On the morning of September 11, 2001, between 8 -8:30 am, I was doing my usual morning routine: Dropping my 1- and 3-year-old off at daycare and taking the train to Grand Central Station.
I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but as I waited at my Rivertown station, two planes were being hijacked and were flying over me, also on their way to Manhattan.
In the pre-Smartphone era, I didn’t know anything was amiss until I went into a deli on Madison Avenue around 9:50 am and heard people talking about a plane that had crashed into the Pentagon. Thinking it was another small plane, like the one that had landed on the White House Lawn in 1994, I didn’t think much of it.
The first clue I had that something was terribly wrong was when I got to my office building a block away and saw people huddled in front of the window of the bank on the ground floor, staring at a TV. On the screen, I saw the World Trade Center enveloped in smoke. I turned my head to look down Madison and saw the smoke myself. I quickly went inside and took the elevator to the 10th floor. It was 9:58 am. When I got off the elevator, I saw my co-workers in tears, screaming, “It came down! The Tower came down!” The South Tower came down as I was going up.
Still unclear about what was happening, we sat at our desks and watched what was unfolding less than two miles away, and then saw the North Tower fall. There was much discussion about what to do: Do we stay and work on our weekly magazine? Do we go home? Was it safe to leave the building? Would other landmarks like the Empire State Building just blocks away be next? We also asked what seem like ridiculous questions now: “How we were going to word the ‘shows may be pre-empted’ disclaimer in our weekly entertainment magazine?” “Can we say it was a terrorist attack?” Even though three planes had deliberately crashed into buildings and on a field near the Pentagon, killing thousands of people, we still did not understand the magnitude of that day. My boss ordered pizza for lunch and encouraged us to stay put because Grand Central would be a madhouse. My co-worker (another Westchester resident with a toddler) looked at me, and we said: Forget it. We are getting out of here.
Grand Central was indeed a madhouse, but luckily my friend and I squeezed onto a train. Every seat was taken and their aisles were jam-packed. Most people were very quiet, in shock. A man gave his seat to a woman who was covered in ash but wore new sneakers. She said she had walked north up Broadway from the Trade Center and workers from the Modell’s on Chambers Street were handing out sneakers to anyone who needed them.
It was acts like this, and stories that I heard of heroism and selflessness during and after the attacks, that made me even prouder to be a New Yorker. And for about a month, when you walked down the streets of Manhattan, people actually looked you in the eye, with a certain kind of sensitivity and kindred spirit as if to say: We lived through that. We’re still here.
I was very fortunate that I did not lose anyone that day. But I, like anyone else who lived in New York at that time, had friends and acquaintances who had near-misses. My brother’s friend’s father had taken the Path to WTC from New Jersey and had contemplated going up to Windows on the World to visit colleagues who were in town for a business meeting. But looking down, he realized he had put on the wrong shoes, ones that were splattered with paint, so decided against it. He took the subway up to SoHo, and when he got off he saw that the Towers had been hit. My co-worker’s brother worked in the Trade Center on an overnight shift. He was at a deli for his coffee break when the planes hit. He ran out of the deli, into a shower of paper floating in the air and people falling to the ground.
That night, instead of putting the kids down in their respective toddler bed and crib, I had them in bed with me, letting them fall asleep there before moving them to their rooms. But for once, it wasn’t for their comfort—it was for mine. I had just lived through the most horrific day of my life, and quite possibly our nation’s history, and I just needed them to be close.
Click here for a listing of memorials and gatherings happening throughout the Hudson Valley.