It’s been 11 entire years since that fated day in September. That terrifying day- where it is easy to remember a stillness void of calm, and a heartbeat’s pounding of anticipation’s unknown. Each of us remember where we were that day… What we were doing… Some of us remember where we were standing when we heard… And then there were those of us that saw.
That particular year I was pulling a stint in Colorado, tucked away from the crumbling buildings and smoldering remnants where my family and friends were. Where I called home. Where I grew up. Despite being far, there were no safety guarantees for anyone. There was no escaping the eeriness that had thickly and unwelcomingly lay down upon the country. Creating this incomparable muteness, removing flights from the air, and instilling a fear that we as a whole had yet to experience.
My mother worked in midtown Manhattan. My father, in L.I., but had a job interview scheduled at the towers for the following day (the difference a day makes!). My other family and friends in and close to the city, and the people we knew working at the towers… it was terrible. No one was reachable. The lines were all down. We didn’t know who was alive and allright and we didn’t know how wide spread it was going to get. It was the most dreamy-doom feeling that I had ever experienced. It was all too large to understand. And that was just me- the abridged, clipped version of that day, a person who had not experienced it 1st hand.
Today’s post is a story of a friend of mine, Cheryl, who did experience it 1st hand. Her story has a silver, no- a golden lining. Not everyone was so lucky. I’m glad that she could tell her tale. It’s a very worthy read. It is insightful, raw and real (with even a touch of sass!), and gives us another reason to give thanks.
It was September 11, 2001. It was my first day of work after college. I was so excited. I didn’t sleep at all the night before. I kissed Ezra (my 4 year old roommate) goodbye and got a thumbs up from Mike and Aubrey along with a “you can do it” smile. I left the house in Jersey City about 8:00 am which I NEVER do as I normally can sleep till noon. I took a cab to Journal Square Path Station and started walking down into the building. I remember it seemed really empty which surprised me because we were smack in the middle of rush hour. Everyone there seemed engaged in heavy conversation and I noticed a lot of people were leaving as I was heading in. Huh?? I asked a worker standing outside what was going on and he said a small private plane hit the WTC. I asked if the trains were still running and he said “yes ma’am” so I headed in and got on the next train hoping to wind up on 14th & 6th near where my new job as a sound engineer was.
The next little bit I completely blacked out about and remembered just a few years ago.
So the train departed. I was oblivious to what I had heard earlier and was focusing on my skirt which was way too short and my heels which were way too high. Those that know me know that I never dress that way at all so I had to make sure everything was looking good when I got off (FYI if you are a sound engineer I would not recommend wearing heels and skirt to work). To those not familiar with the Path Train, it leaves from NJ to NY and stays above ground until it hits the Hudson (Pavonia/Newport) and then it goes back underground, through the tunnel and stops at WTC, Christopher Street and then 14th (I think). Right as we approached the tunnel I noticed smoke billowing out from one of the towers and at that split moment, when I looked up, I saw another plane hit the other tower, and then my train went underground heading straight for it.
As we rolled into the WTC station, there was complete and utter chaos. People were banging on the doors to get in, and the conductor made an announcement that we would not be stopping and that he would be taking us straight to Penn Station. Wait. What? We’re not stopping? I looked around and realized for the first time since I got on that train that I was the only one in there. The people outside were begging for me to open the doors. They were pleading for me to help them. I started screaming to stop the train “PLEASE STOP!!!” but we didn’t’, we just rolled passed them. They were running alongside banging on the car! I think I went into shock and complete fear as they tried to pry open the doors. And then blackness. We were out of the station and heading to 34th Street. I was crying. I was scared. I could hear rumbling and screaming. When I got out I was so confused. It was quiet. Like really, really quiet. Scary quiet. Like from the movie Legend quiet. Everyone was just standing with their mouths gaped open or their hands to cover it… and when I turned around I could see both towers were on fire, smoking. Smoldering. This was real? Shit. Shit!!. Fuck. What do I do??. Where do I go?? Someone help me! Wait. Get a grip! Calm down. Take a breath. Breathe. Ok, you’re breathing. Now run!
I didn’t know where to go or what to do so I just ran to my new office/music studio on 16th and 8th and when I got there everyone was just staring out the large window that had the ideal view of the devastation. Within those moments, the first tower came crashing down and everyone screamed and gasped and cried…we all went to the roof and watched the 2nd tower plummet soon thereafter… everyone started running out of our building, I was knocked down because I was wearing those dumb heels and that stupid short skirt. Ugh! I got up and left the building with everyone else. I remember I had to pee like there was no tomorrow, but all the shops were closed. No one would even let me in let alone come to the doors in fear of riots. I couldn’t blame them, but man, I had to go.
I remember wishing someone was there to tell us what to do and where to go and what was happening….I mean, there wasn’t a cop anywhere. I then stood on a long line to use the payphones to call home, (you know this is an old story when there’s a pay phone involved), but by the time I got up to use it, the landline was dead. No one even had a working cell phone. A Verizon guy told us the phone lines were down because the antenna was at the top of the WTC, he had a small radio and he said that there were bombs reportedly in the subways and on the bridges, so to stand clear and get the hell out of there.
I walked up 6th ave. and that’s where I saw the mass exodus of people heading uptown. The fire trucks and ambulances were covered in soot along with a lot of the people. I was scared. Really, really, really scared. I remembered my dad’s friend had an office right where I was standing so I wrang up and he let me in. My dad’s friend assured me everything was just fine and that he had an inside scoop that there were boats coming to get us off the island (Sounds like Hunger Games, I know). I used the bathroom and then the alarms started going off so we all had to evacuate. I stepped back outside onto the sidewalk and noticed that the slow exodus soon turned into a running mob!! So I started running too. Damn these heels!!! I ran about 20 blocks and stopped. I began walking backwards so I could watch what was happening as well as continue moving away. Then, I bumped into this guy and all his papers went flying up in the air. Poof! As I began apologizing and helping him pick them up, I realized I knew him. He was a friend from school that I had just graduated with. We had hung out on graduation day. We hugged. He said he was gonna walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. I tried to convince him to come back to N.J. because all the bridges were closed. He didn’t care, he had to get home. Before we departed, I had asked if he remembered James from our class. He was the only one I could even think of that would have James contact info. I had a big crush on him since school ended, but I couldn’t seem to find any contact info anywhere not even on the internet. And with a name like James Doe, a black guy from Brooklyn, it was nearly impossible. David was like “Yeah, he actually called me the other day looking for your contact info, that’s so weird.” I was shocked. I gave him my email and phone number and said “Please, when you make it home call me and also please pass my info along to him.” And he did. (Yes, I was giving out my phone number to get a date during a terrorist attack, sigh, only me).
I began walking up to like 90th street or wherever so I could get myself on one of those boats heading home. After I got there they were like, “no, sorry they are leaving from 14th street”. Fuck!. Are you serious??? So then I walked all the way back to 14th street. My legs were tired. I had already ditched my shoes and I had sores on my thighs from the walking. Eventually I snuck in line and got on a cruise ship headed for Jersey. The entire ride was silent. When I got there, Aub, Mike and Ez were already there to take me home. I don’t think I said anything to anyone until we got to the house and then I just lost it. I tried to compose myself so Ezra wouldn’t be scared but I couldn’t. He came in my room, smiled, sat next to me and put his head on my lap. I moved over to the window and just sat there, and then he came over and hugged me and we both sat there together, watching the towers burn to the ground.
I think I have only taken the train once since that day. I insist on ALWAYS wearing comfortable shoes and clothing when I go to the city, even at the expense of my friends who I constantly embarrass when I show up to a high class venue in Nike’s.
I tell this story as I remember it. To add a few things, James did call me 2 days later. We went on our first date a week later. I was in love big time, and today we say is our 11th Anniversary. We now have a beautiful almost 10 year old daughter, Sasha, the love of my life whom I would go through a thousand other terrorist attacks for just to be with her.
Thanks for listening,
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