My heart would start to race, it was terrible. I remember getting one in the supermarket, and  to this day I couldn't say what triggered it. I was buying fish sticks--you tell me. Thankfully, they stopped.

The towers always marked the end of the island for me, and now they're gone. I always thought this was a beautiful tribute.

So there it is, my 911 story. I'll always be fragile at this time of year, I think. I'll always continue to look for answers--because there is much about what happened that continues to be unanswered., much that was not done as it should have been. But the price of freedom is eternal vigilance is it not?  I hope to be strong and keep fighting the good fight. Where were you on September 11, 2001?

3 comments:

  1. OMG, Nat! I never knew this! Thanks for sharing and I'm so glad to know that Raz made it out safely. (((HUGS))) I can't imagine what you went through that day.

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  2. Nat, thank you for sharing your story with us. My story is written, and tucked safely away. Hopefully, someday, I will be in a place to revisit it. In the meantime, I hope to read more stories like yours...one with a very happy ending.

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  3. Thanks guys <3 Like I said, lucky lucky lucky and thrice blessed and more... and for me it's time to move on. It took me forever to get on a plane again after that, but I did it. Putting it out there is another important step. xx

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