September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document
Story:Sept. 11, 2003
I'm sure I looked out the window that morning but is wasn't to admire the blue sky, it was to see what others were wearing down on the sidewalks. I was happy to see that I had at least one more warm day, fall had not yet taken hold. I wore a nice black top, a bright asian print skirt and my nude colored heels. I left the house around 8:20 and passed Tom on the first floor coming back from his run over the bridge and back. "Have a good day" we said to each other. We didn't kiss because he was dripping with sweat and then I was off to Borough Hall to catch the 2/3 to work.
I usually look at my watch when I'm getting off the train at 34th so I can determine how fast of a pace I need to set for myself to be at work by 9:00. I don't remember looking but I must have and what ever time it was, I concluded that I could take my time. I walked west across 34th on the north side of the street towards 8th, crossed to the New Yorker and headed north to Intermission Deli where my coffee was ready for me seconds after walking in the door. When I stepped off the elevator on the 19th floor of our office building there was Ben sitting in front of the door. I looked at my watch again, not really paying attention to what time it was, but to what time it wasn't. It wasn't 9:00 yet. Ray was supposed to open because it was Tuesday and Carol has an appointment every Tuesday morning. It wasn't long before Ray arrived and let us in. It must have been around 8:50.
I did my usual routine. I walked to my computer, turned it on, put down my bag and headed to the kitchen to doctor up my coffee. On my way to the kitchen the phone rang and I answered it at Charlie's desk. "Ray, it's your mom on the phone" I yelled as I put her on hold and continued on to the kitchen. I hadn't even gotten a spoon out of the drawer when Ray yelled "Shawna, come here....quick". As I rounded the corner and saw Ray and Ben standing at the window I immediately thought that someone had jumped from a floor above. As I rushed closer Ray said that a plane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center. I looked south and there it was, a gaping hole in the side of the western most tower. We shot a few questions at each other, "What else did your mom say?" , "How many floors do you think it will effect", "How will they put out a fire that high?", "How could a pilot not see the towers on a day like today?".
I called home to tell Tom to take a different subway line since ours runs beneath the WTC. I thought that with all the confusion, it would probably take forever for him to get to work. I was at my desk about to check emails when Eileen walked in. She looked so white and could only say "Another plane just hit the other tower". We all rushed back to the window only to see both towers were on fire and that's when we knew that this was no accident. We watched in horror through teary eyes and then started making mental lists of who we know and where they were.
Somewhere in the next 20 minutes Stacey, Marnie, Jim and Scott showed up. Stacey got her little black and white TV out of her office and hooked it up behind Ray's desk. We flipped the little black and white TV back and forth between the only two channels that would come in. One had a decent picture but was in Spanish and the other had a horrible picture but was in english. We all wandered around the office from windows to computers, from the kitchen to the conference area. Stacey came to each one of us in private to ask if we needed anything, to see if we had found our loved ones and if everything is alright. There was no reason for Tom to be in lower Manhattan that morning other than being on the subway so I didn't panic but I was worried. I wanted to talk to him just to be sure. I called home again and left a message. I emailed him at work and told him to let me know as soon as he arrived. I waited about 10 minutes and then called him at work but he wasn't there yet. Suddenly I heard gasps from all around a few "Oh my god" echoed and I jumped up from my desk and ran to the window to see only one tower and then a cloud of smoke moving in all directions. I had been pretty calm until then but all that changed.
Did I just see what I think I saw? How could the tower just crumble like that? Would that have collapsed the subway lines below the WTC? Where is Tom? I checked my email again, but nothing from Tom. I answered an email from Staci, my sister, and from Jenny McGinnis and then called home. Through a lot of tears I assured my mom and dad that I was ok and that Tom was bound to turn up at work any minute. They were the ones that told me about the fourth hijacked plane that was still unaccounted for. People in northern WV were watching the skies as they tracked the plane in the area and finally down in Pennsylvania. I promised them I'd get back to them soon, said I love you one more time and then said good bye. Moments later Tom called to say that he was safely at work. Finally a sigh of relief.
I had my coffee in hand and was standing at the window next to Stacey when we saw the antenna of the second tower start to sway and then the unthinkable happened. The second tower came down. We just stood there and watched. I couldn't begin to comprehend what I had just witnessed. We were immediately trying to calculate how much time had passed and how long it would have taken to evacuate the area. It didn't take long before we realized that most of the people probably didn't get out.
None of us knew how much worse this could get. We heard about the Pentagon and then the plane in PA going down. We all kept glancing out the window at the Empire State Building wondering if that was the next target. They closed off all the bridges and tunnels. The subways were stopped. We we trapped. Someone suggested getting some food and money incase we were spending the night at the office.
Marnie and I went together to get some cash and I despertly wanted a change of clothes. Somehow it just felt wrong to be dressed up at a time like this. When we reached the lobby and headed out onto 8th Ave were were engulfed in a sea of people. Every face I looked into had the same distant gaze. The sidewalks were packed and pouring into the streets. Businesses and shops were closing up but the workers had nowhere to go. We heard sirens coming from the south and everything just stopped to see a badly beaten ambulance covered in debris, back doors missing, heading north on 8th. Once it passed we all resumed our trek to where ever it was we were going. Marnie and I walked across 34th to Citibank but there was a sign on the door that said "Closed". We turned around and headed back to the Duane Reade on 8th.
We didn't talk too much on the way. We shared a couple of glances but mainly just watched the others on the street. As we were about to cross the street at 8th we heard a sound that just hours before would have gone unnoticed. It was a plane heading south over the island. Every person in sight stopped and watched as it passed overhead. We all knew that the FAA had grounded all flights so we watched and waited for the worst. Nothing happened. We went to the drugstore where I immediately jumped in line to use the cash machine while Marnie grabbed some crackers, tampons, a flashlight and cigarettes. We left and went to Bargain Hunters down the street to try and find me some clothes. I bought a t shirt, mens shorts, socks and flip flops. We headed back upstairs where I was relieved to find that Tom had just arrived and was waiting for me at my computer.
After a long tearful hug and kiss I asked where he had been and what did he know. Tom was in the shower when the first plane hit. As he was getting dressed he turned on the TV to hear the news of the "accident". He quickly got his things together and headed down to the promenade to see first hand what was going on. In the time it took for him to get the two and a half blocks to the water, the second tower had been hit. He stood among a growing crowd and took pictures of the two burning towers. After about 10 minutes he headed towards the subway. There were considerable delays so by the time he actually reached work the first tower had already fallen. It wasn't long before Cardinal Communications closed it's doors for the day and Tom walked to my office to be with me.
We were all waiting desperately for some news of subway openings. We were ready to head home. Tom and I decided that we would wait another hour or so and then start walking towards the Brooklyn Bridge. I emailed Mom, Dad and Staci that we were going to try to make it home and that I would try and call when we got there. I knew that getting through was going to be difficult but we would try.
Around 1:00 they announced that a few subway lines were going to open up, one of them being the A,C,E. We gathered our stuff and headed out together. When we got to the subway station we made our way to the middle express tracks and waited. The crowds kept getting bigger as we waited. We watched as a C train arrived on the local side, packed with people. We waited. We saw an A train approaching the local side so we, along with hundreds of others, rushed down the stairs, across the hall and up the other side to the local track. To an outsider it probably looked like a panicked mob but surprisingly, everyone was calm, just focused on getting on that train. Once the train doors closed and we all looked around at each other, I started to cry. There were people staring out the window into the black tunnels, there were others quietly crying into their hands, there were some covered in dirt and dust with visible scratches and wounds. One thing was universal, no one said a word. Instinctively, as we passed the lower Manhattan stations, we all looked up as though we could see the chaos above us. The doors did not open as we slowed down and passed through the lower Manhattan stops of Canal, Chambers and Broadway/Fulton but we could smell the fires burning.
We finally reached High Street stop in Brooklyn and got off. Thomas and I immediately walked down to the promenade only to be greeted by hundreds of others. Most of lower Manhattan was hidden in a dark cloud of smoke and debris that was heading our way. The air was thick with smoke and unfamilliar smells of burning debris and flesh. We covered our mouths but still there we stood. There was a glitter like halo around the entire area, it was office paper floating around catching the sun and then flitting away. We stood and watched for awhile and then headed towards home.
When we came into our apartment we were shocked to find that the smoke had followed us home. We immediately closed our windows to try and keep it out but it was too late. Turning on the TV we realized that we had lost all channels except for a barely visable CBS. We changed clothes, into something comfortable and then settled down to watch. We knew that it was going to be a long night so we opted to pick up some chinese and rent a few movies so we could get a break from the coverage. As we were walking down Montegue with our movies and food, something fell from the sky into Toms arms. We looked closer and it was a partially charred page from a financial book...obviously from the WTC. We kept it and went home.
The next few hours were long. We couldn't really stand to watch anymore news but we were afraid to turn it off. We watched as WTC 7 collapsed. We watched as they found no survivors. We watched as the mayor spoke to us about being strong. We watched as the experts estimated how long a person could survive in the pile. Thomas and I walked back down to the promenade later that night only to see the smoke eating up the horizon and a steady stream of police, emergency and fire vehicles lighting up the FDR and the bridge. All other traffic was halted.
Sleep did not come easy for me. I was exhausted but my brain was in overdrive. I kept replaying the day in my head and then adding in images from TV. Then I began thinking about the view from the planes...the view from the top of the towers, the view from the street. I kept thinking in horror about what it must have been like for them and that kept me awake for hours.
I wasn't sure what I was going to do the next day but Tom said that he was going to work. Stacey had told us that she would be there if any of us wanted to come in. We knew we wouldn't get any work done but she felt that some of us would rather be there than be home. She was right. The thought of being home alone all day made me feel sick. Tom and I left together that morning. Our choices of subway lines was limited so we took the 4/5 to Grand Central Station. We kissed goodbye and headed our separate ways at 6th and 42nd.
I started walking West and looking for a NY Times. After a block or so I realized how empty the streets were. None of that hustle and bustle that keeps the city going 24/7. When I reached Times Square I was shocked and actually frightened to find that there weren't even a dozen other people in sight other than the uniformed and armed soldiers on each of the corners. I walked slowly beneath the lighted signs and past the store fronts. It was a ghost town. I must have stopped 10 times to find a paper but could only get the Post and Daily News. I cried as I walked slowly and tried to take it all in. This was a first and hopefully a last in my life, to see a city on hold.
I reached my office building and knew that no one would be there this early so I went to my coffee shop downstairs to wait. The coffee shop was missing it's usual line of New Yorkers waiting for their caffeine fix for the day. I got to the counter and there were no words, just a nod of understanding, a small cosoleing smile and that was it. I took my coffee and my papers and planted myself at one of the far tables looking out towards the street. It only took a few minutes before I reached a page in the paper that I could not handle. I closed it and cried and then started again.
When I finally did make my way upstairs to the office I felt a little better. I felt safer there than anywhere. Being in the same place with the same people somehow made it better. We gathered around the TV set up on the conference table and did brainless tasks such as labeling job bags. We all shared news of others and were all relieved to find that none of us lost anyone particularly close to us. They all knew a friend of a friend who was still missing but I was fortunate..I didn't have that many friends in NYC.
The next few days and weeks seemed surreal. There were armed guards everywhere, bomb threats in office buildings all around us. Each day as the subway car would approach lower Manhattan stops it would slow to a snails pace so as not to cause too much vibration above at the pile. Each day the stench seemed to get worse. After about two weeks we were able to open our windows but a faint burning smell was still in the air. People seemed a little nicer, a little more patient for awhile. Not a day would go by that I didn't see a dust covered construction worker on the subway with that look in his eye and just know where he was coming from. Police and firefighters in their best dress were seen all over town going to and from funerals. We all saw them and knew where they were going. The missing signs were up all over the city for months. The candles at the Promenade covered the ground to make a mosaic of wax with wilted flowers mixed in. It was months before the sound of an overhead plane ceased to send my heart pounding and my hands shaking. Each milestone caused an almost paralyzing fear...one week, one month, two months, six months...
Tom and I went downtown a few weeks later. The streets were dirt and the only traffic was armed guards and workers on four wheelers and a few police SUVs. I was shocked to look down the street and see that a large frame like portion of one of the towers still stood and beneath it was part of the Borders Bookstore window, still in one piece. The tangled metal looked like splintered wood and garbage. There was nothing recognizable about it other than that window. We walked around and looked at the nearby buildings that were covered in dirt and debris. Many of the stores and buildings had begun to clean their ground floor facades but anything above that was colored a strange gray/brown color. Windows were blown out everywhere. We walked towards the church to find that people had begun hanging flowers and signs on the fence surrounding it. We looked up to see that the trees in the cemetery behind were littered with papers and debris. There was at least 8 inches of dirt and debris covering the entire cemetery so that many of the tombstones were mostly hidden.
At the 6 month anniversary I took my video camera and made my way down to the promenade to see the two beams of light being turned on. We stood in silence and remembered. Those two beams of light filled the sky and soothed our hearts. They filled that gap that had been there for 6 months now. For a month I could look out my window and see that light as it disappeared into the sky.
On the one year anniversary I took the day off so that I could remember in my own way. I grabbed a cup of coffee and walked down Montegue towards the promenade around 8:45 that morning. When I began my two block walk towards the water there weren't many people out but by the time I was a block away, hundreds of people came pouring out of homes and shops. Construction workers from a nearby site came marching down the middle of the road with hard hats on and a flag in hand. We all gathered in silence as we watched that empty space, each one of us remembering and reliving it in our own way.
Around 9:30 I headed towards Ground Zero to take part in the ceremony. I found a place to stand, backed up against a police baracade across from the Burger King on the corner. I had been there many times over the past year but today it was so very different. I listened as they read names of people I did not know. I looked up to the sky in silence as they paused to mark the collapse of the first tower. I waited until I felt like I had had enough and then walked down to Battery Park. I didn't want to go home yet but I didn't know what to do so I almost with out thinking bought a ticket to go out to the Statue of Liberty. There weren't many people out there that day, everyone was at Ground Zero. I walked around in silence. I saw a women with a T-Shirt on that read on the back, "I survived the 96th floor of Tower Two" and people were coming up to her, shaking her hand, huging her and taking her picture there infront of Lady Liberty. I cried on the ride back to Battery Park and then I headed home.
Just this past Tuesday I was heading to Macy's when I found myself getting tears in my eyes. I looked around at the people on the train next to me and wondered if any of them remembered what it felt like that day. I got off at 34th and headed directly to Pronto. It wasn't the 11th but it sure felt like it to me. It was a beautiful Tuesday morning. I went to the one place other than my apartment that felt like home and I cried with Marnie.
It's now two years later and I've chosen to stay at home and write down as much as I can so I will never forget even though their are constant reminders all around me. There is still a huge gap in the skyline that I had grown to love. There is still a visible police present at all the subways in the city. There is still an uneasy feeling each time I hear sirens in the distance or a plane overhead. When I go through my closet and see that skirt I think of that day. Each year as the seasons start to change and we get one of those beautiful blue skies and cool breezes, I think of September 11, 2001.
When friends come to visit and stand at the end of our street and ask, "Where were they", I know what they mean and there we stand, looking at something that is no longer there.
I remember sitting next to the sculpture in the plaza between the towers with Shannon and Mike while we ate our pasteries and drank our coffees during their first visit in 2000.
I remember standing between the two towers and looking up but feeling too dizzy to look for too long.
I remember sitting at one of the little cafe tables in the plaza with a bottle of seltzer water one afternoon in 2000 and just watching people pass by.
I remember heading to the ticket counter for the observation deck a number of times but turning away and saying, "Maybe another day, the line is too long."
I remember teasing Tom each time we came around the corner and saw the Ben & Jerry's in the shopping area beneath the towers.
I remember wandering into Papryus during one of Toms eye appointments and buying a sympathy card that I had been searching for for years. I had first seen it in Portland when Mrs. Reppert died and once I sent it, I realized how much I loved the Native American poem that was in it. I searched for years for that poem and found it at the mall in the WTC on August 11th, 2001. I bought it just to keep.
I remember I remember that same day, sitting outside on the ledge drinking my coffee as I waited for Tom who was at the eye doctor downstairs. I sat there looking up at the Marriot Hotel and noticed how odd the few open windows looked against the sleek black facade.
I remember the huge planters and the concrete benches that decorated the plaza across from Century 21.
I remember on September 9th, 2001 listing off a number of options for how Tom and I should spend that beautiful Sunday. The WTC observation deck was one of them but we opted for the cheaper, hassle free option of hanging out on the back deck of Pier 17 and admiring the view of Brooklyn instead.