I woke up last September 11 to a beautiful Indian summer morning on Long Island. I took my husband to the train station, my twin girls to daycare, and was just turning on my laptop to work from home when the phone rang. It was my husband, who had just emerged from the West 4th Street subway station in Manhattan to an unimaginable sight - not 20 blocks away, the World Trade Center was on fire.
|Unidentified fireman emerging from 1989 Brooklyn blaze.|
He learned from stunned passersby that a plane had just hit the north tower, and we both thought, as many people initially did, that somehow a small plane had lost its way and crashed into the building, much like the one that hit the Empire State Building in the 1940s.We hung up, he continued walking to work, and with trepidation, I turned on the television and watched as the TV commentators tried to make sense of the breaking news. At 9:03 a.m. with the station’s cameras still trained on the center, the upper stories of the south tower suddenly burst into flames. It took a moment, but I gradually realized that the towers were under attack.
This knowledge hit me in the gut. As a former wire service and newspaper reporter, I yearned to be in the city, to find out what was going on myself and not rely on TV reports. As a wife, I was terrified that my husband was so near the towers and that more attacks might be imminent. As a mother, I thanked God I was home and only five minutes away from my children.
When the first tower fell at 10:05 a.m., I finally broke down and cried because I knew that thousands of people had to be dead. Although many office buildings are still fairly empty before 9 a.m., the World Trade Center was a round-the-clock worldwide financial hub. How else to explain all those gorgeous nighttime pictures showcasing the towers’ twinkling lights?
I didn’t work that day - I couldn’t. I wrote no items for our daily newswire, made no phone calls to the American Institute of CPAs, answered no e-mails. My husband called every half-hour or so to update me on what was going on because the phone lines to Manhattan were jammed and I couldn’t reach him. He ended up spending a few hours at a friend’s apartment whose picture window on the 18th floor faced what was once the towers and was now a roiling black mass of smoke. And then miraculously, the Long Island Rail Road was allowed to run trains out of Manhattan and he arrived home scarcely an hour later than he would have on any other day.
Our offices, so close to the WTC site, were off-limits the next day, and my husband and I tried to take our minds off the horror by seeing American Pie 2 at a local movie theater. I remember how strange it felt to be watching a mindless comedy, and then at the diner afterwards to see groups of people talking and laughing as if it were any other day.
The next day, I worked from home, digging through news and public relations sites to come up with something that accountants might want to read for our daily newswire on Friday. Somehow I found five items, many related to the attacks, and during that search, I also found the spark to restart my working life. Tax relief for victims of the attacks was just being formulated, and I had a job to do in disseminating that information to my readers.
Each day when I come to Manhattan now, I look at the downtown skyline from our offices on Hudson Street and it pains me to realize that I don’t remember exactly where the towers once stood. Every time I hear sirens from our windows, I pause. Each time a news alert from MSNBC flashes on my computer screen, I open it with trepidation.
It’s been a year, but for many of us who live and work in New York, the shock and the horror are still fresh. However, we go on. And we do our work, and love our children, and hope for the best. It’s as little, and as much, as we can do.
A decade ago, a news photographer friend of mine gave me a treasured gift, a picture he took of a firefighter emerging like an angel from the smoke of a fire in downtown Brooklyn. The framed photo hangs in my living room, and ever since Sept. 11 I’ve been meaning to call my friend to find out if the firefighter is OK. Last week, I called. He had forgotten all about the photo and said he would take it down to the firehouse one day soon to see if someone there can tell him anything about the young fireman.
I pray that he either left the job years ago, or emerged unscathed from the terrible events of Sept. 11. Above all, I hope that he’s alive. We already have enough angels from that awful day.
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