On September 11, 2001 I was slightly late to work as usual. I was always racing through the World Trade Center Concourse from the subway, usually way too tardy to grab an iced coffee before I headed through Tower 1, over the bridge, to my office in the World Financial Center by 9am. This week, I was a super-slacker, because it was my last week of work. I was moving to Los Angeles, where I would never again take a corporate job (this turned out to be a lie).
I was staying at my mom’s, having already given up my apartment. She shoved me out the door with an egg white omelet wrapped in tin foil. She was on Weight Watchers and was saving her points for my sister’s big birthday dinner that night. That’s right, it was my sister’s birthday.
I got on the 1 train to South Ferry. At Chambers Street, there was an announcement.
“Attention passengers, there has been an explosion at the World Trade Center. This train will not be going to the World Trade Center…If you’d like to go to the World Trade Center, please take the number 2 train across the platform to Park Place.”
People seemed confused, but not necessarily alarmed. I shared this sentiment. In my mind, “explosion” was probably an exaggeration. It was most likely contained. I thought “I’ll take the train to Park Place and walk around the WTC. I’m not dealing with a bunch of fire trucks when I’m this late for work.”
I got on the 2 train. At Park Place, as I was exiting, I heard someone say a plane had crashed into the building. Again, although surprised and alarmed, my mind did not go to giant jetliner/terrorists. I thought some poor prop plane pilot had made a huge error in judgement.
I walked along Park Place, two blocks North of the WTC, running parallel. Suddenly I heard a huge crash and giant pieces of wreckage started falling on the street. I thought bombs were exploding! I ran and ducked into the first place I could find- a parking garage. So did about forty others. People were running past in both directions.
Suddenly, a woman came up to me, crying. She was holding her high heels in her hand and walking bare foot.
“I’m so scared. Do you mind if I stay with you?”
“No, please,” I said.
Weirdly, I wasn’t terrified, I too shocked to feel anything at that moment. I tried to call my parents. My cell wasn’t working.
After a few minutes (5? 10? 30?) we gingerly walked out of the garage. We walked to the corner and looked south.
Only then did I see…the huge gaping fiery hole in Tower 2. Black smoke was pouring out in a straight line all the way to Brooklyn. Since we were so close, I couldn’t really see Tower 1, except that it was smoking too. I was parallyzed.
My new friend and I figured it was time to get the hell out of there. We ran up to Chambers Street and knocked on some guy’s car window and asked him to drive us uptown.
He was confused to say the least, but let us into the car. He had no idea what was happening. He kept mentioning that he had to go to Brooklyn and had a conference call at 10.
“Have you heard anything on the radio?”
“There’s just music on the radio.” He said.
“Something really bad is happening.”
He dropped me off on the East side. Still in my dazed state, I walked across town, thinking I would go to my mom’s office instead of her apartment but I didn’t know the address. I found an empty phone booth and called my Dad at work in NJ.
Boy, was he glad to hear from me.
“Naomi!!! Oh my God!! We’ve been trying to call you!! Are you ok??”
“Dad, where’s Mom’s office?”
“Mom’s not at her office. She’s home. Waiting for you. Go HOME.”
I went home. Only when I saw my mother, standing on the corner of 23rd St. and 6th Avenue, did I finally start sobbing.
For a long time after 9/11, I felt depressed and also somewhat guilty. I was a single woman. I felt so lucky to be spared when so many children’s parents were lost, and families were broken apart. It could’ve been me. My job may as well have been in the Towers. But it wasn’t.
I’m about to go to bed with my husband and two boys. It’s incredibly painful to contemplate the thought of them losing me, and even more painful for me to think about losing one of them.
Being a parent makes you see this day in a whole different light. Stay safe, and kiss your babies.
Photo Credit: Julien Menichini/Flickr
Also, please check out my post on The Before Project to find out what I was doing the night before all this went down.