#2375 | Wednesday, September 11th 2002
My day began with an odd, uncomfortable feeling that "something" was terribly wrong. I woke my daughter and we proceeded to perform our usual "getting ready" rituals; her for school (senior year, high school) and me for work ( my 16th year as an ass't to the director of a special ed. school for emotionally disturbed students). As I walked the dog before leaving for work, I again had a sense of foreboding... but quickly put it aside when I looked at the time and realized that, for me, I was "behind" schedule. I told my daughter,Victoria, I was leaving for work and I'd see her later. As I walked down our walk to my car, I realized I hadn't given her a kiss goodbye, a fairly standard part of our daily ritual. I wanted to turn around but thought she'd think I was nuts and that my "sense of foreboding" was off the mark - what could possibly happen on this beautiful September morning? So I rationalized that my feelings were unfounded and drove to work. An hour or so later, a co-worker arrived, out of breath and told us in the office what she had just heard on the radio in her car. Our school day doesn't start until 9am; some word was beginning to travel through the building but no one was certain. Although classrooms have cable tv installed, at first no one thought to turn the tv on as by now students were starting to enter the school. As we all began to realize the enormity of what had happened and was still happening, we tried to access any of the tv sites on the web that broadcast live - no luck. I suddenly realized that my feeling of dread had been right - my soul/being/self KNEW at 6:30am as I left for work that something was terribly wrong in the universe... I had been right - just check out what time the planes of the attack left their respective airports! Today,one year later,(9/11/02) my daughter is 2 hours away at college on Long Island - I call her every morning to make sure she is awake... the only thing I can now do since I cannot kiss her goodbye in person... the reality of 9/11/01 will be present for the rest of my life. Later that day, the school staff were advised that one of our beloved staff members was found dead at home by her husband... she had been ill, no doctor or specialist had been able to figure out what was causing her illness... and now it was too late. She was a wonderful, beautiful teacher of young emotionally disturbed children... life is unfair... perhaps she left us that day so she could help those who were already on their way to their next existence understand that there is always hope, always a way to go on... Finally, at around 6pm, I received word that my husband's aunt Alice who had been an important part of my daughter's (free) child care for so long had died from her recently diagnosed emphysema and chronic pulmonary disease (and had also recently sunk into dementia so deep that she was seeing snowstorms in July). I'm also sure Alice was taken on September 11th so that those coming from the days' disasters had a warm, nurturing being to meet and tell them that everything would be ok and that those of us left behind would again find ways to be happy and live our lives as they would have wanted us to.

Victoria, if you ever read this, know your "mommy dearest" loves you... and will never forget the day I didn't follow my instincts and turn around to give you a kiss goodbye. Sue M-D

Susan | 52 | New Jersey

#2045 | Wednesday, September 11th 2002
I was working in my home office when my husband, a retired Port Authority Police Officer, called up to me that the World Trade Center had been struck- turn on the TV. I watched in disbelief. I heard him cry out "My buddies- my guys are there- Oh my God.." I rushed to be with him and watched helplessly as the events unfolded and my husband suffered. He immediately started to call spouses of his closest friends trying to find out specific news of his 'brothers'.

When we saw footage on CNN of Sgt. Marty Duane, PAPD, covered in white dust with his arm around a woman helping her into a bus we cried out in relief- at least Marty made it out.

As the names of our fallen friends became known, my husband began telling stories of their many years together.

I listened for news of people I would have known from my prior work in NYC. As the weeks went on- I heard of brothers, sons and friends of people I knew who were lost.

The next day I had a job in a building where the mood was to 'get back to work'. At the time I resented it but I look back on it as helpful to keep me from being overwhelmed by the sorrow and empathy I felt and still feel. And a bit of guilt that I didn't suffer as much as others. And I still resent the comments from those who did not suffer directly that we need to 'move on'.

Rhoda | 52 | New Jersey

#1947 | Tuesday, September 10th 2002
September 10, 2002

September 11, is our wedding anniversary. How can you celebrate a day like that, or a birthday, or any happy occassion? I was sitting in the bedroom, playing with my grandchildren and we had on some children's program. My daughter ran into the room and said change the channel quick, you won't believe it. We were stunned and watched tv all day. I still can't believe the two towers fell. I still cry, as I am sure many do, for all the lost souls. I pray for them and their families.

Donna | 52 | Louisiana

#1792 | Monday, September 9th 2002
I live in Australia but am originally from Michigan - maybe why "it" affected my so deeply.

As usual, the alarm went off at around 7:30 a.m. on a fine Sydney autumn morning, in the "upside-down" part of the world. I usually grunt and roll over - the alarm goes off for my partner and not for me. But I was instantly awake this time - the radio announcer was hysterical, you couldn't understand a thing that she was raving on about. There was a mixture of fear and disbelief and horror in her panicked voice - a timbre that would soon creep into mine as well. I shot out of bed so quickly my butt hit the floor with a thump and I reached for the TV. Oh, God, the black scar and smoke on that building - how could a pilot get it so wrong? Those poor, poor people.

Even though we had slept on, unknowing, and it had happened, all happened, hours before, we couldn't comprehend it. Two buildings? Three? and a Pennsylvania field? A kind of innocent amnesia that initially refused to acknowledge such pure hate. So, I, the ex-patriot Yank watched and watched. Surely, surely somebody from Cantor Fitzgerald would make it. That no-one's loved cat or dog would wait in a dark apartment for the owner that never came home. The dry cleaner who would fret about what to do with that order of shirts, no starch, for which the likeable finance dude with the toussled hair would never claim again. The faces at windows, dumb, like lambs, waving torn drapes from the corporate boardrooms, patiently waiting for the bold rescue that never materialised.

I suddenly became defiant and cruised the Sydney 'phone books to find an American flag, huge, with which to plaster the front of the house. A small flag marked our back gate. "Beware - Yank Within" I was sure they screamed out. I almost wanted someone to challenge me - I was willing to be a martyr and defiance was my main emotion in the early days. The imagined armed middle-Eastern men never did arrive at the door. More likely, someone at the market, on hearing my accent, would ask me what I felt and I could hear my voice start to go up high like the radio woman and I had to try, really try, to stay calm.

I made donations to the American Red Cross and the American Humane Association and ordered Anita Diamant's "Saying Kaddish" so a Sydney Catholic could mourn the New York members of Cantor Fitzgerald in words by which their God might be pleased and ease the pain of their loved ones by just a fraction more. Every tear was a prayer and there were quite a few.

And so my defiance changed to sorrow and my initial action to the dumb disbelief of a beast. Yes, the alarm did toll for me and it pealed out: "the world is not safe, nowhere is safe, not for anyone, not any more". All the sad certainties of my life seem even more certain and of a denser shade of sad.

Susan | 52 | Australia

#1718 | Saturday, September 7th 2002
On my way to an early-morning meeting, I had a few minutes to spare before catching the PATH commuter train that runs under the Hudson River to the World Trade Center. I took the opportunity to walk to the end of the public pier adjacent to the station to enjoy the view of downtown Manhattan and the cool, pre-dawn quiet. As I often did, I counted the floors down from the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the North Tower, and saw that there were lights on in my old office space - I had worked for 14 years on the 103rd floor. The unusually calm surface of the Hudson that morning produced a nearly perfect reflection of the towers, and I regretted not having a camera. It was September 11, 2001.

On the 22nd floor of 7 World Trade Center, we were well into our second hour when we raised our heads at the sound of jet engines, loud and close. A split second later, there was the sound of a crash. “A plane is down,” I said. It was 8:46 am.

We heard people in the hallway shouting that a plane had hit the Trade Center. As my colleagues went to see what had happened, I called our building’s security desk in the lobby. The woman who answered the phone said that they had not declared an emergency for our building, and recommended we stay in place. I went out to our main corridor to let people know what I’d been told, but many of our staff were leaving the building, especially those who had been in our old offices after the February 1993 bombing. From the looks on their faces, I knew I should see for myself.

But first, I wanted to contact my wife, Carolyn. We had missed each others’ phone calls in 1993, and I knew this had only added to her anxiety as she waited to hear from me. So I wanted just to tell her I was OK. I called the American Cancer Society office where she does volunteer work, but nobody had arrived yet. I realized it was before 9 o’clock, so I decided to try again in a few minutes.

Our cafeteria overlooks the World Trade Center Plaza, so I made my way to that side of the building to see what I could. When I arrived, I took a quick look at the Towers and saw the impact zone with its thick, black plume of smoke. I was shocked to see the impact point so high, as I had assumed the crash was an accident involving a plane climbing out of La Guardia airport.

I turned my attention to a co-worker who was very distraught and sobbing. I was eventually able to understand that she had just ridden in to work with a friend who worked on the 107th floor, and she feared for the worst. In a few minutes, she managed to compose herself enough to leave the cafeteria.

I went back to my office to call Carolyn again, but couldn’t get through. I heard a colleague shout from an adjacent office that a second plane had hit the South Tower. I knew at that moment it was a terrorist act. Our chief operating officer made the decision to evacuate the building.

Between dialing Carolyn, a call came in from a colleague aboard a plane that had just taken off from Newark Airport. He had seen the smoke from the Trade Center, and wanted to know what had happened. I told him it was terrorists, and that we were getting out. I left my desk to spread the word to evacuate and to search for stragglers. While I was away from the desk, Carolyn got through – a repeat of 1993. Our COO told her not to worry, that everyone was OK, and that we were leaving the building.

We were telling the staff to gather at a baseball field in the green space a few blocks north and west of the Trade Center, figuring we’d determine what to do next when we got there. A few of us stayed behind to forward some telephones to our New Jersey office and to check once more for stragglers, and then we left. It was about 9:20 am.

As I exited the building, I looked over my shoulder at the Towers. There was not a cloud in the sky, and every feature of the buildings was visible. The black smoke and orange flames stood out so clearly that they looked artificial, like a movie scene. I remember thinking to myself that I knew I should feel anger, but I just felt numb.

When we got to the ball field, it had already been taken over by dozens of people in FBI and ATF windbreakers. About 100 of our staff gathered. A few critical staff were asked to try to get to our Jersey City office; the rest were asked to go home and stay by the phone. The police on the scene were urging us to “keep moving north - it’s not safe.”

As we made our way north along West Street, the main thoroughfare on Manhattan’s West Side, we could see a stream of emergency vehicles speeding down from uptown, lights flashing and sirens wailing. It was hard to talk over the din. The fire engines, ambulances and police cars just kept coming, in groups of two and three.

A small group of us had made about half a mile when, backs to the Towers, we heard and felt a rumble. Turning around, I saw a cloud of smoke or dust billow across West Street toward the World Financial Center. I thought it was a bomb blast. It was just after 10 o’clock, and we had just witnessed the collapse of the South Tower.

All the way, I was trying to get through to Carolyn on my cellphone, but connections seemed impossible. On a hunch, I dialed the home number of our company president, who was out of town on business. Surprisingly, I got through to his wife. After telling her that everyone was safely out of the office, she told me, “The Tower is down, and they’ve hit the Pentagon.” I heard it, but I didn’t comprehend it.

Four of us convinced a limousine driver to bring us up West Street to the midtown area where two of us would try to get a ferry to New Jersey, and two others would head for Penn Station for their homeward-bound Long Island trains. On the way, we chattered about our plans, but nobody said a word about what we had seen.

As my colleague and I waited in the crowd for the ferry, we heard aircraft noise. The entire crowd cringed, very visibly. Then someone said, “Relax. It’s an F-14 rolling around up there.” I looked, and he was right. The U.S. Navy was on patrol.

After getting on the ferry, I looked back downtown. I kept wishing the smoke would clear so I could see the Towers. I wondered if I was just at a low angle, with the rising smoke just obscuring the buildings. I wasn’t processing the facts I had: the Towers were down, but I couldn’t comprehend it.

It took us nearly two hours to get from the ferry landing in Weehawken to Jersey City by bus and foot. On the way, we stopped at the Hoboken train station to see whether the PATH link to Jersey City was in operation, but no luck. As we walked from the station, we were threading our way through ranks of ambulances from nearby communities, parked and waiting for casualties. I have a vivid recollection of a petite, red-haired woman in hospital scrubs, with a stethoscope draped around her neck. She stood completely still, with a look of pain on her face. Her hands, in bright blue gloves, were extended toward the Trade Center, waiting.

We got to Jersey City about 1 o’clock, to find that the authorities had ordered the evacuation of our building, two blocks from the waterfront and the PATH station. I talked the police officer into letting me in, just to retrieve my car from the garage. I drove three of my colleagues home, and headed home myself. In the car, I was able to reach my parents, and ask them to let Carolyn know that I was alright, and that I would be home soon.

When I did reach home, I spent the rest of the day ordering the company’s financial affairs as best as possible from the kitchen table. I was on the phone with my COO a little after 5 pm. He was in his apartment in Jersey City, and had been watching our building burning for much of the afternoon. We were on the phone together when it collapsed at 5:20 pm. Although I was occupied calling family, friends and co-workers until nearly midnight, my clear recollections of September 11 seem to end at that point.

* * *

Four people I knew or had worked with perished at the Trade Center that day. I mourn their loss, and grieve for their families. They were innocent, chance victims of a horrific act. I grieve as well for the heroes of September 11, the firefighters, police and emergency medical workers who responded, and gave their lives in service to others. There are no words.

Having worked in those buildings for 14 years, I caught their spirit. The concept, the idea of the World Trade Center was - and is - much bigger than the buildings themselves. I feel their loss. Not the metal and glass. The idea.

David | 52 | New Jersey

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