|image via Wikipedia|
|image via Wikipedia|
My husband and I lived in New Jersey in 2001, right on the Hudson river, across from Manhattan. We’d been in Europe that summer on vacation but I flew back on September 10th because I was in graduate school and had to start class on the 11th.
It was an absolutely beautiful morning, so I’d decided to drive into the city, going through lower Manhattan into Brooklyn, instead of taking the subway, which would have passed right under the WTC at around the time of the attack. When the first plane hit I was already sitting in my classroom, catching up with all my friends after the summer. Our classroom actually directly faced the WTC, but they’d built a dorm right next to us over the summer which *just* blocked our view of the towers. When our professor delivered the news (she’d heard it on the radio in the office) and I looked up and saw the gigantic column of smoke and debris rising outside. Then I looked down and saw scores of people, just running down the middle of the road, screaming. Many of my friends lived or worked near the towers, many of them lost people they loved.
When I looked around the room there were only about 8 of us left sitting there-the rest had fled to try to find out what had happened to their spouses, family members, co-workers and friends. I don’t remember anybody saying anything, maybe we did, but in my memory we all spontaneously got up and started walking to Brooklyn Hospital to see if we could help.
When we got there, you could have heard a pin drop. Two orderlies ushered us into a windowless store room, deep inside the building, with about a dozen other people and some folding tables. They told us to wait there, that they’d let us know when they needed us. About a half hour later, two visibly shaken orderlies came in and said, “We want to thank you all for coming, but the ambulances have started to arrive and what we really need right now are these folding tables. Here’s a map to the local blood bank, please go and register there and someone will contact you if they need you.” Then they left. We made our way out into the hallway and couldn’t believe our eyes. Thousands of seriously wounded people, all covered in ash and drywall dust and particles of acoustic tile. There were so many of them that the staff had dragged their office furniture into the corridor and were examining people on desk chairs and old typing tables. When we got to the exit, the line of ambulances stretched as far as they eye could see.
|Brooklyn Hospital (Image via Wikipedia)|
Eventually I was allowed to cross the Manhattan bridge back onto the island. For the entire walk across the bridge, I had a direct view of the Statue of Liberty with what was now Ground Zero behind her. When I got to Canal Street (I guess about ¾ mile from WTC?) the fumes were so bad that they scalded my throat and I was hoarse for days. That didn’t stop the people who lived there, or owned businesses there, from spending hours standing out on the street to offer water and food to the mass exodus of people walking uptown.
|I heart New York. (image via Wikipedia)|
|What we saw from the boat. (Image via Wikipedia)|
In the weeks that followed the site continued to burn. New York City was plastered with “MISSING” flyers made by people who’d lost contact with their loved ones in a desperate hope that they’d been evacuated and unable to contact them. I remember still being able to smell the fumes in lower Manhattan that Christmas.
For months after the attack, whenever I saw the Statue of Liberty represented in any way, I would completely go to pieces. That doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but in New York City one sees the Statue on coffee mugs, t-shirts, snowglobes and more all day long. I’ve gotten to where I can handle photos now, but video footage still has that effect on me. And I haven’t been able to bear looking at the actual Statue with my own eyes since that day. My daughter hasn’t asked me about it very much yet, but of course it has come up. I tell her it was a very, very sad day but that many people were saved because the city came together so quickly and so well.
One sight from that day that frequently comes back to me is the carpet of papers that littered the streets of lower Manhattan. Faxes, invoices, memos-all these papers that people had probably lost sleep about the night before that were now as insignificant as confetti. I try to remember that whenever I get too caught up in the little daily hassles of life and keep my priorities in check.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years. I’m still deeply sad for all the victims and their families. There’s been so much that come out of that day, both bad and good. Mostly though, I’m profoundly grateful to be marking the anniversary with everyone I care about safely under one roof, and that’s not something I’ll ever take for granted.