Every September 11th, I reprint a passage from my diary that I wrote a few days after the World Trade Center was attacked in New York City in 2001.
Here are my words:
These are my recollections of the worst day in American History: 9/11/01
It was a clear, bright blue, most perfect summer-to-fall day. I was asleep when I was awakened by a phone call from my daughter, J. J was at work at her office, which was located on West 20th Street in New York City. She told me that a plane hit the World Trade Center. We thought it was a small commuter plane. I woke up and turned on the TV. There was nothing on but a blue screen. I thought that my service was turned off because I didn’t pay the bill. My husband and I were going through a rough time. We lost our business and were pretty broke at the time. I rented out my Long Island home and we were staying in our Catskill townhouse. N was working in Kingston that day. I was home alone.
I shrugged my shoulders and went back to sleep. I was depressed as I was out of work for a while. I fell back asleep but my daughter called me again. This time she told me that another plane had hit the WTC and this time I immediately knew that this was NOT an accident. This was terrorism. Now I knew why the TV didn’t work. All the local channels were out. I turned the TV back on and tuned in to a cable station. There on the screen I saw the 2 twin towers burning.
Where was my other daughter, C? The phone systems were not working correctly. I kept calling C’s cell phone (she did not have a land line) and I kept getting a busy signal. I kept trying and I finally did manage to get a message through whereby I told her that two planes had hit the WTC and that she should call me back immediately and tell me where she was. I tried not to sound anxious and scare her. The only way I was able to reach J now was through the computer. Her office had T1 lines, which were not interfered with by the disaster. Eventually C was able to call me. She was sleeping and she knew nothing about what had happened. She was in New Jersey and just like any other defiant teenager, she did not want to tell me where she was because it was none of a mother’s business. C was attending College in NYC and had slept at a guy’s apartment/dorm the night before. She did not know the address but she did know the apartment number and she told me it was the building across the way from the other dorm building she had been at the year before. This year she was at the GW dorm, which was on Lexington Avenue and the East 20’s. Thankfully, C was NOT in NYC this 9/11 day. I told C what had happened. She did not believe me. She could not comprehend what was going on. I told C to stay where she was and NOT to move. Needless to say, it was almost impossible to ever get through to her again for the rest of the day. It was a miracle I got through to her at all. If C had gone to school that morning from Jersey, she would have taken the PATH trains, which pass through the WTC. Thankfully she slept through her first class and didn’t go to school that day.
I went downstairs to the living room and turned on the TV. I put it on FOX news. I tried to call DH. He had a cell phone but it didn’t work. DH was working in Kingston, New York. As soon as he found out what happened, he tried to call me from the cell phone but all he got were busy signals. He kept stopping at pay phones to call me but they too were just giving him busy signals.
On September 11, 2001 I was all-alone in my Catskill townhouse with just a TV cable station to watch and a non-working phone. I was able to get a few phone calls out. I did manage to call my daughter’s fathers wife, JX and tell her that J and C were safe. I also managed to call my ex-husband’s brother, AX, who was a NYC cop. He was sleeping when I called. He was on vacation. I woke him and he knew nothing about WTC. I also called my sister K in Brooklyn. She told me that outside there were papers and ash falling everywhere. She was at work at 39th Street in Brooklyn.
I went back to watching the TV. It was confirmed that this was terrorism but everyone was in shock. No one really knew what was going on as it unfurled before everyone’s eyes.
And then, one by one the towers fell. As they were falling all I could keep saying was that “My daughters are safe, my daughters are safe”. My dog awakened and jumped up on the couch with me. She was trembling and scared. It was as if there was a rumbling in the world. It was most amazing to me that I had already known where my children were by the time those towers fell AND I knew that they were nowhere near those towers and that they were safe. That is all that mattered to me. Now, I had to get them.
I was home that day all alone. I couldn’t believe that. DH did finally get through to me and he left work and immediately came home. The first thing I told him was that we had to drive to NYC and get my daughters OUT!
Somehow J got an email message to me (we had been communicating through the Instant Messenger software) She told me that the police were evacuating them to Newark and that she was going to her cousin’s apartment in Hoboken. (my 2 nephews) DH got home from work, I told him that we had to drive to Jersey and get my 2 kids. The only thing I packed was water. I knew that we would need water. I did not know what to expect. The pictures of NYC on the television were not a good sight. The image on that small TV screen could not prepare us for the actuality that we were about to see.
We stopped at a gas station in town to fill up the car with gas. It was amazing that DH and I had any cash on us at all since we were so broke. But I always kept at least $20 cash in the house at all times, in case the kids needed DH and I to get to the city. Well, this was that time. When we filled up the car the first thing that struck me were the people at the gas station. They were all buying lottery tickets with the numbers: 911. I thought this was crass, bizarre and so insensitive. One woman was bragging that she had gone from station to station buying up all the lottery tickets! These people actually thought the numbers 911 were lucky, winning numbers!!! Probably all of those people had never left their towns and had ever even been in NYC. It was all just a picture on the TV screen.
We drove towards NYC in silence. We had the radio on. It was pure mayhem in New York. No one really knew what was going on. We all thought we were under attack. It was War of the Worlds. Perhaps other attacks were under way. The enemy was now in the United States. We were now under attack. There were enemies among us and on our soil and in our towns and cities. We were terrified. I kept thinking of the movie “Gone With The Wind’ and all the battle scenes on the American homeland. Was there a reason why we were up in the Catskills and NOT on Long Island???????? As we drove closer to the City (we were 3 hours away) there were tons of Fed Ex trucks bringing in supplies to the city. Since I knew the kids were in New Jersey, we made our way to Jersey City to where C’s old dorm was. DH and I did not know the address. C was impossible that day and uncooperative. C did not know really the seriousness of what was unraveling. Later I would realize that the kid was in shock.
All routes into the city were shut down. All bridges, tunnels were closed. There were police everywhere blocking off all the routes into the city. I don’t know how we got to Jersey City. It was a blur. DH and I were on automatic right now. Our goal was to get our daughters. I didn’t realize it at that time but Jersey City has a high count of Arabs and Middle Eastern men. I stopped at a pizza place to call C and tell her that we were near and would be picking her up. C would not leave the apartment. I told her that I would come and get her. When we got near the street where the Jersey dorm was, the police would not let us in. All the streets were blocked off. We passed by a local fire station and I got out of the car to talk to the firemen. I told them that I had to get in to pick up my daughter C from her college dorm. They told me what road to take to get in as close as possible. We followed the path and were met by a police officer that blocked off the last street. Apparently, these streets were close to the other side of the river where the towers were. All roads on both the NYC side and New Jersey side were off limits to cars and traffic. The cop told me I could go by foot to my daughters building.
I don’t know where I found the bravery, to leave DH parked in the car and I went on alone to get my daughter C. I did not know what I would find throughout the streets and I did not know what I would see. I walked to where the original dorm building was. I did not know the names of any of the streets I just knew the direction. But I walked and I walked. I could not believe that people were going about their business. Walking their dogs, going out to eat, laughing and talking. Don’t they know, I asked myself, what had just happened? America was under attack; the World Trade Center Towers had just fallen and these people are just walking around. Why weren’t people crying in the streets? How could people even smile? Was this because this was New Jersey and not New York City?
I found C’s building. She told me she was in the building across from her old dorm. I just walked into the building and aimed towards the elevator. Yes, there was a guard at the door but he didn’t notice me. There were students everywhere. These kids had absolutely no idea what was going on, thought I. I took the elevator to the 9th floor, found the dorm room, knocked on the door and one of the students opened it. Inside were a bunch of kids with the news on the TV. C seemed annoyed that I was there. We just hugged. I told her we were leaving. She followed me downstairs and then asked me if I wanted to see the fallen towers. We were directly across from the WTC. “The buildings fell down, mom” was all my daughter could say to me. It was obvious now that she was in shock and truly did not understand or comprehend what was going on. We walked down the block and viewed the rubble from across the waterway. All you could see was a cloud of smoke. The smell was awful. Burning. Burning. All you could see and smell was burning.
We made it back to DH and the car and headed off to Hoboken to get J. C knew the way and told us how to get there. On the radio news, the police were now rounding up all the Middle Eastern men they could find and arresting them. Van loads of men were being seized at gunpoint. One of the occurrences we saw, a van pulled aside, all the men out of the van with their hands above their heads, or behind their heads and the police surrounding them at gunpoint. As soon as we saw the occurrence along the side of the highway, we heard about it on the radio. DH was now scared and nervous. He kept making mistakes on the highway and getting lost or almost in accidents. DH told us he wasn’t scared BUT he was!
Finally we got into Hoboken, parked the car and went up to my nephew’s apartment. J had been evacuated by ferry out of NYC to Hoboken. In order for her to get to the ferry they had to walk past the WTC remains. Once she got off the ferry in New Jersey, the firemen on the other side had water hoses ready and were hosing every one down. They did not know if there was any contamination on the people clothes, so they wanted to take this precaution. By this time now, J started crying. The reality of the horror was starting to penetrate. One of my nephew’s gave J a set of tee shirts and clothes when she got to his apartment.
I don’t know what time it was when we got to J. Maybe 10PM. I hugged J and hugged C and knew that all four of us were alive and together. We all walked back to the car and passed the spot where we could view the bombed out remnants of WTC. All we could see from the Jersey side was the cloud of smoke and of course, the smell.
Now we were in the car and we were driving out of the city and heading up north to the safety of our townhouse up in the Catskill Mountains. I did not know what was going to happen next, I just knew that once we got up there, we would be safe. I kept holding the kids hands and rubbing C’s legs. C kept looking up in the sky and telling me a plane was following us. I did not realize until then how much shock C was in. She kept looking out the window up towards the sky and telling me there was a plane following us upstate. DH told her it was the US Air Force and they were circling the skies to make sure we were safe.
No one was ever going to mess with us ever again. The new era of terrorism in America had just begun. We all stayed upstate for a few weeks and clung to the TV news. Eventually, after listening to a speech given by Rudy Giuliani, (mayor of NYC) it was clear that we all had to resume our lives and either get back to work (J in NYC) and go back to school (C to college). It was the most difficult decision I had to make: release my children back into a now dangerous world. DH and I drove them to where an Amtrak train would take them back to NYC. As we drove along a scenic country road, it was a joint, unanimous decision, as we all looked at this beautiful road along the Hudson River in upstate New York, that our days in Long Island were now limited. We all jointly came to the same decision: to sell our house in LI and move the family to upstate, NY.
Note: We never returned to Long Island. We all started our lives anew. The economy was in a minor recession in 2001. We were certain that this disaster was going to make our lives worse. But we all persevered. When C graduated from college, her class was the first to graduate after the 9/11 attacks and were commended for their bravery. J is still at her job. DH and I built a new home for our family in upstate, NY. We started and manage a successful service business. We eliminated all debt from our lives. We have never looked back. C just got engaged. J is right behind her. May God continue to protect us all.