September 11th, 2001
Green lights and blue skies shine up and down Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn as The Rascals warble, “It’s A Beautiful Morning” in my Walkman.
I leave my apartment in South Slope to bop over the Brooklyn Bridge to lower Manhattan, where I bee-line to the promenade of the World Trade Centers (to grab an unhealthy breakfast) before a day of meetings, interviews, and work.
Happily dragging my ass to grab the N, F, or R train. My meeting is canceled, so I can now Carpe Diem with great gusto! The day looks great. Color me happy. What a gorgeous Tuesday morning! Even the air smells clean. And with my proximity to the Gowanus, that’s saying something.
I decide to hang-out in Central Park later in the morning, listen to Reggae on the Walkman and read the paper. Happy hour with friends later this afternoon. Tonight, I’ll walk back to Brooklyn on this perfectly peaceful Autumn-like day. There is nothing more beautiful than watching the setting sun from the Brooklyn Bridge.
Flight 11 explodes into the North Tower of The World Trade Centers. Lower Manhattan is a buzz with wild speculation – something is very wrong.
I’m above ground now. The subways are at a standstill. I’m not sure where I am – but I’m on the street. I don’t actually see the first plane hit the building, but I see smoke billowing-out as I approach Manhattan. People look-on with morbid curiosity. I walk back and forth all along Atlantic Ave. Many others do the same. A few confused and scared people walk in a circle to nowhere. All of us ask “what the (expletive) is happening”? For the most part, people are fairly calm- considering the unknown tragedy that was unfolding around them. I quickly get my computer, grab my extra phone batteries, and make my way closer to the carnage, not knowing what devastation lies before me.
Trains jam-up. Traffic is chaotic on the street. People are more concerned about watching what just happened than seeking their destinations. I see several cops calming the chaos, helping people, and trying to keep control. It was reassuring. I ask a transit police officer what happened. He said, “this is a big one- all hell’s breaking loose.” My adrenaline is pumping.
I run into a deli, and with other gawkers, watch the TV behind the counter spew speculative bullshit and sound-bites about what happened. I want someone to tell me what’s happening…I want someone to tell me everything will be OK. A grizzled Brooklynite makes a comment about them “coming for us” and asserts “it was the A-rabs”. There’s a collective moan as a morning Anchor says, “don’t over react- it was probably a wayward small plane. Maybe a Cessna”. What the hell is this idiot talking about? A little plane can’t cause an explosion like-
Flight 175 strikes the South Tower with even greater force than the first high-jacked human missile. There is no doubt. We are a city under siege. People look at each other as if to say, “is this it?” Nobody, including myself, knows what to do. We have no idea what’s really happening. After the second plane hits, time stands still; yet my mind spins a million miles a minute. The frenzy is a crescendo of confusion. Panic ebbs and flows. I’m sweating and shivering, frustrated with not knowing what is happening. I need to know what the hell is going on! Am I going to be killed? Are there more planes coming?
I make more calls, frantically trying to reach friends who live and work in lower Manhattan. I knew my roommate was safe, so that was a relief. Circuits became busy. I kept dialing. Some friends answered. Sadly, some did not. I watched the continuously updated news from different locations as I make my way closer to the unknown through the thick smoke and fallen debris.
The South Tower crumbles. My biggest fear is that we will be the first casualties of World War III, killed by yet-unknown planes flying into us from above. Oh my God! This is not happening! This is not happening in my city! This is not happening in our America!
I don’t know what’s happening. Is it the end of the world? Myself and a gathered group of men scan the skies to look for more planes…I don’t want to die alone. I don’t want to die like this. I keep thinking about family and friends. Yet something draws me closer to the towers, like when watching a horror movie through your opened fingers that shield your eyes. But this was no movie. This was happening now, right now.
People shout that DC is being bombed. Rumors fly. The White House is destroyed. The Capitol has been hit. I worry about family and friends in Washington DC, Annapolis, and Baltimore.
The North Tower crumbles and descends in to a mushrooming cloud of death. The rolling smoke and debris envelop, choke, and smother the running hordes. I hear the screams of people as they run past me. As the Twin Towers melt and collapse and smother New York firefighters, cops, and other heroes who ascended to their deaths to save strangers, I find myself caught up in the mass exodus.
When the first majestic tower plummeted to the ground, New York shook. When the second tower crumbled and collapsed, the world shook.
I vividly recall thinking when I saw the North Tower disappear in front of my eyes, that hell had opened its gates and swallowed mankind. Innocent people died as fiery balls of wreckage fell from the sky. Dozens jumped to their deaths from a quarter mile above ground to avoid being engulfed by 2,000-degree burning jet fuel. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, lovers, relatives of my fellow Americans silently screamed as they descended to a gruesome end they did not deserve. To this day, the image of those poor people sitting at their desks working, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, chatting on the phone, as Death flew into them at hundreds of miles per hour resonates in my mind. All those people murdered by fanatical, soulless-monsters. Hatefully murdered, for doing nothing more than going to work at The World Trade Centers.
The stench was overwhelming (which lingered for weeks and weeks). I used a mask for two days. It was the foulest, most repugnant smell I had ever endured. It crept up from the billowing, giant plumes of smoke which engulfed lower Manhattan, and created an eerie Specter for weeks thereafter.
I remember when the first of the scrambled jet fighters screeched across the sky, an elderly man yelled out to all of New York, “There’s our boys!” And I, along with many others, cheered.
Later in the day, people once dressed in pressed suits and clean, nice outfits lumbered toward me. Some looked like the walking dead. The backs of their suits and jackets and dresses were singed. They were soot-covered. At that point, the noise around me got louder and quieter at the same time as I watched this walk of survival from Manhattan. The ambient noise was deafening. I didn’t see people screaming, but heard screams in my head. I remember hearing shuffling feet. Confused people marching out of Cadence. Sirens wailed. Several women and children quietly cried on the streets as they slowly walked past my building. It was like watching a violent movie in 3-D and Smell-O-Rama.
Through tears of disaster, I looked at people of all stripes coming together to comfort one another. They seemed to walk as one. Collective New York.
White collar Wall St. executives walked side by side, in silence, with construction workers, blue collar people, young, old, black, white, and other innocent victims of many ethnicities who survived the attacks.
Did those beacons of Americana really collapse? Did those people really jump to their deaths? I still tear-up thinking about the brave people who chose to plummet to their deaths rather than burn slowly in agony. How does one describe the indescribable?
The next evening after dark, September 12th, 2001, I wandered to the promenade at Brooklyn Heights across the river from where the towers once stood. Smoke still hauntingly rose from the smoldering ashes and debris. Several dozen people stood along the fence looking westward across the river. Each and every one stood silently-staring. There was a beautiful young woman in her twenties who stood next to me. She was crying. Her diamond ring glistened as she silently sobbed. Tears welled in my eyes. I reached over and grabbed her hand. She took it. And we both looked straight ahead at what once was. Did she cry for her husband? Fiancé? Significant other? It was too much to imagine. I didn’t need to know. Actually, we never spoke a word to each other as we stood there looking at the smoldering silhouette of shattered lives. We stood there for about five minutes or five hours. I honestly don’t recall. After a while, she gently squeezed my hand, then tearfully mouthed “thank you” without ever making eye contact. As she walked away, my tears poured. Did I comfort her? Or did she comfort me?
Death did not discriminate on that day. I ask myself, why was my meeting canceled that morning? I could have been one of the dead. I could have been down there at my meeting, eating breakfast, or drinking coffee with friends. Why not me?
Now, ten years later, I still feel sadness, anger, and yes, hatred for those who committed this murderous act of fanaticism. I think about life, and how uncertain it is. I think about death and how uncertain it is not. The innocent souls who perished didn’t know it would be the last time they’d see the sun. Kiss their children good-bye. Embrace their spouses. Pet their dogs. Enjoy summer change to autumn…go to work. They were robbed of life. And so too were their loved ones. Many innocent people died on September 11th. And yet, they will always live on because we remember. Whether Democrat or Republican, Christian or Jew, Muslim or Hindu, Agnostic or Atheist, Right or Left, we must always remember. And never forget how lucky we are to be alive and live in the greatest country in the world. America: the beautiful. May She always stand tall.