17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Forever Changed by 9/11

I remember climbing the stairs coming out of the subway at the 40th Street Broadway stop in Times Square and looking up at the sky. It was an unusually beautiful day – every New Yorker will tell you that about September 11th. I remember looking at my watch which said 8:45 AM. And I walked into my building.

I had just set my things down on my desk when I heard some commotion down the hall. I walked over to a coworker and asked what was up. She told me that there were reports of a small commuter airplane hitting the World Trade Center. I remember thinking, “Well, the pilot probably died”. Then I heard someone in the office yell, “There’s another plane! Another plane hit!” What??? I stood in the doorway to the conference room with everyone else and saw the coverage on CNN – smoke billowing from the WTC, orange flames. And this was the first time we heard the words “planned” and “terrorist”. It just wasn’t sinking in – what was going on? I heard the sirens for the first time, screeching past on 8th Avenue. Trucks were already headed downtown. I ran back to my desk – I can’t remember if I called DH or if he called me, but I could tell from his voice that this was serious. He was watching TV monitors on his floor and was filling me in on what I couldn’t see. By this time people were running through the hallways of our office, racing around on cell phones, between the conference room and private offices – I remember there was quite a bit of yelling. More and more office chatter had the words “terrorist attack”. And then things got worse. I heard someone in the office yell “They’ve hit the Pentagon!” My parents live 20 minutes outside of DC.

I called my parents house and got my mom on the phone. She was worried because my brother (who worked in Northern Virginia) was downtown DC that day on a job and she wasn’t sure exactly where he was and had no way of getting a hold of him. I remember looking out a huge window in the corridor of our offices down to 7th Avenue and seeing fire engine after fire engine after fire engine screaming past. And I remember thinking “Something big has happened. This isn’t going to be OK”.

I tried to call my dad and couldn’t get through. I tried to call DH’s mom and couldn’t get through. The phone lines in the city were already jamming. It was about this time that our building security came over the loudspeakers and announced that we needed to evacuate the building. Ours was one of the taller office buildings in that district. The tenants (all fashion house firms) were predominantly Jewish, and there was concern that if this was indeed a terrorist attack we probably should all disperse out of the building. By this time I was fighting not to cry. It was pandemonium in the office – people were crying, calling whoever they could get on cell phones, landlines, standing in front of the one TV in the conference room. One man I worked with had a daughter that worked in the WTC. I remember thinking his face looked grey. And then, it got worse…again. I was standing in the doorway of the conference room when to all of our complete and utter surprise one of the towers fell. It… just…disintegrated into plumes of smoke. The TV announcers were of no comfort – they were as shocked as we were.

Somewhere in between all of this we heard that Mayor Giuliani had closed all transportation in and out of New York City. Subways were stopped on the tracks, traffic was no longer allowed into Manhattan. And I thought “How will I get home? What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?” DH told me to come to his office building on 6th Avenue and 47th Street, to come fast, that he would be downstairs and we would plan what to do.

I tried to call Marian and couldn’t get through. I tried our families - no luck.
I remember grabbing my purse and running into the bathroom. Building security was on the loudspeakers again telling us the building needed to be completely evacuated in the next several minutes, to take what we needed and to leave. Sirens started going off in the building. I used the restroom and scrounged in my purse to see what I had by way of essentials. I had a good amount of cash and was grateful. We had lost an IVF pregnancy 3 weeks earlier, and I remember thinking as I left the bathroom “I’m so glad I don’t have children. What would I do if I had children today?” The attacks were almost a welcome distraction from losing a pregnancy.

I left my building and headed up Broadway towards 47th Street. Lots of people were running – I started running too. I wanted to get to DH so badly, just wanted to be held. As I turned over to 43rd or 44th Street going towards 6th Avenue, I remember two people in front of me, turned towards downtown. One screamed and the other covered his mouth. I turned to see what they were looking at just in time to see the second tower fall. I remember starting to cry. I couldn’t believe my eyes – I had just witnessed the second tower falling with my own eyes, not on TV. The smoke was unbelievable. And then it hit me – how many people just died? How many people were in there? Did they all get out? It briefly dawned on me that I had just witnessed something historic, ugly.

I got to DH and I told him I saw the 2nd tower fall. He said, “No, the 1st tower fell”. I said “NO – the 2nd tower just fell. I SAW it fall. It’s GONE”. Then we heard what we later found out to be fighter jets overhead. At the time no one knew that there were fighter jets over the city – they were so high and fast that we couldn’t see them, could only hear that roar. And I remember thinking that we were in another target area – Times Square. Rockefeller Center. Wasn’t the whole city a giant target? That was the first time I actually thought we might die, that there was a chance we might not make it out of the city and get home, that we would die there. I thought the planes I was hearing were more terrorist planes, coming for buildings right around us. As long as I live, I’ll never forget that moment. My face was buried in DH’s shirt and I thought, “If we die, at least we are together”. I had spoken to mom, emailed dad and DH had gotten in touch with his mom – our parents knew we loved them, and at that moment, everything was very simple and raw and clear. And death didn’t seem so very far away.

We started to plan. There were friends in midtown we could stay with, but DH wanted to get out of Manhattan. We figured our neighborhood of Astoria, Queens wouldn’t be as much of a target as anywhere in Manhattan. We headed towards Lexington and 55th Street with a friend of ours and DH’s boss. We were going to walk the Queensborough Bridge. We stopped at a bar and I ran in to use the restroom – I was afraid I’d have to pee somewhere on the bridge. Then we ran into a Duane Read and I bought some yellow furry slippers. I didn’t care how I looked at this point. I knew we had a long walk and I needed something comfortable.

There were trucks going by with people jumping into them. I don’t know where the trucks were going but I guess people figured it was better than walking – trucks could get them out of there faster than their feet. There were a lot of police at the base of the bridge, directing us where to go. At a certain point on the bridge, I remember looking to my right and seeing a gash of black smoke billowing from downtown. I felt like a refugee. There we were, with thousands of shell-shocked New Yorkers, walking away from a disaster over a huge bridge into Queens. At the midway point on the bridge, I looked out over the water and thought “Wow, if something happened on this bridge, we’d die – there would be no way to save ourselves. I wonder if the terrorists will target the bridges next.”

After walking nearly 4 miles we made it back to our house in Astoria. I still wonder how long that journey took. We watched some coverage and then DH left to take his boss to his mother’s house in Queens. Again, I was scared to be split up from him but this time I was in my house and our friends were there. We ordered a pizza – we were beyond starved. I remember all of us saying a blessing over the food and getting choked up; we didn’t know what to pray for at that point. There were so many phone calls from loved ones that it became a blur. I eventually got a hold of Marian. We agreed that we would all go to a favorite neighborhood diner and get some dinner and just all be together. I remember the sound on the TV at the diner was so loud. We ordered lots of food and ate hardly any of it. I don’t remember sleeping that night – I don’t think we really did. The sound of fighter jets alone was enough to keep us up.

The next morning, I actually thought the day before had been a bad dream. I was afraid to go to my window and see smoke. But I did… and I saw smoke. I left and got a stack of papers from the delis. I remember people just standing in the streets of our neighborhood. I think we all wanted to be connected to each other and not miss any news, so if that meant that you stood on a street corner that’s what you did.

Mayor Giuliani told everyone to stay home that day so me and Marian walked up to the track in Astoria Park. We figured a big walk would clear our heads and help us heal. It didn’t. Marian and I had been walking all summer at that track, trying to get into better shape. After our walk on September 12th we never walked there again.

On the news there was still so much talk about survivors, about rescuing people. I was so hopeful that truckloads of people would be coming out, flooding the hospitals, people would be found. We signed up at the hospital to donate blood – surely people would need a lot of blood for the survivors. Signs were going up all over the city for missing people, heartbreaking signs on poster board, restaurant menus, and scraps of paper. Signs were up in our neighborhood – they were everywhere.

The first time I really cried was that night, watching coverage of people jumping to their death from the WTC. DH turned off the TV and I flipped out, a sobbing mess. I wanted it back on – it was like a lifeline in a way. I was afraid for the TV to be off – what if we missed something? The phone calls continued to pour in. The conversations were brief; people just wanted to know that we were safe, the details weren’t important.

Thursday we came into work but just briefly. That afternoon I set off to volunteer. First I headed downtown towards St. Vincent’s to give blood but was turned away by police there because I didn’t have ID showing I lived in that area. The smell was unbelievable and the smoky dust was everywhere. I bought a mask like everyone else and made my way uptown to the Javitts Center. I skipped the line of hundreds at Javitts, ducked under some rope, grabbed a nametag and started serving food to fire fighters on break from Ground Zero. All of these expensive restaurants had donated entire menus of food. There were huge cakes, platters of sandwiches. I remember the firefighters were covered in soot and weren’t talkative, just hungry. Then more buses would pull up and guys would get out with big white buckets. I stayed until it was dark and then walked back to the subway at 34th Street Herald Square. Along the way I bought an American flag and stuck it to my purse. There were impromptu stands and tables set up all over the city selling flags and pins and signs. I was so proud to be an American and so proud to be a New Yorker. We hung the flag outside of our living room window that night and left it there until we moved nearly 3 years later. We still have it, grungy and tattered from the weather – we’ll never part with it.

On Friday, President Bush declared it a national day of prayer, and I went to a service at the Manhattan Stake Center where President Hinckley spoke by satellite. We had tickets to fly to Utah that night and were waiting all day to see if our flight would even leave. All air traffic had been suspended since Tuesday. People in my office thought I was crazy to even consider getting on a plane, but I just wanted to leave. I wanted to get out of NY. Our little Jet Blue flight took off behind Air Force 1, and was one of the first flights out of New York after 9/11. We all cheered as we took off and again as we landed in SLC.

For weeks and months after 9/11 I was a mess. I think I cried nearly every day. It didn’t hit me until days after the attacks and then it came gushing. By October I was in full depression mode. We were surrounded by the effects of 9/11. Our lives changed overnight – the attacks affected everything for us. National Guard and police everywhere, even in our little neighborhood of Astoria. A store 2 blocks from our house was raided one week after 9/11 because the owners had suspected ties to the terrorists. The police activity the night of the raid was frightening. Our feeling of safety was never the same. DH and I had both interviewed for jobs in the WTC within 6 months of the attacks – I couldn’t stop thinking what if one of us had taken those jobs. There were hundreds of young women like me who lost their husbands, young men like my husband who lost their wives. I couldn’t stop thinking “It could have been us. It could have been me”.

Over the next 6 months, posters popped up all over the city advising New Yorkers to get counseling. I should have gone. The city was fragile…and yet we were strong. I’m so proud of New Yorkers. I was so proud of our Mayor. He was our leader. I believed him when he said we would be OK. He was a clear voice for all of us and we depended on him with our whole hearts. After 9/11 I became a New Yorker. I am proud to have been a witness to history, as painful as that was. I am so proud of New York City, so proud of how we handled ourselves in the face of an ugly, life altering event. It doesn’t matter where I live, for the rest of my life I will always consider myself a New Yorker. I am grateful that our family was spared, that we made it through and that someday when our children are old enough we have the opportunity and responsibility to teach them about what happened on September 11, 2001.

**all 9/11 related comments can be left at this thread

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