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Sunday, September 11, 2011
10 Years Later: My Personal Reflection
I honestly cannot believe it has been 10 years since the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Ten years. At times it feels like just yesterday that I was crying at my desk in Union Square trying to make sense of what was going on around me in my beloved New York City. Everyone mourns and remembers things differently from that day. I respect that and ask you to do the same. This blog posting has nothing to do with being gluten-free but has everything to do with me as a person and my memories of that day. Read on if you like or click away if you don't like. It's up to you. Here is my recollection of the day.

That Tuesday started like every other weekday for me, except I was excited to go to work that day. It was my one year anniversary of my first professional job after college. I woke up early, headed to the LIRR to commute to the city, and was proud that I had survived one whole year at this job as a desktop production artist at a newsletter company in the "big city". I was very friendly with my manager and I was sure she would acknowledge my work over the past year. As I arrived at the office that day, I settled into my desk just like every other day for the past year.

Around 8:50am I got a message from my friend Katie in Rhode Island. She said she just heard on Howard Stern that a plane crashed in New York City. She said he told his fans it wasn't a joke so Katie was just checking on me. I hadn't heard anything yet so I signed into IM and got online to see what was going on. I started to slowly see the most horrific events of my life unfold right before my eyes. I vaguely remember trying to call family members both my landline and cell phone, but all of the phone lines were clogged. IM and email became my connection to the outside world that morning.

Being on 18th Street and Park Ave. South, we couldn't feel the impact of either plane hitting the WTC but we could see it. All of it. As coworkers started to arrive, we all congregated on the fire escape of our building to watch this horror unfold. I remember people crying, shaking, and frantically trying to get information from one another. No one knew what was going on. I was so scared and felt really alone. My boss wasn't at work yet and not everyone was in the office yet. Alone with strangers on the fire escape.

I remember going in and out of my office and back and forth to the fire escape all morning. The most awful feeling was walking back onto the fire escape shortly after 10am realizing that one tower was gone. WHAT???? How could it be gone? It was no longer visible and it was just because lower Manhattan was covered in smoke. It was just gone. It was a few minutes later when we heard screams for an upper floor that the South Tower had collapse.


The realization of the thousands of people who went to work that day was just like me was hard hitting. One minute they were at their desks starting their work day. Less than an hour later they were gone. I felt like I was going to throw up. I went inside and emailed this to my parents at 10:10am:

Aunt Stasi just called me, her and [Uncle] bruce are both home. We have limited phone service, but we can get a few calls. I am shaking right now. We can see the part of the tower that collapsed. I feel sick. The city is under lock down, so if I have to, I am going to Stasi's house. I will walk. I will keep you both posted. Love you both very much.

18 minutes later, the North Tower collapsed. On the fire escape, I could see nothing but smoke. I was numb inside.

10:51am, email to friends and family:
Ok everyone, here is what is going on. I don't know if everyone has heard yet (how could you not), but there was a major terrorist attack on NYC. Two planes crashed into the twin towers. We can see it from our building and BOTH towers have now collapsed. I have been going out on the fire escape and it is the worst thing I have ever seen in my entire life. There is smoke pouring out of the buildings and masses of people are walking up the street. It is like the whole city is in mourning. Everyone is crying and trying to call anyone they can. We only have one phone line right now for calls in and out. There are fires all over the city down there. Both buildings have now collapsed. I honestly feel like I am goin to throw up right now. This is horrible. I just want you to know that I am ok. The city is on lock down, so I don't know if I will be getting home tonight, my guess is not. I hope any of you in the city are ok. Please keep me updated if anyone knows anything.

The rest of the morning was a flurry of emails, IMs and attempted phone calls. I couldn't work. I couldn't think. I worried about my friends working all over the city. I simply could not understand what was going on. I was 23 years old and all I wanted to do was cry like a baby and be with my mom on Long Island. I was petrified to get on the LIRR to get out there but I was trapped anyway. Public transportation was stopped so there was no way for me to get out there and I was too terrified to go into Penn Station to wait for a train. The management of my company felt we were safest in the office so that is where I stayed. They expected us to "go on with our work as normal." Are you fucking kidding me? Nothing was normal that day.

All of my family was accounted for, but I was still waiting to hear about my friends who were all scattered around the city. Thank goodness we were all eventually in contact with one another. I literally got emails from friends around the world checking up on me, my family, and my friends. At my dad's suggestion, I have saved most of them. I cry every time I read them.

I finally left the office around 4pm after a numbing and blurry day, walking 45 blocks north to my aunt's house with a friend from high school. As we walked uptown, we saw police and national guards everywhere. Also, the city was strangely silent. Everyone was literally stunned silent.

Although I wanted to be with my mother, I was at least with my family. That evening was the first time I was in front of the television and I was sick to my stomach watching the news. I can't even imagine what my 10 year old cousin was thinking as she watched this sitting next to me on the couch. I never asked. I couldn't sleep that night. I wasn't in my own bed and all I could hear all night long were sirens from the nearby 59th Street Bridge and FDR Drive.

I went to work on Wednesday, Sept. 12 since I was still in the city but it was another day of disbelief and not being able to concentrate. I sent this email to my friends that day:

...The city is a ghost town... I avoid going outside at all costs. There are no cars south of me, the city has shut down. There were no newspapers left on the shelves and people were just buying whatever they could. I just heard on the radio that stores uptown are shutting down because shelves are empty.

The winds have now shifted coming from the south, so now there is this cloud of smoke hovering over the city. I can smell it and my eyes are actually quite dry and my nose is burning. It is very weird, it is like a massive electrical fire in the air. I think I am going to walk to Penn, I am still scared to take the subways even though they are ok. This seems like it is never going to end. Or it seems like it is just the beginning of something very horrible.

All my love and prayers to any of you that have been directly affected and all of you for your kind emails all day long.

That smell. I will never forget that smell. When you realize it is the smell of buildings, offices, and people, it is sickening. My friend in Boston and my aunt in Canada both said that my emails were nightmares making them cry. As I was living my own personal nightmare, I was dumbfounded by what the people down at the WTC and their families were living through at that same moment. I still couldn't understand what was going on more than 24 hours later. I eventually went home to Long Island on the afternoon of September 12th and just cried as my mom hugged me harder than she ever did before.

I felt broken. I had gone into work to celebrate my 1st anniversary of my professional career and I never wanted to go back into the city ever again. I wanted to stay home from now on.

Obviously I didn't stay home. I went back to work the next day and the day after that. Now ten years later, I still work in Manhattan with a perfect view of the Empire State Building. I don't think about the events of 9/11 every day, but I think of that day often. I get skittish from time to time when my train comes to a jolting halt for a police investigation or my office buildings of the past have been evacuated, but I go on. That's all I can really do, right?

Bryant Park did a touching memorial this weekend called 2,753 Chairs, in remembrance of the 2,753 lives lost as a result of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks, facing the site where the Twin Towers once stood.

It took my breathe away.

Yesterday I participated in Hand in Hand: Remembering 9/11, when thousands of people grasped hands to form a human chain along the waterfront from the tip of Lower Manhattan heading north. Although the event itself was kind of anticlimactic, the volunteers and participants were extremely friendly. After than hand holding, I walked around lower Manhattan for three hours. This is something I never do. I just don't like being down there and for years it bothered me that this was a tourist destination. As I walked around, I finally realized that every one was there for different reasons. Many were there to pay their respects while others wanted to see the WTC site for themselves. I heard audible gasps when people realized exactly how large the site is. People were respectful and curious. I softened my thoughts and appreciated these tourists for the first time in 10 years.

I continued to Battery Park City where I saw a very moving tribute called "One Life ~ One Flag". This was a display of over 3,000 flags and it literally took my breath away. As the sunlight hit the flags and the wind gently lifted them, I realized the flags all had the names of those who lost their life on September 11th. It was very moving and very beautiful.

I then walked north to St. Paul's Episcopal Chapel which is directly across from the WTC site. St. Paul's is where 9/11 recovery workers received round-the-clock care for days and weeks after the terrorist attacks. This is when I broke down and cried openly. This church was simple, but the displays were powerful. Most of the displays were artifacts from 10 years ago. There were patches from fire departments around the world. There were missing persons posters and prayer cards of those who perished. There were also paper cranes sent from Japan. Seeing all of these pieces of history really hit home. Reading the displays made me realize how not just us New Yorkers, but the world was truly affected that horrific day in September 2001. I was glad I stopped into that church. It felt appropriate being there to mourn the day. The staff at the church was extremely friendly and understanding as I cried openly. Here is a slide show from my Day of Remembrance in lower Manhattan on September 10, 2011.

Yesterday I cried, today I will cry, tomorrow I will probably cry too. I cry because I remember being so scared that day. I cry for those who lost their loved ones. More than anything, I cry for those who lost their lives on the horrific day of September 11, 2001. May you rest in peace today, tomorrow, and always.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cry too. I will never forget sitting in my 5th grade classroom that morning. My teacher turned on the TV and started sobbing. None of us had any idea what was going on. We watched the towers fall. I remember being so confused about what was happening. I thought it was just an awful accident. My mom picked me up from school early that day and explained that somebody did this on purpose and I remember feeling so lost and confused as to why someone would do anything so awful on purpose. Thanks for sharing Erin.

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