I’m a New York City Teacher working and living in Manhattan. On the morning of
9/11/01, I did ordinary things and had ordinary thoughts. I went to vote and
remembered how worried I was that I was going to be late for a meeting I had to go
to. The traffic was heavy and I was getting anxious.
I got to my meeting on time and while the meeting was in progress, I remember
thinking how unusual it was that another teacher walked to the front of the meeting
and was whispering to the speaker at length. She would bend over, whisper
something, stop then resume with her whispering. Finally, the tv/vcr was turned on
and we were told what was happening. We watched in horror as the second plane hit
and the twin towers fell and confusion and sorrow began to spread. Tears were
beginning to fall. I think I was in shock as I bolted from my seat.
My adult daughter who works and lives in Manhattan was supposed to be traveling on
business on that day. This time I didn’t ask her if she was flying or driving. I
hysterically tried to reach her when I learned that one of the planes that hit the
World Trade Center had flown out of Newark Airport; an airport she could have flown
out of. I could not use my cell phone as it was not working. I was luckily able to
have access to a telephone in an office adjacent to my meeting. After over an hour
of trying to get through to her cell phone then her office, she picked up her
telephone and I cried from relief, “Oh my God, it’s s good to hear your voice. I
didn’t know where you were or if you were traveling.” She told me that everyone in
her office near Grand Central Terminal was crying. The father of one of the girls
in her office worked in the World Trade Center and she did not know where he was. I
told her that I loved her a lot and would speak to her later. I had already reached
my husband who was at home.
After the meeting broke up (which was not at the school I work in), I walked the
four blocks back to my school in East Harlem where teachers were in a daze listening
to radios. Parents were nervously running into the school to pick up children and
all teachers stayed at school until every single child was picked up after which I
walked approximately ten blocks across 125th Street thinking that it was a really
safe route in case of further attacks until I realized the street was blocked off to
traffic because of the State Office Building and President Clinton’s Office. I
miraculously got a bus going close to where I live in the Hudson Heights Section of
Washington Heights. I had to walk over a mile from where the bus left me but later
found out people had walked for miles—some without shoes dazed and covered with dust
from their narrow escape from the Word Trace Center.
Like so many others, I found myself glued to the television hyper alert to every
sound around me. Disbelief and fear and memories surrounded me. I worked near the
Word Trade Center for ten years until six years ago, went shopping there often,
attended an educator’s conference at the Marriott there in May of 2001 and took the
path to and from New Jersey into the World Trade Center often. I was near the area
when the last bombing occurred and graduated from nearby Pace University long before
then. That was my neighborhood for work and school for over 20 years! I went to
the Italian Feast in Little Italy, ate at various Chinese Restaurants and even
taught evenings at the Adult Education Center at Murry Bergtraum High School near
Police Headquarters for awhile.
I felt violated. I kept trying to remember my last steps through the WTC and whom I
saw at the Marriott at the conference. Who was running the elevator? Who served me
coffee at the shop on the street level? I wanted so badly to remember the face of
the security guard I asked for directions to the Marriott as I walked through the
various WTC buildings from the subway. I wanted to know whom I bought the paper or
magazine from at the newsstand at the lower level near the path where I often
stopped. My mind became a movie camera replaying scenes over and over again as I
walked through the WTC buildings shopping at Christmas or buying clothes at the
Alexander’s Department Store that used to be there.
I traced my steps to the Cortlandt Street Stop of the IRT and my visits to the World
Financial Center for a flower show or my visit to the restaurant Windows on the
Word, my stop at the book store or so many of the other stores I enjoyed browsing
I couldn’t bear the thought that the person who cheerfully gave me directions or the
person who sold me coffee or the woman who helped me pick out a shaving mug and soap
at Crabtree and Evelyn’s or countless others might be one of the many who were
killed. I couldn’t bear the thought that someone like myself who innocently was
attending a meeting or conference at the WTC or the Marriott was gone. I also
shuddered to think that my daughter also had a meeting at the WTC a few months ago.
Who lost their daughter, their mother, father or other loved ones because someone
decided to senselessly fly into the WTC? I worked it out in my mind thousands of
times but just couldn’t find an answer. There really was no answer.
I returned to work on 9/13/01. I was never so grateful for work and for the ability
to lose myself in work with innocent young children. What answers could we give
them when questions were asked? We met with counselors and administrators before
students returned to school and learned how best to deal with traumatized children
and what not to say as well as what to say. Children were not allowed to play
outside for many days. After they were allowed to return outside to play, one first
grader told me that he did not want to go outside to play “because of the smoke”
which he must have seen so much of on television. Another second grader gave me a
huge hug and told me she was afraid of the “bad guys.” I hugged her back with tears
in my eyes and knew that certain innocence would never return to this generation of
Countless e-mails and phone calls were exchanged as so many tried to deal with the
trauma enveloping us. It was hard to go anywhere in Manhattan without conversations
or tears developing from the attack.
I found out through an e-mail message from a family member that my 2nd cousin’s
husband escaped from his job on the 102nd floor in Tower Two at the WTC. They saw
the first plane hit Tower One and heard a message telling everyone to stay where
they were. His secretary urged him to get everyone out and to get out immediately.
It took them 45-50 minutes to walk down and they were on about the 50th floor when
their building was hit. They just kept moving and survived. He wanted to go back
for his computer but did not. Many people in his company perished. They had
several floors. He witnessed the wounded. It was said that they asked people to
stay where they were to avoid an exodus and people being hit by debris from the 1st
tower—not knowing that another plane would hit the 2nd tower!
A long-planned visit from my stepson and his girlfriend who live in Colorado was
cancelled after the attacks. As Mayor Guliani and others encouraged people to
“return to normal” and come to New York, my stepson decided to come for his planned
visit the weekend of 10/12/01.
I bought tickets to see Chicago at the Schubert Theatre on a rainy, dreary day the
day before his visit. I couldn’t have felt more despondent “as I tried to get back to
normal.” I walked up Eighth Avenue and passed a firehouse the front of which was
covered with tributes, flowers and pictures of lost firemen. I burst out crying. It
was all just too much! People were finally coming into the City yet “getting back
to normal” just wasn’t happening at that point.
My stepson came into the City on 10/12/01. I took him and his girlfriend to see the
play Chicago on the 13th. We then went on the A Train intending to get off at the
Broadway and Nassau Street Stop so that we could walk to the Staten Island Ferry. I
did get off at Broadway and Nassau but exited near John Street where we could see
Ground Zero clearly. There was a choir singing nearby with many members crying. It
was surreal. After nearly getting crushed in the crowd, we did then walk down to
the Ferry, glancing at the many surrounding buildings with flags and tributes and
took the ferry ride back and forth. The view of Manhattan without the WTC was so
very sad and overwhelming emotionally.
Afterwards, we walked by the water to the Seaport, which was slowly getting back to
business as usual then up to Chinatown where we ate and Little Italy where they
bought souvenirs and we stopped for dessert.
I went home exhausted. Was I feeling better? Not really. Passing Ground Zero and
seeing the remnants of the WTC and feeling the pain in that area of Manhattan was
just adding to the heartache.
Seeing a fireman’s funeral procession in my neighborhood the following weekend added
more pain. Was it every going to end? Would this heaviness in my heart go away?
I know people who lived in the WTC area who told horrific stories of not being able
to return to their “homes” and how they had to stay with kind strangers the first
night of the attack as they escaped from their apartment when the attack occurred.
Some individuals grabbed their pets and ran without money identification or
clothing. The nightmare began for countless individuals in the area that day.
Individuals told me that vehicles were often not allowed into the area to move
personal possessions out for over two months! The red tape was endless for many who
already had been traumatized.
I know a girl who worked across the street from the WTC and watched the whole
incident with people jumping out of windows and who barely escaped with her life.
She has had to travel to New Jersey every day to work as her company “temporarily”
relocated. She eventually decided to move out of the City.
Thanksgiving 2001 had a different tone as my gratitude was enormous for all I had
and all I know I “didn’t lose.”
Christmas lights were going up and they didn’t have the same meaning. There’s not
that joy in the season in Manhattan when you know there are so many people that
don’t have their loved ones and when you know that so many bodies have not yet been
I won’t be doing a lot of Christmas shopping this year. I’ve always bought too many
frivolous gifts. If I buy a few gifts, they will be meaningful and well thought
out. I’ll give money to an old mission not far from Ground Zero that I’ve been
giving small amounts to at Thanksgiving for years. I’ll add an extra Christmas
donation this year as they have done so much extra during this difficult time.
Of course I can get back to normal but I can’t deny that I somehow have changed.
Life is different for me now. I am more spiritual. I’m trying to be a better
person and trying to really examine what I want out of life and how I can grow as a
human being. I want to be a better teacher to the children I work with and I want
to communicate better with them. I want them to know that I care about them. I
want to be less materialistic and less afraid of taking risks. I want to be around
good people, and I want to steer clear of people who are mean spirited and feel
superior to me and other humans in some way. I want to work for and with people who
I honestly think this horrific attack has made me a better person and a better and
more patriotic American. I’ve always loved my country but I love it in a different
way now. I love it passionately. I cherish my freedom like never before.