Reflecting on 9/11…

I’ve never shared my journals publicly, but considering I’m writing a book based on them, I thought that now was as good a time as any…

Today is Tuesday, September 11, 2012.  Eleven years ago to the day, I was a young executive who had just landed her dream job in New York City.  I had competed with more than 300 applicants for a summer internship at a global PR firm on 42nd Ave.  When the internship came to an end, there was one full-time position available, and I was thrilled to receive the offer.  My start date was September 4, 2001.  I was a fresh-faced young executive who was adjusting to a new life in the big city.

I’ve been keeping journals since the age of 5.  This is my journal entry from September 11, 2001:

September 11, 2001

5:30 a.m. – Wake up and go to kickboxing class
8 a.m. – Walk to bus stop to catch bus to Port Authority
8:45 a.m. – Arrive at Port Authority.  While standing in line for the subway to Grand Central Station, a hysterical man ran by me.  He was yelling about the World Trade Center being on fire.  “A plane hit the tower,” he said.  “It’s on fire.”  Some people seemed concerned.  Others, like me, just thought he was another crazy bum talking nonsense.
9 a.m. – Arrive at Grand Central Station and walk to work
9:05 a.m. – Arrive at my office building, 220 42nd Ave.  I thought it was strange that security people were guarding the building and checking ID.
9:10 a.m. – I make my way to the 8th floor.  I enter the office and this is when I realize that the World Trade Center is actually on fire.  My co-workers are watching the live broadcast, and I join them.
BREAKING NEWS:  Two commercial airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center Twin Towers.  Terrorist attacks, they say.
9:25 a.m. – I go to my office and shut the door.  I check my email because I don’t know what else to do.  At this point, I don’t realize the seriousness of the situation.
9:45 a.m. – I go to a conference room where my co-workers were gathered with the TV on.  At 9:59 a.m., the South Tower collapsed and everyone was crying. 
10:15 a.m. – The human resources manager speaks to us.  She says that if we decide to leave the building, we must sign out so that everyone is accounted for.  I went back to my office and called dad.  Phone lines are working in the office.  No one can call in, but we can call out.  Dad is thankful to hear from me.  The news is being broadcast worldwide.
10:20 a.m. – I call mom.  She’s hysterical.  She keeps saying that she’s so glad to hear my voice.  We both cry on the phone.  She tells me the second tower is falling, after advising me to get water, food and a damp towel to cover my nose and mouth when I go outside.  I tell her I love her before hanging up the phone.
10:30 a.m. – I go back into the conference room.  I watch the TV screen as the North Tower crumbles. I see footage of the planes crashing into the buildings.  My co-worker’s husband was in the North Tower.  She was standing near me when she fainted.  She was then rushed out of the room by executives from human resources.
10:45 a.m. – I go back to my office and call Vanessa.  I can’t get a hold of her.  The girl sitting in the office next to me is crying hysterically.  Her boyfriend is supposed to be on a plane, and she hasn’t heard from him.  All airports are closed throughout the country.
Somewhere between 10:45 and 11 a.m.:  News breaks about the Pentagon, and two more hijacked planes go down in Washington and in Pennsylvania.  
11:10 a.m. – Someone knocks on my office door.  He tells me to leave.  The office is being evacuated.
*My office is next to the United Nations building, and near the Chrysler Building.  All major monuments are under close watch and nearby offices must be evacuated, I learn.*
11:12 a.m. – I walk around aimlessly as people hurry out the door.  I moved to Hoboken earlier in the week, and I know that I can’t get back to my apartment.  The subways are closed, and the city is in lock down.  My co-worker Clayton lives in Hoboken.  I see him and he tells me to come with him, and he’ll help me get home later.
BREAKING NEWS: United Airlines & American Airlines planes were hijacked.  Boston plane hits Trade Center.  After plane hits, people jump from windows.
11:25 a.m. – I walk 20 blocks to safety.  I see clouds of smoke and people covered in ashes.
11:45 – Noon: We arrive at a private club for aspiring actors.  Clayton is a member, so we go inside and meet up with his wife and friends.  Everyone is shaken up.  I have a vodka and tonic to calm my nerves.  I feel like a sitting duck.  We can’t leave the city.  What if they bomb Manhattan next?
TVs are on everywhere and they keep playing the crashes over and over again.
1 p.m. – The club closes, and we find an open restaurant.  I order a glass of wine.
2:30 p.m. – We try to make our way back to Hoboken.  We walk to the ferry but there are thousands of people who are waiting in line, trying to get home to their families and friends.  We are told that the wait could be up to 8 hours.  Subways and buses are closed.
3 p.m. – We arrive at Penn Station, and we’ve walked about 50 blocks.  Trains have finally started running, but the schedules are confusing.  We finally get on a train to Newark.  At Newark, we transfer to the Hoboken-bound train.  Cell phones have been down all day.
*There was an eerie feeling on the streets of New York.  Ambulances, police vehicles, fire trucks and helicopters occupied the city and were everywhere.  We see where the World Trade Center stood hours earlier.  A huge, dark cloud sweeps over the city of New York.*
6 p.m. – Finally!  I have cell phone service.  I get through to my mom and sister.  Mom is crying again.
6:15 p.m.  – Walking home, I see military officials and rescue squads.  Helicopters swarm overhead, right above my apartment.  The burning smell of debree, ashes and God-only knows what else, is powerful and scary.
6:45 p.m. – I was the last roommate home.  Now, we are all safe.  We go over the day’s events, and there’s more crying.
7 p.m. – I drink two beers and keep watching the news in disbelief.  My voice mailbox is full, and I can’t make calls anymore.  At least my family knows I’m safe, and they can relay the information to everyone else.
8 p.m. – I’m huddled on the couch with all three of my roommates.  We need to get out of the apartment.  Down by the river, we see the huge, black smoke cloud over NYC.  On the shore of the Hudson River, military and emergency vehicles are lined up.
9:30 p.m. – We return home and watch more news.  President Bush says we will hunt down and attack those responsible for this tragedy.  More fear washes over me.  I think about John, Gavin, Nate, Steve and Nick… all of my friends who are in the military.  Are we at war now?
12 a.m. – I close my eyes for a few hours, but it’s hard to sleep with the helicopters flying overhead.

I’m horrified.  I just keep thinking, “What’s happening to our world?”  I watched as thousands of lives ended in a few, brief moments.  Right now, United States officials are trying to save lives and find answers.  A van was stopped at the George Washington Bridge armed with bombs.  In Boston, FBI officials are trying to find out about the flights.  There were four planes total – all headed West to California.  One hit the Pentagon, two hit the Twin Towers and the last went down in Pennsylvania.  Palestinian children and adults rejoice in the streets.  It’s a fucked-up situation.  The government is most concerned with saving those still trapped in the World Trade Center.  There were no survivors from the Pentagon crash.  Reporters say there are more than 700 leads on the terrorist attacks but no concrete information.

In the days that followed, there were bomb scares all over Manhattan.  The first day that I attempted to go back to the city, my train stopped and military officials ran through the subway cars.  Apparently, someone had called in a bomb threat, and we waited underground for 20 minutes, in fear.  The smells and sounds of September 11 lasted for months following the attack.

I’ll never forget the post 9/11 commute.  Those who lost loved ones had their photos all over the underground subway terminals, bus stations and community boards.  I would cry every day, as I stopped to look at the pictures and read the stories of those who were missing.  I prayed for those families every night.

What a tragic time for our country.


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