For those of us who lived and worked in and around the World Trade Center, and I would assume, the Pentagon as well, have this small portion of us that have never gotten over this event, and even 14 years later, it still hits a raw nerve.
I used to work for a large financial firm located right behind 1 World Trade. My regular commuting route would land me right underneath the towers on the E train. I knew the layout pretty well, including the stores beneath, just as you were walking to and from the building exit and the subways.
Long before that, my mother was a manager, and then an owner of an Irish pub (no, we are not Irish), also in the financial district. I practically grew up in that area, so I was friends with a lot of folks.
I remember Black Monday (October 19, 1987) when the markets crashed and destroyed the stock market and the aftermath. I remember the first time bombers attempted to blow up the World Trade Center with a truck bomb (Feb 26, 1993). But nothing compared to the devastation that was caused when those towers fell.
I need to preface this before getting to the day.
As mentioned, my mother owned a bar in the financial district for years. One of the reasons why I worked downtown in my younger days was due to her pressuring me to work out there. On occasion, I would work for her while in between jobs and while I was in college, so I became familiar with my customers and the lay of the land.
After coming back from Louisiana, I took a job midtown for Sony Music (I wasn’t going to say “no” to that job), despite my mother’s objections, but I still stopped by to the bar on occasion. March 2001 my mother was given notice by the building owner that she had to vacate the premises at the end of April. The building was old and in major need of repair, so she was forced into retirement early. Regardless, we still kept in touch with the friends we made.
The weekend before the buildings fell, my then boyfriend and I were downtown and as he looked at the buildings, he said “I should go visit them before they’re gone”.
Tuesday, September 11th, 2001
I was on my way to work at Sony when all the trains stopped. There was no word from the subway attendant on what was going on, so I got out of the underground and turned on the radio on my discman to find out what was going on.
I couldn’t believe it, a plane hit the world trade center!
I ran back to my apartment and turned on the television. It was being called an accident. I tried getting in touch with my friends in the buildings, but my cellphone was useless. The Trade Center buildings had one of the largest cell phone towers atop of it, so when that got hit, all cell service in the city went down.
I was able to reach my mom. She was at home, frantically trying to reach friends at the trade center, but was able to only connect with those around the building through hard line phones. No one yet from within.
Then I saw the second plane hit.
There’s no sense to this!
I went over to my mother’s. My then boyfriend was tied us because there was no traffic going in or out of the city. He asked his best friend to keep me company during the insanity. People were jumping out of buildings on the news, and even though I was less than 20 miles away from the horror, we were all locked in.
Then the buildings went down in a gigantic pile of smoke and ash. All I could remember telling myself was “this can’t be real”. Howard Stern was reacting like a real radio journalist, reporting on what was going on, as well as every other terrestrial radio outlet.
I headed over to the nearest hospital with my boyfriend’s best friend to donate blood because the feeling of helplessness wasn’t doing us any good, but the hospital staff were as lost as some of us. The nurse who tried to work on me ended up puncturing my vein, so she wasn’t able to get anything from me.
For hours we were waiting to hear from friends, but nothing. My bass player worked in one of the lower floors of tower 1. One of my mom’s regular customer and a family friend worked on one of the upper floors.
The news were showing nonstop coverage of downtown and the giant, smoking hole that was once the trade center. All the bridges and tunnels were out, so unless you were an emergency worker, they weren’t letting anyone else in. All we could do was hope and pray.
I eventually went home after awhile, exhausted and dazed. Still no word from some folks.
Next day: more blanket coverage. I bought a newspaper to see if it was real. Went back to my mom’s for news. One or two reported back ok. Still others unaccounted for. You could smell this odd, sweet scent in the air. I once heard a fireman talk of how burning flesh smelled like “sweet barbecue”. That was the best definition I could give it. It wasn’t enticing, but nauseating, especially knowing what it was. The scent took 4-5 days to dissipate.
When the trains were back in service, I immediately went back to work, not realizing that the building was closed. I needed to get out of the apartment and I wanted to find out if I could help, but the trains weren’t heading downtown. Midtown was a ghost town, but an airplane did fly overhead. All of us who were out stopped and just watched as the plane flew by. We were all wondering if it was going to happen again. Later we found out it was airforce one surveying the damage.
Those of us that worked downtown were hit the hardest. Many who were missing eventually turned up soon after, and those that never returned were honored with memorials and empty casket funerals.
Five years after, I went to an event that I later, unfortunately discovered was a group for conspiracy theorists. They started talking about how 9-11 wasn’t real, and how none of them knew of anyone who died there, and claimed it was a government conspiracy. I piped up.
“A friend of mine died there, and just because within your network you knew of no one who died, does not mean it did not happen.”
I immediately walked out.
It still touches a nerve, and going to the memorial this past weekend, seeing how folks were treating it like just another tourist attraction, and not with the kind of reverence anyone would give to their own bugged me. It’s one of the reasons that was my first time there since they opened it up to the public.
As time goes on, more and more folks, who were either too young, or weren’t even born yet, treat it as some kind of joke and conspiracy theorists who weren’t even here vehemently say it never happened.
It did, and as New Yorkers who survived it, we have the losses and scars to prove it. We also have two enormous holes left in the earth as reminders to what happened. Steel and stone weren’t the only things that broke that day. Our hearts did as well.
This post is in honor of the 2,977 people who lost their lives that day, especially my friend Monica Anne Lyons, who was one of the victims who never came home. We miss you.