Thursday, September 11, 2008


In all of my various postings, I've never written about September 11th.

I think that, for a lot of people who lived near the sites of the terrorist attacks, it isn't easy to talk about. It's hard to explain to someone who lived hundreds of miles away what it felt like, the chaos, the fear. And, to be honest, in some ways I also don't have that direct experience, compared to many who lived in Lower Manhattan (like Shelli, or my uncle and his friends), or some friends of mine who were actually in the Towers at the time of the attacks, and managed to escape-they had a first-hand experience that I never, ever want to have to go through.

I had just started teaching (I was in my second week of school), trying to get acclimated with the whole school routine for the first time. Sean, who was celebrating his 30th birthday that day, had started a freelance gig working at NYC Fashion Week, and had already left for Manhattan to get to a call on time. We had made plans for dinner that night, and went our seperate ways.

It was in the morning, I was on my prep time, and I was sitting at my desk when the principal came in and asked to see me outside in the hallway. She then told me and the art teacher that two planes had crashed into the WTC, and into the Pentagon, that it was a terrorist attack, and that we needed to go into a lockdown situation. I actually didn't believe her at first; in fact, I thought that it was a drill. Then I suddenly realized that Sean was in Manhattan, and told my principal that he was there. She immediately said to me, "Go" I remember going upstairs to the Teacher's Lounge and seeing a television on, with a group of people huddled around it; this is how I saw the first tower fall-through a grainy transmission on an old TV set. Then the phone calls started-from my parents, my brother-in-law, my mother-in-law...."Have you heard? Where's Sean? Has he called yet?" Of course, I had NO IDEA. And I was started to panic.

We were three weeks from celebrating our first wedding anniversary.

Since the cell phone reception was sketchy due to overloaded lines and connection problems, it was difficult getting through to anyone in the Tri-State area. My uncle lived (and still does) about 12 blocks from the area, my aunt worked in the Chrysler Building, I had friends who worked in both Towers........and we had no clue if they were were okay, or if there were going to be more attacks in Manhattan.

I went home, and turned on the news. I saw the second tower fall. And, I waited.

The phone rings. Different voices, different people calling. Have you heard? Can you believe it? Do you know if they're okay?

I have no answers for anyone. I can't stop watching the images on the screen; the dust clouds, the destruction, the fear in people's faces. I can't move from the couch.

It's completely silent outside. No cars driving down the street. No kids playing outside.

No sounds of planes in the sky, which is the norm here, being that we live less than 10 miles from Newark Airport. And that unnerved me most of all, that day, and in the days afterward-lying in bed and not hearing that drone of airplanes overhead. Of hearing nothing and wondering if more was coming.

I remember, distinctly, the sound of helicopters overhead. I ran outside and stood on my front steps, along with my neighbors, to see military helicopters swooping overhead, rushing to guard the refineries that are a few miles away......refineries that supply gasoline to the airport. And, I remember seeing the fear in people's faces, the fear that I'm sure was mirrored in my own face.

The phone rings again. It's 3pm. It's Sean, finally; calling from a payphone in a Midtown bar. He's okay, thank God. He's not sure if he can get home, since there's no public transportation allowed in or out of Manhattan. The company he's working for are planning to put them up in hotels, but he's going to try to get out if they open the trains up.

I don't want to stay in the house alone. What if there's more coming? But, what can I do? I have no choice.

And so....I wait.

Hours pass. The television is still on. More phone calls-uncle is okay, aunt is home and okay. So and so got out of the Towers; another friend, luckily, didn't have to go to the complex that day because her meeting was rescheduled at the last minute.

I can't eat or sleep. My stomach is in knots. Will we have to go to work tomorrow? Yes-the district decided that schools should remain open, to give the kids a sense of normalcy. Yeah, right. Nothing will ever be normal again.

Finally the door opens. He's home-scared, dirty, and sweaty after a three hour wait at Penn Station. He managed to get the first train out of Manhattan. We hug. We cry. We give thanks that he's home and okay.

That's what I remember. Like I said, compared to many who witnessed the horror first-hand, it's fluff and trite. But still, it's something that I'll never, ever, forget.

May we always remember.


battynurse said...

I was on the other side of the country and I will never forget. I remember also the quiet, not even the life flight helicopters flew for about a week.

Katrina said...

I remember my mom called and told us to turn on the tv. It was shocking. I agree about how eerie it was not to hear air traffic, we lived near an airport as well. And the phone calls, with friends and family in the city...calls to Chicago as bil worked in a financial district at the time, and no one knew where the next possible target would be. It still sends chills...

Some say that 9/11 is our generations JFK moment, we'll never forget where we were when the planes hit. I know I won't.

Shelli said...

thanks for sharing that, Stef.