9 years ago tomorrow my world exploded. Literally and figuratively.
I was one of the lucky ones. WE were two of the lucky ones. We didn't lose friends or relatives in the attack. As a teacher in Hoboken, J's students, though, THEY lost parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles. And we were involved - up close and personal. This happened in our backyard.
Every weekday from April 4, 1987, through September 10, 2001, I saw the Twin Towers. I might not have noticed them every day, but I saw them. They were there. I drove home from work on Route 3, eastbound, every day I went to work. And they were there, part of the NYC skyline, every day.
I admit it. I didn't look at them every day. Many days they were just background. For some reason, my eyes are always drawn to the Empire State Building, even today. There's just something about the more traditional, old style of that building that appeals to me more than the chrome and glass and squareness of the World Trade Center, or what was visible in the skyline. But the skyline is so different today, so "not complete."
On 9/11/01 my mom called me early in the morning. I was at work, sitting in my office, starting my day, and she told me a small plane had crashed into the World Trade Center and she told me to listen on the radio. I ran into M's office and told her and we both put on our radios and it became the backdrop to our morning. We soon realized this was going to be the backdrop to our lives, that day.
It didn't take very long for all of us to be in B's office, watching television.
At 10:28am, when the second tower fell, he turned to us, the owner of our company did, and said, "Go home. You all need to be home with your families."
You need to understand how out of character this was. We were supposed to work like it was our company. NOTHING, do you hear me? NOTHING comes before work. It was a privately held, one-man show and that man was not known for his even-handedness or his kindness. (Personally, I never had a problem with him but some people did.)
For him to be so affected by this tragedy that he would close the office for two days? Wow.
I drove home, via Route 3, eastbound.
There were no towers there for me to "not notice." There was nothing but smoke at the southern tip of Manhattan. I couldn't see that they were missing. We couldn't see the skyline in that area for days.
But I knew they were not there. And I sat in front of the television for the next 48 hours, watching people die, grieve, love, lose. I watched our lives change in those 102 minutes, from 8:46 to 10:28. We didn't eat dinner, go out, do anything but sit in front of that 27" screen and suffer.
I've lost family and friends. I've lost my father, my grandparents, dear aunts and uncles, and many other relatives and friends. I know what it feels like.
When I tell you that I grieve over the loss of these strangers like I do over my family and friends, I am not exaggerating. They all mean that much to me. They just went to work that day. Just like I did.
But I came home.
As we lived on, and heard stories, it's scary to see how close we came. A cousin (by marriage) was in NYC and was supposed to go to the WTC for a meeting but they had flown in from California the day before and he overslept. He woke up in the hotel, was rushing in the shower when his wife called him into the bedroom and told him to "sit down."
My cousin, who's more brother than cousin, was on the Pulaski Skyway in his car, heading into Manhattan for a business meeting. He was one of those who saw it happen - saw the 2nd plane hit the 2nd tower. Saw the towers fall. And he was trapped, too. Trapped in the horror of those 102 minutes, trapped in his car, a captive audience. Traffic stopped and emergency vehicles were squeezing through lanes that were too narrow, trying to get to the WTC to help.
I'm friends now with a girl who used to work in the Towers. She had quit, mere months before, to have a baby and stay home and raise her. I didn't know her then, but whenever 09/11 comes up in conversation, you can see how much it has touched her. She lost friends and co-workers.
Our neighbor walked uptown, alone, until he could get to his sister-in-law or brother-in-law's apartment. His wife was worried sick all day that something had happened to him, since phones were down and we just didn't know. He didn't work in the WTC, but he was in the area... Thank God he was okay.
I was home, in front of the television, desperately trying to call the school. As the crow flies, J's school is just over a mile or so from where the towers stood. The phones were down, and this was pre-cell phones for us. His school turned into a Red Cross center, children were being pulled out of school, taken home to learn that family was missing, or dead. He didn't get home until 5pm or so, and I had no idea until he got home if he was okay.
He said as he pulled up onto 495, he saw people walking home to NJ. People covered in dust. Just walking. Like zombies, he said. With blank looks on their faces, as if they still didn't understand what had happened.
It's 9 years later, and we don't understand "what happened" any better today than we did at 5pm on 09/11/01.
I'm going to go to Mass tomorrow. I'm going to spend some time in church praying for those people who lost their lives that day, at the Towers, in Pennsylvania, at the Pentagon.
There's a lot of talk that people who don't live in the area don't feel like we do, living so close.
I can't believe that.
I know this affected everyone, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, race, religion. To different degrees, perhaps. More personally for some than for others, perhaps.
So please, think of the victims tomorrow, their families. Please take a few minutes of your day to pray, or if you don't pray, send good thoughts to those who have lost so much.
You're here. It's the least you can do.