The year I lived in New York, was the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and I decided to write a story from what my New York friends had shared with me. It was chilling to be among these people who knew 9/11 in a way I couldn’t understand.
A Chattanoogan On Long Island – We Will Not Forget
I read that officers will work 12-hour shifts, instead of 8-hour shifts. Vehicle checkpoints will be installed. The police will conduct bomb sweeps in parking garages and elsewhere and increased numbers of illegally parked cars will be towed. Great, I would end up not knowing where to park… and I would get towed, I was sure of it.
On Friday, I went to work as usual and decided to send an office email to the administrative staff asking if anyone would be interested in going into the city with me. Right away, my friend Jeff McAvoy replied that his wife Adele worked in Times Square and she said the traffic has already been horrendous and he said it would be crazy trying to go. Then my friend Maria Quinones who sits around the corner from me in the billing department popped her head from her cubicle and said, “I would love to help you out, but I just can’t go there… it’s too hard.”
I realized what I was asking. I was not asking new friends to take in a historical event with me. I was asking New Yorkers – people who had a much closer experience than I did during 9/11, to relive it all again, revisiting emotions that have taken 10 years to learn what to do with.
I decided that I did not need to go to the city for my story – it was right here with my new friends. Now I treaded lightly and asked if they minded sharing just a bit with me. The attacks were on “America”; we all were affected in some way. Even still New Yorkers were so close to it that they remember the smell, they remember the silence of their world and the somber tones of their state. They remember the fear of not finding their loved one. They felt the guilt of surviving.
Maria went on to tell me that she was working in the city for years. She told of how working in the city is of another mindset. You make more money and it can become addicting. The money, the power, the prestige of the city can become formidable if you just want to have a normal family life. You can get caught up in the hypo-manic need to succeed. She recollected being in the city during the previous attacks before 9/11 and even the stock market crash – it really affected her. Just to know that people were throwing themselves out of buildings during the crash because they lost everything and just felt it was not worth your family or your life to face it. When you reach that mentality, there is something wrong. Maria did not want to ever become that tragic of a person and with her seven-year-old daughter struggling in school, she decided that it was best to leave the city – just a month before the 9/11 attacks. She cannot imagine if she had waited another month to make that decision.
I sent another email telling everyone that I would not attempt to visit Manhattan; instead I would like if they could share with me a little of their experience. It was a strange feeling to ask this of my new friends. Something so emotional is to be locked away or only shared with intimate friends, yet the new girl was asking them to open themselves up and let her in. How do you ask that of someone? I guess I have always lived my life with my own arms being open and accepting of people so I tend to cross boundaries thinking others will be the same way. If I love them and care about them, why would they not trust that? I think the ones who responded already have seen a glimpse of my heart and they know that I am sincere.
My friend Anna Stellman wrote something very short, but I know her enough to see there was a lot more emotions behind her quick and to-the-point words in her email: Two memories: I had to put my cat to sleep the day after on (9/12), and I got married two weeks after (9/23). It was a quiet, peaceful, and of course a happy day, but most of my step-family that was there are in the FD, so it was hard. She didn’t go into that actual day – can you imagine planning for your wedding just before the attacks? Do you call it off, do you go ahead and not let the enemy change your life, your happiness? I have mentioned that weddings are a major event in New York. After the attacks, how quiet everything was and with that love-your-neighbor feel so overpowering at this time, I am sure her wedding was a totally different experience – especially as she mentioned her family in the Fire Department.
Judy Mahoney works up front. I don’t see her much, but she has this great smile, is always friendly to me and I can tell she is a joyous person. She sent me this email about her husband: Hi Jen, my husband was a NYC detective at the time and was stationed near the World Trade Center. He just happened to be off that day but as soon as I heard about what happened I called him to tell him that he would have to go in to work. His precinct called me at work looking for him and I told them he was already on his way. I had no idea when or if I would even see him again when I hung up the phone. He was at work for about five days straight before he was able to get onto more of a “normal” police schedule. He then spent many nights at the Fresh Kills landfill looking for human remains and worked a lot of overtime in security at various events at sports stadiums, political events, etc. It was a nerve-wracking few years until he retired in 2004. Even now, 9/11 remains a difficult time of year for him. ~Judy
After receiving her email, I had tears in my eyes, but I kept on with my task at hand, entering billing into the computer – and there was a deadline. I kept working and did my best to keep my mind focused on my job. Another email came in… from Jeff. I had to forward the emails to my home email and knew I would read them over the weekend.
On the drive home I started thinking of my own memory of 9/11. I was watching Good Morning America and was with my ex-husband at the time. He told me a plane crashed into the World Trade Center and “this was big.” He apparently knew more than I did and what it meant. I had asked, “What is the World Trade Center?” (Yes, I have lived a very sheltered life raising my children and not being involved in much else). When it was explained to me just what was happening, the second plane hit into the building. New York to me was “just television” and dreams… I never thought I would ever see it and with so much of our entertainment in movies being about explosions and death, sometimes the reality of something like this is hard to grasp when it first happens.
I was very concerned about the people in New York and the Pentagon. I was scared for our country. I am very patriotic even though I was not knowledgeable of everything that went on in the world. Watching the horror on live television and knowing it was real was very painful. I hurt with others, though I have to admit I didn’t grasp the personal side of it at first. I was listening to a man talk about war and “the big picture” of it all. I am more of a people person. I wanted to know more about what was going on with those very people running from a collapsing building and were they okay.
I kept tuned in for days but I remember I didn’t want to go anywhere. It did not happen in Tennessee, but none of us knew if there were more attacks on their way and Tennessee had a nuclear power plant not far from us. It could have been a target. After Flight 93 went down who knew how many more planes could crash or where? Even though air travel had been suspended, what other ways could the enemy attack us? I started to become angry and I wanted to judge Middle-Eastern people. Many who owned gas stations around where I lived, would they start blowing them up? I finally got out and went to the grocery store. I saw a Middle-Eastern couple and they wore attire they normally wear. She had a long colorful dress on and wrapped her head. His head was wrapped too. I remember being scared and wondering if they had a bomb under their clothes. I knew there was a religion where people commit suicide for a cause. I wasn’t sure if it were Muslim or what. The thing is, a lot of us in our country have not educated ourselves on this very thing. Muslims are not the enemy. I had to learn that. People who are from the Middle East are not the enemy. Terrorists were the enemy. But who was a terrorist? Later we found they were right here among us, going to flight school in our country – certainly a scary time for all of us.
After I arrived home from work, I read Jeff’s email along with two others. Jeff wrote: I was actually getting ready to wash my car. Adele called me from the city (at the time she was working for the American Red Cross) and told me about the plane. I turned on the news, but really did not grasp what was happening. I figured it was a small plane, like a Cessna. I never would have thought that a 767 could hit a building without it falling over. Once the other plane hit things got scary. My brother and I drove down to the Metro Mall in Middle Village and viewed the buildings. I actually have photos of the buildings on fire. We were up there when the first building collapsed; many people were viewing at this point. We listened to the news report as it fell. I remember thinking that the building would tip over instead of crumble down. The entire downtown area was covered in smoke. It was a crazy experience; we all stood there in total shock. We soon left and went to my grandmother’s house. That is where I learned about the Pentagon attack. I felt helpless and vulnerable. I could not believe what was happening and I felt that something else would still happen. At that point I could no longer reach Adele on the phone. I was worried about her (as well as my mom and grandfather who both worked in Manhattan). My aunt really went nuts and wanted to flee the city. There were fighter jets flying over the house – everything seemed quiet. I felt guilty that all these people died a horrible death and I was just worried about myself. It was such a happy time for me and I was thinking that would all change. Would I be drafted to war, etc.? At that point I had only been dating Adele for four months but I was very worried about her. I parked my car by her house and waited until 2 a.m. when she finally got home. Adele was literally the girl of my dreams; that made an awful day a lot more bearable. I did not know what was coming, but I knew that Adele and I would be in it together. ~Jeff
Marian wrote: One of my memories about 9/11 is still very clear in my head. I was working at an elementary school; we were outside for “gym” with the children. I turned and looked at the two gym teachers as they were watching the smoke coming from the west. I asked if they knew what it was. They explained about the World Trade Center. My husband was a federal agent at the World Trade Center. I ran inside the school and my cell phone started ringing. When I answered, my husband was on the other end telling me he wanted me to know he was safe and he had been “in the field” as they called it, in Queens that day, not in the office. My three children were in the high school across the street at the time. I ran over and asked to speak to them (no one at the time knew anything there yet). They said I could not, but they would relay a message. I had the gentleman at the desk tell them that dad was fine, and he was in Queens and not in his office. I wanted to make the message short and sweet and when the news got out, I didn’t want them to panic. After that, parents flooded up to both schools all day long to remove their children from the buildings. I remember feeling so sorry for any of the children that were left and not knowing if their parents were safe. ~ Marian
Caryn wrote: I was going to work on the express bus at the entrance to the Queens Midtown Tunnel stuck in the usual morning traffic. I happened to look up to see smoke coming from tower one and I thought “oh boy, someone’s bombed the World Trade Center again!” I then saw a plane close to the towers and figured it was a recon plane surveying the damage. That’s when I saw it hit tower two! My husband was supposed to go down there that day to do a ‘press ok’ for a client. I couldn’t reach him and you know what I was thinking (it didn’t even occur to me that his office was right down the street from where I was). Turns out he hadn’t gone yet (thank God) but I didn’t find that out until much later in the day. I have a friend who worked in tower one and I couldn’t reach her either. Luckily she had taken the day off, but, again, I didn’t find that out until later in the day. My cousin had recently left her job at Cantor Fitzgerald to work for another company. I then spent the next some time volunteering at a first responder temporary field station set up on the Intrepid where I saw grown men break down and cry like babies. I gave them hot coffee, food, a person to talk to and a pair of arms to hold and comfort them. ~Caryn
Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day? I heart New York …and I heart America. God bless all who mourn; “We Will Not Forget.”