as a new yorker and a brooklynite, i have my story of september 11th, 2001. that i’m here to tell that story is a privilege that so many others do not have. i often think about that day…that week…that year…and i often think about all the undulating waves of families and friends whose hearts are still waiting for the father or sister or husband or wife or friend who will not return.
i was in a foul mood that morning and i had a walkthrough – the traditional walkthrough for a property (an apartment) that was going to close that afternoon – 12 noon in fact on williams street…4 blocks from the world trade center. our daughter was in her first week of 1st grade in a new building. i was running late – perhaps that accounted for my frustration. i had become friendly with the woman who was purchasing and looked at my cell phone in frustration when it rang, smack in the middle of our inspection. “What??? I told you I was busy with work.” snapped. i snapped at my husband. all he said was: “something is really wrong. a plane hit the world trade center.’ karen and i happened to be on the 4th floor of a 6 story building on plaza street in prospect heights, brooklyn and we raced up the internal staircase to the roof. i remember tumbling out onto the sunny roof – and we were a straight line looking across at the two towers…directly across the east river and up the hill from it. and something was terribly wrong. there was a huge black…hole? like someone had smeared a giant black smoking …not even sure…just back with the edges expanding as we watched…and it made no sense. i grabbed my cell phone but all the circuits were busy and i couldn’t reach my husband who was just across prospect park at home in midwood. a few other people were running up onto the roof and some had binoculars. i was lent someone’s binoculars and tried to focus through them…it took me 2 years to make sense of the fact that i was watching things…people…falling…bits and chunks of things tumbling…it was incomprehensible. i just stood there saying: oh god…oh god…oh my god… and then somehow just needing to talk to anyone i knew i also called my parents but no luck and then reached my brother-in-law in albuquerque …but mostly all i said was: oh my god…this is unbelievable. i eventually did reach my husband but the conversation didn’t change. and then i realized that all i wanted to do was to get to our daughter … about 15 blocks away. in the meantime, you could hear the streets filling with the screams of sirens. more than i’ve ever heard at one time. they were hurtling right down flatbush avenue – a straight line to the brooklyn and manhattan bridges and over to the world trade center. so many things happened at once – i realized just how much i needed to get to my daughter and i saw something. one moment there was one giant black hole in one tower and i saw a bright sharp glint in the clear sky -and then with no warning there was another giant black hole in the other tower. i think i screamed. turns out all i can say in a major crisis is: oh my god. and then i ran…down 6 flights of stairs and around the corner to the parking lot of the preschool where my daughter had previously attended and where i occasionally still parked my car when i had business in this neighborhood. i got in and all i had to do was to get across flatbush avenue and i would be near to her. but that took…i don’t know…i’ve never really pieced it together. as i drove there were people walking about as if it were a normal day…they had no idea what horrors were happening past the buildings that were shielding their views. it was surreal. they must have been looking at my face in the car and, if they noticed, wondering what a sad tragic day i was having. and then, as i inched across flatbush avenue onto 6th avenue, the reporter on 1010wins started screaming: “THE TOWERS. THE TOWER IS FALLING. IT’S FALLING. OH MY GOD IT’S FALLING” and i was sobbing – really heaving and sobbing – and trying not to throw up and still somehow drive my car across.
on the park slope/6th avenue side it was eerily still – most people were at work and i zoomed the 10 blocks to my daughter’s school. i’m sure i drove right through red lights on my way. i turned up the street and threw my car into the space in front of the school…a no no for any driving new yorker but i just didn’t care. i raced into the school…i was the first one there. so quiet. so calm. except that the lower school secretary knew something awful was happening. she told me that they heard on the radio that the pentagon had been attacked. and would i wait outside and as soon as they knew anything they’d come out but that they were trying to keep the lower school kids blissfully ignorant for the moment. and so i waited. slowly, some parents came. my husband arrived about 40 minutes later – having gotten on our one rinky bike and frantically riding the 6 or 7 miles to school as fast as he could. he told me later that at one point, he rode through white ash filtering down in the air. we didn’t know what was happening. i thought we were being bombed. in what seemed like hours later, 2 parents came trudging up the street – filthy and with streaks of black on their faces and clothes….they both worked right there and got out and had walked over the bridge and right to school – miles away from the brooklyn bridge. the mom quit her job months later and never went back. our school lost a parent in the towers. my daughter’s 1st grade teacher’s husband worked in the towers but was late that morning and was coming up out of the subway as the towers were hit and was spared. another parent was on the subway just coming out of the tunnels into manhattan and someone stuck their head in the train and said something about a huge fire and she got worried and went across the platform and got right on the train going back to brooklyn. she became frantic while waiting at the school because her husband worked next to the towers and she couldn’t reach him on his cell. she found out much later in the day that he was further uptown at a doctor’s appointment and ended up having to walk over the williamsburg bridge and then find his way home miles and miles away on foot. like any other new yorker, as the days and weeks went on, we all learned of a friend of a friend or the husband or wife of a friend of a friend who never made it out. my heart broke again today hearing about a woman who lost dozens of friends and colleagues – she survived and they did not.
eventually the head of the lower school came out to tell us that they were releasing the children whose parents were there. we stuffed the bike into the trunk and offered a ride home to a mom and her son who lived near us. it was an eerie quiet ride home…no adult wanted to scare the kids. while one adult was talking to the 2 kids in the back seat, one of us in the front was leaning with our ear against the radio – playing extremely low trying to find out what was happening. did we need to take shelter? could we even drive? we dropped them off and went home. one of us would hang out with our daughter downstairs playing and the other upstairs with the door closed listening to the radio. we didn’t have any cable at the time and there was no cableless tv – with the tower knocked out it was gone. it was a blur of worry and phone calls.
somehow we all got through it. we lived with our windows shut for weeks. 3 weeks later the closing was rescheduled. i got off the subway at fulton street and as i got out onto the street, i turned instinctively to the left – to the towers. it looked like a war zone. the smell of burnt hung everywhere. black charcoal outlines peeking through untouched buildings. huge water hoses laid down the middle of fulton street. new yorkers walking but so subdued. i promptly burst into tears and had to walk 4 blocks away to get some composure to go and do what i needed to do. we sat in that room – about 6 of the most disparate new yorkers ever – and practically hugged each other to be there. just to be there.
my daughter started 10th grade this week. i don’t pray any more. but i hold all those people in my heart of hearts. so much hate in the name of religion. such a waste.