Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 10 years ago today

I assume everyone remembers where they were this time 10 years ago. My story is simple. I was never in any real danger although I felt a such at the time.

I was home having just lost my job two days before. I was depressed and reading Tom Clancy's "The Sum of All Fears". If you've read the book you know how completely awful a choice it was.  My boyfriend (now promoted to The Hubster) called around 8am and started talking- quickly and quietly. All I heard was "Towers" and "turn on the TV".

Here's the thing- I didn't have a tv. I rented tv shows on DVD from Blockbuster and went to the library to check out movies. I didn't listen to the news or have internet as I didn't have a computer- all that came later- after I realized just how isolated and vulnerable I was.

David slowed down and said- Michelle an airplane just crashed into the World Trade Center. I can see the smoke from here!! We are on red alert. No one is allowed to leave." At the time David worked as a Communications Department assistant in a hospital near the Williamsburg Bridge- one of the closest hospitals to Ground Zero. During times of emergency it's all hands on deck.

I blurted out- "HA hahaha- That's not funny." I thought it was a joke- it HAD to be a joke- it was impossible an airplane could swing into the tallest building in NYC- impossible.

"Michelle"- he said- "all those people..." and his voice broke.

Dave had to go so I turned on the radio- Z-100- the top 40 music and and silly talk station I sometimes listened to was broadcasting CBS news coverage. I listen as newscasters try to speak to the reporters on the street but the wail of sirens is drowning all other sound. The newscaster sounds scared- the reporter on the street is unintelligible and there is screaming in the background.

While searching for clearer signal I hear a second plane has hit the second tower. A second plane? What the hell is going on? I tried to call Dave but he couldn't talk- phone lines to the hospital now had to be free for fire and police to co-ordinate emergency services.
My Mom called- "Michelle get over here now. I'm leaving work and I want you home by the time I get there."
You don't ignore a direct command from the Mom.
My brother Guarionex was stationed in a Army base in Germany with his family. My sister Leticia was in Japan teaching english. Melissa was already at Mom's house and waiting for me. She wanted us all home right NOW.

I put on my jeans and go wait for the bus. I notice that every single person on the street has the same stunned look. Behind the bus stop there is a laundromat.  Two muslim women are sitting near the entrance and waiting for their clothes to dry. They watch the tv along with everyone else. CNN is broadcasting that this may have been an act of terrorism.  Briefly, a photo of Osama Bin Laden flashes on screen as part of a montage of known terrorists. Who where these monsters? It was the first time I had ever heard of any of them. I rarely paid attention to the news as it just stressed me out. I knew about the bombing of some UN buildings in Africa but had never bothered to find out who did it or why it was important. Safety from acts of war was something I took for granted.

I look at the two women slowly folding their laundry and carefully avoiding the glares now trained on them. I see the same fear I feel in their eyes, their eyes being the only thing not covered. I got out of there- I was confused and angry and I wanted to be with family.

In the Parkchester section of the Bronx where I lived at the time,  the Pakistani and Eastern European Muslim population is large and very visible. I shopped in "their" super markets as the produce is fresher, the staff friendlier and the prices fairer. I walked in the park and saw how well the families stuck together and how polite the children were. I washed clothes and picked up my mail right alongside them- they were simply my neighbors. Now I was scared and suspicious.

On the bus half way to my Mom's house a man listening to headphones suddenly curses in spanish and sits down. When asked what was wrong he tells everyone the first tower is falling. How does such a large building fall? Did everyone get out? What are they saying" He was silent- he had no answers. I could see he is trying not to show any emotion but his eyes are red.

A woman to the front of the bus starts to cry- her husband works in a restaurant at the World Trade Center she says.  The subways aren't running and she needs to get to Manhattan to see if he's ok. When no one answers her she starts to weep but slowly works herself into a full screaming fit. Can't the bus go any faster? Why are the subways all closed? Why are the phones not working? No ones answers. The bus driver stops the bus and tries to calm her down. Finally, the bus driver tells her she will have to get off if she keeps yelling- she is scaring everyone. She calms down and we resume our ride in total silence. No one's cell phones are working. Those with radios are listening to their earphones- there isn't a laptop or ipod in sight.

On reaching my Mother's house my sister opens the door. She is on her way out. She wants to see the news and her friend Danny has satellite tv service. She will call us if she hears any news. My Mom calls- Pito is fine but his base is on full alert status. We are not to call him or worry- he will email us when he can.

I watch the news. Only the CBS station is visible- the others ones are off air since most have antenna's on World Trade Center Tower 1. My Mom doesn't have cable or a fancy antenna. A newsman is in front of a hospital interviewing some dude on the street who warns there might be a biological or nuclear aspect to this attack so we all need to stay indoors. The reporter is hanging on to every word but the interview gets cut off to show video of the Pentagon attack and people in Washington DC evacuating into the streets- senators and janitors alike- all are vulnerable- all are scared. The reporter comes on to say there are still several planes up in the air and that they have lost contact with a few. Charts of what's currently still in flight are shown, there is speculation on how many more planes could hit major cities.

I turn the tv off. My Mom is finally home- she was one of the last people to be allowed across a bridge from Manhattan in a car. She works uptown so she never saw a thing but when she got to the Willis Avenue bridge the police were inspecting cars and the bridge was already full of people fleeing Manhattan into the comfort and safety of the South Bronx. Irony.

We hug and spend the rest of the afternoon watching the tv and crying- people choosing to jump 20 floors rather than burn, hospital emergency room entrances completely empty or too full, footage of the actual planes hitting the buildings, the buildings falling, people running from grey clouds of dust, people covered in white dust, police cars crushed by huge iron pillars, people crossing the bridges on foot, people finally reaching home 20 miles away from Manhattan and collapsing in their yards to cry. There is much speculation, chatter, rumor but no real information yet. We now live in fear. We are now a nation at war.

10 years later, the site of the World Trade Center is a tourist attraction. I avoid it but I understand why people feel the need to visit- to touch base- to remember and to witness for themselves. When the new building goes up I plan to visit regularly- the design is beautiful and the memorial pools in the footprints of the towers promise to be one of the most beautiful sights in New York.

I will never forget what I felt that day and I will never take for granted my safety or stop thanking the policemen, the firefighters, the engineers, the construction workers and the EMS specialists who gave months of their time and many, their very lives, to help in the rescue and rebuilding efforts. I bow my head and I give thanks- thank you. Thank you.
Thank you.


  1. wow!! You know, from over here - for me there was no sense of that.
    The fear was there yes and i remember thinking "thats like a scene from a war you see in the middle east, not america". I remember watching the live footage and feeling very scared even a little sick at the thought that something like that could happen. It was like something from a know all special effects and Keifer Sutherland saves the day type thing.
    Even when 7/7 happened - i still couldn't beleive it.
    I am so glad that you and your family are ok :)
    thoughts and prayers for all those affected xx

  2. Beautifully written, Michelle. We were all in shock that day, and all remember what we were doing and how the events unfolded. I hope you keep a journal of your life for posterity, and include this account.

  3. I've been thinking about you a lot today. I thought I'd be able to get through this day without crying. I haven't been obsessing and watching every single program on the television this week, but I've watched some segments on the daily network news. Got through the stories without shedding a tear. This morning coming home from grocery shopping, driving through my neighborhood, seeing all the flags, everywhere, it started. The tears came. I went to the little park three blocks away from my house and sat at a picnic table and started praying. Asking for the hatred to end some day, being thankful for our basic freedom which we take for granted.

    There are moments in your life you never forget. For me...being in first grade when JFK was shot in Dallas...watching with disbelief when Robert Kennedy was killed, soaking in the bathtub on a Monday night when Howard Kossel announced the assassination of John Lennon...and picking up the phone on my desk at work and hearing my husband say the world will never be the same after today on 9/ll.

    Thank you for sharing that part of your life with us, Michelle. Take care. Peace.

  4. Perfection in writing, Michelle.
    I hated reading it, but I love how you wrote it.
    thank you for sharing your experience with us.
    is it strange that a woman on the other side of the world sat in her home with her eyes glued to the television, thinking exactly the same thoughts as you?
    with love,


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