30 September 2011

In Manhattan on 9/11

manhattan 9/11

Can you guys hear another 9/11 story? I know I missed posting about this on the anniversary as I hadn't launched this blog yet, but I wrote this as a draft at that time and still wanted to get this out at least on the last day of September...

I lived in NYC on 9/11 (this photo of me was taken about that time.) That morning, I watched it all from the Manhattan Bridge, which was extremely close to the Towers. I wasn't supposed to be heading into Manhattan that day. I was renovating my apartment in Brooklyn and was supposed to be meeting a plumber that morning. But at 8:30 am, I got locked out of my apartment! And so off I headed to Manhattan (sans cell phone and with a borrowed Subway card) to retrieve the keys from someone who had a spare. Little did I know about the day that I had ahead. I had not yet heard the news as I went underground to the subway.

After lots of train delays and announcements warning of a "police investigation" at the World Trade Center, a train finally came and off we went, soon to see the most shocking scene; one we couldn't have ever imagined.

As we came above ground to cross the bridge, the conductor said, "Oh my, ladies and gentleman, our Trade Towers are on fire!" It was the first any of us knew about it as we had been underground prior.   We sat there for 30 minutes, stalled on that bridge watching this horrific scene, while all the office paper fluttered slowly through the air. But every few seconds a large, solid, mass would fall quickly from above the smoke, falling straight down. I learned later what that was. Someone on the train was on a cell and announced that a plane hit the trade towers. My thought was  - - that poor pilot! How could he get off course so much?? My mind didn't even for a minute think that this destruction was intentional. And my next thought was - how will they renovate? (oh my, I know.)

Later the train continued on. I made my way to get my keys and upon arriving, someone told me, "We are at war!"  "The Pentagon had just been hit!" This was the first time I knew that this was intentional. My mind didn't even go there until then. We sat in horror from 28th St. and watched the towers out of some huge office building windows that provided a direct view right in front of us.  People paced around the office screaming, pulling hair, pounding the walls. It was a moment of panic for many people. One woman raced out of the office building to head down to the tower to find her brother who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald at the Trade Tower. He never made it out. We later attended his memorial service. My own brother also worked at Cantor a year prior, but now lived in Chicago.  Man oh man. Yikes. Soon, the first tower buckled & we just couldn't believe it. Everybody screamed and just kept repeating, "Holy @&$^! It's gone!" Then the other tower fell. All we could see at that point was smoke & dust. Tons and tons of it. It was time to get our tails out of Manhattan. We were too close to the Empire State Building & the U.N. - - and all wondered if it could be hit next.

So I journeyed downtown, on foot, to make my way back to the Brooklyn Bridge. This required actually walking down towards the destruction. Floods of people were running & walking in the opposite direction of me, trying to get away from the horror behind them. It was like everything you see on the news. Almost all of them were covered from head to toe in white dust. Some had face masks on and many had wounds. These were the survivors. I can't imagine what they had just seen & heard. I saw these dust covered faces and could tell that they had one mission on their minds......to reach their loved ones.  There was never a stronger pull to be with those that you loved. Husbands with wives. Parents with children. Nothing else mattered.

Along my walk home, there were tables set up along the way. Deli owners, neighbors, and volunteers passed out drinks & sandwiches & popsicles to all those passing by (which included all of Manhattan, as the subway system was shut down). People with parked cars and delivery trucks opened their doors and windows and blasted the news from their car radios as people crowded around. It was the only way anyone could figure out what was going on as cell phones were down. Store owners in Chinatown handed out Chinese slippers for women that were caught walking 8 miles or more in nothing but heels or barefeet. Roads were full of walking people, not cars, though there was a constant path of city buses hauling up and down the avenues in both directions, with police escort.  We later learned they were transporting the wounded & dead.

When I got to Brooklyn, streets and buildings and cars were all covered in white dust. It looked like it had snowed. We collected many of the papers laying on the ground. Trade reports dated 9/11. "While you were out" pink slips with a girl's handwritten message. I wish so much I had collected bags of papers and looked for names and sent any scrap I could find out to loved ones. 

I lived nearly on the water's edge, on the Brooklyn side, just across from downtown Manhattan. That night I could see the red glow from ground zero and the smoke billowing. We went up to the rooftop of my brother's old apartment and saw that scene right in front of us. I'll never forget it. That night there were also phone messages from tons of  people - visiting teachers, bishops, family, neighbors - so many people checking in to make sure I was alive. I felt very lucky. All of the Middle Eastern restaurants in the area were boarded up. And police were patrolling Atlantic Avenue, a Middle Eastern area in Brooklyn (later there were police guards on EVERY corner.) That night, all was quiet, except for sirens screaming by and the fighter jets roaring over head throughout the night, patroling the air space. I have never been so grateful to be alive and to be sleeping in a bed.

Love to all,


P.S.  Here is a touching account from one of my friends who was also here that day.


  1. This is so similar to my story (including the evening on 9/11). Here's a pic from that day: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150458507093986&set=a.10150458505268986.454024.711723985&type=1&theater

  2. Thanks, Travis. Oh my - that photo. Wow.

  3. just read this; i've been wandering around your blog for a week or so, and i'm enjoying your writing. This, by far, is the most stirring--you *are* a gifted writer!

  4. Thanks for sharing! I am glad to be one of the visitor of this blog. Pressurized Walls Manhattan always inspired us.

  5. You are a nice writer because you drive my emotion so crazy!
    Keep on blogging, I will be saving your links you’re on my bookmark.

  6. Hey Mara,
    I might have been on the same train as you that day....strange small world!


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