NOTE: I originally wrote this post five years ago, at the time of the 10th aniversary of 9/11, but never published it. Every year I re-read it and think I should edit it and publish, but the thought overwhelms me. So this year, the 15th anniversary of 9/11/01, I decided I will go ahead and hit publish – unedited copy, tiny photos and all.
As it is for so many, this lead-up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11 has been hard. Mario has been watching the series “Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero” on the Discovery Channel. I catch it out of the corner of my eye and start watching because it is interesting, but I always end up sobbing at least once during every episode. This is the first time I have written about 9/11/01 since that day.
I know this post will be long, but I have a lot of memories about that day and I have never actually written it all out. So if you’re interested, keep reading. If not, feel free to skip ahead to the next post on Thrifty Jinxy.
It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years since that day passed. While I remember some parts of the day very clearly, others are a blur. But for me personally it was a day of panic. Not only because of the general terror but also because my husband worked in the Financial District in lower Manhattan. To be specific – on the block next to the World Trade Center.
I don’t remember why, but on the morning of 9/11 I was going to work late. We lived right across the Hudson River from Manhattan and while Mario worked in NY, I was working in Secaucus, NJ. I was moving around the apartment getting ready for work and had the TV on in the background. All of a sudden a “Special Report” on TV grabs my attention and I find out a plane has just struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I am stunned staring at the TV for a few moments, but then quickly call Mario at work. He asks me “What’s going on?” because he had heard and felt the crash, but did not yet know what it was. When it happened there was a construction crew outside their building and they just assumed a beam or something had dropped. But then all of the construction workers ran over to one side of the site an were pointing.
After hanging up with him, I turn back to the TV and shortly thereafter, the second plane hits. I call Mario back again. This time he knows what has happened since coworkers who were outside came in and told them the WTC was on fire or at least had smoke coming out. They said it looked like a plane or missile hit it. (I also come to find out later that at the time of the second crash Mario was on the phone with our friend who worked in Jersey City, right across the river from the Twin Towers. Our friend started to say “OMG, I gotta go” and then HUNG UP THE PHONE! He was watching as the second plane was headed toward the towers, but didn’t tell Mario….(It took him a long time to live that one down.)
As for myself, I don’t know why I did this, but I got in the car to drive to work. I had called my mom on the phone and told her I didn’t know if I should go or stay, but I finally decided that I didn’t want to be by myself, so I headed for the office. My drive to work took me along Boulevard East in Weehawken, NJ. (The street runs along the cliff that overlooks the Hudson River. The actual name of the street on maps is Kennedy Blvd. East, but everyone calls it just Boulevard East.) Even though I had seen the images on TV, when I saw the smoke coming from the towers myself, it really struck me.
Most of the next few hours is a blur to me – I had to discuss with Mario to try to piece together my memory. While on my drive to work, I spent a lot of time on the phone with him and described what I saw. He told me that the NYFD had informed them to stay in their building as it would be the safest place to be. I got to work (about 15 minutes away) where, of course, no one was working.
Just as I got to work and was getting out of my car, the first tower fell. I actually didn’t even recall that part of the story, but I talked to my mom this morning and she reminded me of it because she was on the phone with me at the time. When I got into work, everyone was quiet and worried sick. Everyone had either family or friends who worked near the Towers, or who were emergency personnel headed to the scene. I was able to speak to Mario by phone once or twice more. Then they lost phones, but he could still communicate with me via Instant Messenger, but then that went down too. After that point, the cell phone communication in the area was basically non-existent and I had no idea where he was or what was happening.
My office closed for the day and I headed home. My 6 mile drive home took me just under 3 hours. At that point I didn’t know where Mario was. I also had no idea where my sister-in-law was and she took the PATH train to the World Trade Center every morning and walked to her office from there. When I got home I turned on the TV to get more info, but since we didn’t have cable only one station (maybe two) came in. Most of the NY stations had their transmitters on top of the WTC. No transmitters = no TV unless you have cable, which we didn’t have at the time. Finally, once later in the afternoon, Mario was able to call me (a coworker was on a different, small carrier that actually still had service). He said they had walked to Midtown and stopped for pizza. Yes, seriously….they stopped for pizza. At least I knew he was OK! The rest of the day I spent on the phone with friends and relatives who were calling to see if he was ok. It was a looooong day until he finally got home at about 7:30 pm.
Once they got to the other side in Fort Lee, Hector called a frat brother who lived nearby and he picked them up and drove them home.
You can imagine how relieved I was when Mario walked in the door. I still hugged him despite his toxic coating. But then he quickly took off all his clothes, put them in a double plastic bag and threw them out. Now that we know all of the chemicals and cancer-causing agents that were in the air and dust at that time, it was really a good idea.
Shortly after he got home, we also heard from his sister. She actually had been under the World Trade Center when they stopped the PATH trains. They had to get out of the car and walk through the tunnels and then up and out of the WTC. Suffice it to say, she saw some really bad things that day. She was able to get on a ferry out of the city to Hoboken (or maybe to Weehawken, I don’t remember). Either way, when the passengers landed in Jersey they actually took hoses and washed the dust off of them.
We spent a lot of time that night on the phone talking to friends and relatives who continued to call to check on Mario. This was approximately 9 months before our wedding and Mario actually determined who was on or off the guest list by who called to check and who didn’t. He actually scratched two friends OFF the list!
In the days immediately after the attack, the physical signs were still all around. The air was hazy and smelled bad. Each day Boulevard East was a parade of ambulances and other emergency vehicles from many neighboring states, and even some from cities that were far away. Boulevard East is always filled with tourists who want to take pictures of the Manhattan skyline, but there were even more after 9/11. For several weeks Mario worked in Brooklyn until their office was able to reopen in lower Manhattan. Once he went back to working there, his commute was changed since the PATH train to the World Trade Center was no more. His company was one of many that set up a shuttle bus, so instead of taking the train from Hoboken to NY each day, he now took a shuttle (at least it was free!)
Luckily we didn’t have friends or family who died that day, but we knew many people who did lose loved ones. Since Mario worked in the financial industry, they had many clients in the World Trade Center. The week after the attack, I was looking through my wallet and found a business card I had received from a manager at Windows on the World (the restaurant at the top of the WTC) when we had visited earlier in the summer. I knew I could have checked online to see if she was among the fatalities, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Unfortunately, just now as I was writing this post, I pulled up Windows on the World in Wikipedia and learned she was acting manager at the time of the attack. …..and now I have to cry onto my keyboard.
As the 10th Anniversary of 9/11/11 approaches, it is my hope that people remember that day and all the individual lives that were lost, all the family members who were affected, and so many people who still live with heartache every day because of their losses.
Sarah Cohen says
thank you for your story. I was in FT drum, NY (Watertown) when it had happened. my husband at the time came in through the door with his fellow friends on the base. we saw the towers fall on the television. I remember he had to attend the funerals of those who had fallen and traveled.
this morning a friend had posted a poem/excerpt by Neil Gaiman from the book 9-11: September 11th 2001, Volume 2 (9-11: Stories to Remember #2)
by Neil Gaiman
Thank you for sharing that Sarah.