It’s late at night on September 10th, 2011 as I start writing, but in truth I’ve composing this in my head for years.
My story isn’t special. It’s the same as that of thousands and thousands of other people. Everyone in the world has an answer to the perpetual question: Where where you? And everyone who was in New York City on September 11, 2001 has their own variation, too.
I was living alone in Cobble Hill at the time, just south of Brooklyn Heights—a few blocks from the waterfront that looks out across East River toward the skyline of lower Manhattan. I lived alone at the time, and I was running late for work after voting in the primary election at the school down the block. As with every other morning (then and now), I had on the New York Public Radio station, WNYC, whose broadcast center was in lower Manhattan. As the clock inched toward 9AM, the news was starting to get very weird. They had received a call from a listener who had seen what looked like a huge wheel in the street, and was it possible that it had fallen off of a plane overhead? And, in my memory, a simultaneous call that another listener had just seen a plane fly into the World Trade Center.
I don’t remember turning on the television, and I don’t remember at what point WNYC’s transmitter—located on top of the World Trade Center—went out. I just remember picturing something like a scene from King Kong and grabbing my bag to hurry off to work.
I heard the second plane hit the South Tower while I was walking to the subway. I didn’t know what it was at the time, of course, and my route to the train took me out of the line of sight of the events transpiring across the river. I continued to the subway, paid my fare, and road the train in with a car full of people who seemed to not really be concerned about much of anything. As far as I can recall, it was an ordinary commute.
By the time I got to my office in Rockefeller Center, a third plane had hit the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and there was no question in anyone’s mind that the United States was under attack. This was not an accident; there was no King Kong. Over the course of the 45 minutes that I was underground en route to work in Manhattan, everything had changed.
I just had to stop writing for a few minutes and let myself cry. The clock just turned to midnight, and it is officially ten years later.
Let me just say this straight up: I love my coworkers. Some of them have moved on over the 13 years I’ve been there and some new friends have joined the team, but the core group of people has remained same—and I love them. All of us were there in the office that morning, trying to find out whatever news we could online (not as instantaneous then as it is now) and wondering where we should go or what we should do. One coworker’s girlfriend was at work in the World Trade center. He couldn’t get a hold of her by phone, so he just ran. She got out.
Word trickled in that one of the buildings had collapsed. How was that possible? What was happening? We were in the middle of Manhattan in a landmarked building in a tourist area. Were we a target? We didn’t know—we didn’t know anything. We were scared, the phone lines were down, and we could already see military vehicles on the street outside.
So we left. We took our things and we left. We walked about 20 blocks south to my coworker’s husband’s office—they had a TV there, and at least it wasn’t in a building that felt like a target. By the time we arrived, another plane had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. I watched the North Tower collapse on television.
To this day, I cannot reconcile the fact that what I saw on the screen was actually happening a couple of miles away from me. None of it seemed possible. I don’t know if it was a defense mechanism or just a lack of understanding of the situation, but I don’t remember crying—I was just shocked and scared. Terrified. It’s hard for me to admit that now that I know I was never in immediate danger, but at the time it didn’t feel that way. At the time, it quite literally felt as though the whole of New York City—if not the entire country—was under invasive attack.
I remember my boss checking to make sure we all had cash on us. I had to tell him, shamefully, that because my account balance was under $20, I was unable to make a withdrawal from the ATM. So he gave me $20. (Why I remember that, I don’t know.)
At some point, those of us who lived in Brooklyn decided to try to get home. After some debate about which bridge was most likely to be bombed or struck by a plane (probably the Brooklyn Bridge, since it was the most recognizable), we decided to walk to the Manhattan Bridge. It took a long time to get there. The streets were filled with people making an exodus from Manhattan in whatever direction they could—many of them covered with ash, and some with torn clothes and blood on their faces. The closer we got to lower Manhattan, the scarier it got. By the time we crossed Canal Street, we were constantly looking up at the sky. Just to make sure.
Much has been made of the camaraderie of New Yorkers in the time following the attack, but what I remember from that day was silence. Granted, it was a silence filled with sirens and bullhorns and military planes, but for the most part people all seemed to be keeping to themselves. Everyone was just moving forward.
We moved forward, too. We crossed the bridge with a great deal of trepidation. On the Brooklyn side, we were greeted by members of the Hasidic community who had loaded up vans with bottled water. That was the first time I cried.
Touching ground in Brooklyn felt like reaching safety. By the time I walked all the way to my apartment it was late afternoon. I was finally able to get through on the phone to my parents and confirm that everyone in my family was safe.
Then the TV went on. And it did not go off for days and days and days. I spent all of my time alternating between watching news reports—the same things, those same horrible shots, over and over—and walking to the waterfront to watch the billowing smoke that continued to rise for weeks. I don’t think I’d ever felt so lonely before in my life. And by the time I gathered myself up enough to get out and donate blood, they didn’t want it anymore—there was no one to give it to. I am sure I was not alone in feeling utterly helpless.
The words I’ve written here so far mean nothing other than that I am very lucky.
Nearly 3,000 people died as a direct result of the attacks in New York, Arlington, and Pennsylvania. They died for no reason other than that they went to work or got on a plane. 411 emergency workers died while rushing directly into unfathomable danger to rescue others. The 33 passengers and 7 crew members on Flight 93 managed to prevent their plane from hitting the Capitol before they, too, died. Countless first responders’ lives will be cut short due to the yet-unknown effects of inhaling dust at Ground Zero.
Thousands have Americans have gone to fight in the pointless wars that have followed, and thousands will never return. Can we ever know the number of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan—and yes, as a result of hate crimes here in our own country—who have died in the name of some undefinable idea of American “freedom”? Thousands upon thousands of families have lost their loved ones forever, and the number keeps increasing. Will that day never end? Can it?
It’s now 1:26AM on September 11, 2011. Ten years have passed, and I still cannot reconcile that the Twin Towers are gone, and that something so horrible happened here, in my city. Not a day passes that I don’t think about it at some point, whether it’s fear for my safety or grief over the lives that were lost.
And I am lucky to not have a special story.
Thank you for your thoughtful, emotional post. I have no other words. Just tears of remembrance.
What TieDye64 said. Thank you. Thank you.
I really appreciate you writing your remembrances of the day. It was a surreal experience for everyone I think, whether in New York or elsewhere. My dad was working in the Pentagon at the time and just had the good luck to not be in his office that morning. The plane hit just one floor below where he normally would have been. We didn’t know until late in the day if he was ok. I was in 11th grade and I just remember nervously eating chocolate chips from a ziplock bag in my French class, which my teacher decided was a lost cause to try and hold as usual. Weirdly enough, on 9/11/04 I was in a serious accident that could have been fatal and ended instead in a long recovery… so the day makes me uneasy for multiple reasons. I’m a not superstitious person, but I just don’t greet the anniversary of destruction and near-death experiences in my personal life with much positivity.
Yes, just tears.
I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like to be a short distance from the attacks the moment they happened. I was camping with my parents in California, as short ways from home, the time the attacks happened. Our only source of news was through the radio in the car. I was too young and careless to fully grasp the true magnitude of what had happened, but I still felt as though it was far more serious and scary than anything I’ve heard on the news.
I’d like to add in an addition thank you for your post. I’m not too great with sentimental words, so I’ll just add that I feel as though the arrival of this anniversary is the strongest I’ve felt emotionally over what happened on that day.
I 3rd that.
I’ve deliberately avoided tv and newspaper articles about 9/11 this weekend. Your post is all I need to read to remember how I felt 10 years ago on the other side of the world. Unfathomable is the only word I can use to describe it, even 10 years later. xx
Thank you for writing your memories, Anna, tears here too. We were terrified and dumbstruck when we awoke to the news of this on the other side of the world, so to be so close is unimaginable. Xx
I’ve been following this blog for quiet a while, but never knew if I should comment or not, and if, what. I’m sad that I now know what I want to share, as I actually don’t want this to be the day of my first comment. But the way you wrote, made me remember too.
Back then something crawled up my throat and stayed there for days. It made it very easy to cry whenever I saw pictures of the happenings.
I’m Swiss, so at the time of the attacks I was far far away. But just months earlier I had visited the US for the first time. My dad took me to New York City. I was amazed by just everything. We took a tour to the World Trade Center, it was February. I stood there, watching the noisy city from above and remember saying to my dad: ” You know the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam? I’m always going there when I’m in Amsterdam. I think the WTC is what I always will be visiting, when I’m in NYC.”
I went back to NYC in October 2001, I couldn’t believe the smoke, it just didn’t stop. Driving downtown, seeing it close, seeing all those flyers of the missing people and family members and friends, still standing there asking if they had seen or heard from their beloved ones, waiting for a miracle to happen or to be as close as possible to those who they had lost…
They now called it Ground Zero, my map still said World Trade Center.
September 6th, this week, was the last time I visited. I usually just walk by, watching how everything has changed and remembering what I said to my dad when I was there for the first time and the lucky penny I pressed and still have.
Of course I also remember the day itself, where my mom stood as I came home from school, what I did when I saw the first pictures. And the german newsanchor trying us to give the viewers as much information as he could about the one tower, while the live screen behind him just showed the second tower being targeted. They changed the headlines in seconds and informed the anchor aswell.
I remember his confusion, “Two airplanes? That’s a mistake… only one tower…What…” As he turned around the second building got hit. Maybe it was already a replay. He ducked his head, took a step balk, watched, and couldn’t believe. I don’t really remember what the screen showed, but his behaviour made it real, as I’ve never seen a trained and experienced newsanchor like this. If it wasn’t for him, I would have or wanted to believe this whole thing to be a modern H.G. Wells.
But then, I was lucky to be far far away, to be able to hope this to be unreal. As for the many people in the buildings and the airplanes, they knew it was real. I can not and do not want to imagine what this feeling must have been, and I deeply hope their last memories were not fear but remembering the good.
As you said, “Where were you?” is a question everyone in the world has an answer too it. Sadly.
“And I am lucky to not have a special story.” More as “so true” could express, thank you.
Thank you for sharing your story, Anna. I had chills and tears reading it. My hometown is about 20 mins from the flight 93 crash site. I’ll never forget how I felt that day. It comes back every time I read a story or watch the coverage. It all comes flooding back, and I don’t think that will ever go away.
What a heartbreaking and emotional and beautifully-written post. I don’t know any other way to say it, but it really affected me. Thank you for sharing.
The photo of the sitting woman is so beautiful and moving! Thank you Anna
Gosh, so many emergency workers. That is true bravery in the face of destruction and death.
Well done, Anna. I can only imagine how difficult it was to write, but you captured what needed to be said.
Thank you for this. Somehow, I knew you would write about this day and find just the right words.
Thanks for your story. I live in Cobble Hill today, and we can see lower Manhattan from our roof. I can only imagine what it must looked like in person on this day 10 years ago.
Thank you for sharing your story, I’m watching the memorial ceremony in Denmark right now, and remembering how it felt 10 years ago, even though it was so far away and felt unreal it was clear that the world, my world too would be changed forever.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Anna – thankfully it’s not special but it’s one of the most honest and personal reports I’ve read so far.
I was only 15 then and I remember that I came home from school at around 3 p.m. (9 a.m. your time) and found my mum sitting in front of the TV. I remember that I knew from the first second that I saw her sitting there that something horrible must have happened simply because I saw her watching TV (She is one of the mums who won’t allow to watch their children in the afternoon. In fact she told me until I was like 10 that the TV only worked in the evenings. So it was a weird situation.) I also remember the confusion of the German newsanchor that Stans wrote about in an earlier comment.
So, again, thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Thank you for your memories, so beautifully written. Like your other commenter, I too have been avoiding the media, and yours is the only remembrance I plan on reading as well. Though I was working in Chicago at the time, I remember the surrealism, terror and, especially, the silence.
i feel so solemn today, but also as you said, very lucky.
i was no where near the towers, but i remember my fear, and sense of disbelief. i remember wondering if i should go into the office? was it a regular day? i lived in sausalito at the time, which meant crossing the golden gate bridge to get to work, and i was terrified. ultimately it was clear this was no regular day, and i would not be going into the office. but for months i feared that drive across the bridge, and looked carefully at every cargo ship sailing beneath it, as if i could drive faster and avoid something if it were to happen.
instead of going to work that day, i remember my landlady had sent a gardener out to my house, and he came inside – both of us completely frightened and confused. we hugged and sat in tears together as we watched the tv. i man i’d never met before and i were immediately bonded. i remember at one point, literally falling to my knees and curling up and balling like a little baby. i couldn’t get up for a long time. what i was being shown on tv was just that terrifying.
i think it’s good to remember, no matter how painful. we do it for the people who were not as lucky and those they left behind. thanks for sharing your story anna. i am thankful you were one of the lucky ones so i could come to know you. xoxo
Thanks anna. I am so thankful that you were one of the lucky ones.
It is a solemn day. I remember, 10 yrs ago, the shock and the sadness i felt when my sister told me about the Attack. I was a student at college 300 kms from mumbai. It was my weekly call on Tuesday. It unfathomable that such things could happen in the world. When i did get to visit NYC I made it a point to visit Ground Zero. I was not sure of what i felt walking towards the site. But i remember standing and crying uncontrollably. Through the day i have been watching programs on Tv . Though a sad day, i am surprised by the resilience of the human spirit.
Thank you Anna. I was up early, on the west coast of Canada, and I remember watching the footage first thing in the morning. I saw the second plane hit and thought it was a replay of a single small plane accidentally hitting the tower, but then noticed the first building and the smoke. I couldn’t believe that I was watching something so horrible, live. It is a moment I will never forget, I cried at that time and many more later. I had to get ready for school as I was working on my teaching practicum. I remember a meeting with the staff to decide what or what we would not discuss with the children. Later I was so proud of the role Canadians played in helping take planes and passengers who couldn’t land at their destination airports, or even pass through US airspace. Thinking of all of you today.
I know you have a thing for raindrop shapes. To some, I guess they could be construed as teardrops, either happy OR sad. I came across a tree yesterday, filled with hope drops: Hope Tree + the most perfect day: http://elauinc.blogspot.com/2011/09/hope-tree.html
thank you so much for sharing your story. i am so grateful that you do not have a “special story” as you put it.
my heart aches today, as it does every year on this day. even upstate, where i was on sept 11th, we felt that same terror, that same irrational sense of being the next target.
thank you again for sharing.
we are September 11, 2011, in France, I have 32 years today and every year I look back at this hell … I can still see the images of the first tower struck by the first Boeing .. He was soon in France … 12 and I see the second plane hit the tower next number 2 … A few hours later the collapse .. in France we have experienced it as a movie, unreal, incredible, violent, disturbing … We are so close to those countries that protect terrorists, we are so close and already hit several times in our heart for this type of attack …
Thank you for your moving testimony. I never comment here, though I read your blog for months and months … a little effort on my part to tell you how we are all New Yorkers today.
This is truly beautiful. It’s comforting to have others’ words that articulate in such a lovely and haunting way how many of us feel – but just can’t quite figure out how to express. Thanks for being vulnerable and for helping us all to remember not only the events but the emotion. It is a sad day. And yet a truly beautiful one.
Because we are free.
thank you, anna.
You know, I thought about making a post but I realize I don’t have anything remarkable to say. It happened, and I sobbed because I thought my family was in danger, but beyond that, my story’s not remarkable. I’m very thankful that my family was sad, and I am thankful in hindsight that you were safe, too. I hope you’re doing as well as you can today.
I was a freshman in high school 10 years ago today. I remember the day, and the days following as confusing. I’m from a small town, far away from New York, and I felt little connection to what was happening- I was so young and this was SO HUGE. I had no friends or family in New York-it existed only in movies, books, and now the in the news. I found it hard to make a personal connection, I couldn’t even really believe it.
I still feel awkward about 9/11, like someone in my office just asked me to sign a get-well card for a person who retired years before I started.
Though your story might not be “special” and I can’t really say that I know you, it’s the closest personal account that I’ve heard. By sharing your experience, you’ve given me a connection- it’s small, but important. Thank you.
My thoughts are with you and all other New Yorkers today…
Thank you Anna. A friend of mine from high school was living in NYC at the time and working for CBS news. After the attacks part of her job was to sift thru the home videos that people sent in. She didn’t talk much about it except that it was awful. I can’t even imagine.
I remember feeling so unsettled and upset and out of sorts and frightened. I remember going to bed that night in tears and telling my husband I just wanted everything to go back to the way it was before. I wanted the innocence I grew up with to come back. I still miss it. It is hard to believe it has been 10 years. May we never forget.
Thank you for your way of telling the story. I had a lot of trouble updating status and commenting on the anniversary. I felt that I was exploiting those who I thought really had a lot more to remember of that day. Yes, people are amazed with what you have to tell but I don’t want them to feel for me – just the day. Your poignant words of our stories being nothing special – there were thousands of us with only a variation or two from the next – Finally someone has articulated what I couldn’t.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Thanks so much for sharing your story…I too, wasn’t sure how to comment publicly about today as I was not in NY and was 3000 miles away in SF that day, though it still is frightening when I think about it and how I felt watching TV all day and days after it happened. Thank you so much for your story and words.
i’m writing through tears. “I cannot reconcile the fact that what I saw on the screen was actually happening a couple of miles away from me”. i felt the same watching it live in the evening on the other side of the world. i felt like i should call someone, do something, but could only sit there in shock. i was living in london at the time of the london bombings so got a glimpse of what new yorkers went through. the horror of not being able to contact loved ones, colleagues out there unaccounted for. you’ve brought back lots of memories i had stifled and i’m thankful to you doing it through such a beautiful post.
I obsessively watched old new clips from that morning on YouTube last night, detailing what was happening as it was happening – and I kept thinking how frightening and chaotic it must have been for people that lived there. So your account of it here gives such an interesting insight to it all. I got choked up just reading it.
Thank you for sharing it.
Back here in Australia we couldn’t believe what was going on there in NYC. We were both at home and I was getting ready to go to work while I was listening to the 11am news. The news was interrupted with a live feed from CNN and Sandra Sully (our newsreader) couldn’t get the words out properly – she was almost speechless. When we saw those first images of the situation live on TV I thought it must be some kind of trick – it seemed impossible that what we were watching was true. But unfortunately it was true. I thought to myself “imagine if you were one of the people there who were looking up watching the towers as they burnt and fell” and I know that that would have changed me forever.
Thank you for sharing your story. It choked me up reading it. Ten years later, it still feels like it was yesterday.
Hard to believe it’s been ten years. Thanks for sharing your experience, yesterday can’t have been easy. I kept watching the tv, from first thing in the morning for couple of days after to see if anyone had been pulled out alive. As if just one survivor might have made a mass murder less despairing. Naive of course in hindsight to have believed there could have been some miracle (like what for goodness sake? A titanium lift shaft?) And then the point of realising, like you said, there was no need for the donated blood, nobody pictured on the flyers was coming home. It took a long time before pictures of the skyline of Manhattan stopped looking so shocking without the twin towers, like an amputation.
“I remember my boss checking to make sure we all had cash on us. I had to tell him, shamefully, that because my account balance was under $20, I was unable to make a withdrawal from the ATM. So he gave me $20. (Why I remember that, I don’t know.)”
Wow! That’s awesome. and rare. You were his family and he thought of you first.
I live just up the hill from the Pentagon. It took me 2 hours to get home from work 10 minutes away. I had to show my ID to get into the area of Arlington surrounding my apartment complex. I watched TV for days. There was nothing else I could have done. Now I watch and remember – never forgetting. I live in the same apartment and hear the TAPS everynight from Arlington Cemetery. We are lucky to be here and to have known those who were lost – although we wish they were still here. It’s surreal.
Beautiful Anna, thanks for sharing something so moving and personal. My heart goes out to all the people who died, the people who love them, and yes, on and on it goes. I live in hope for the future.
For all your readers, too, for sharing your thoughts and feelings, thank you, too <3
Thank you for writing this. I live in Nashville now, but used to live in NYC & lived there in 2001. I have a similar story to yours. I hate when people leave links to their blog in comments, but my story is here:
Such a beautiful post. Thank you!
Thank you for sharing your story, Anna.
I don’t comment often and don’t know you other than your blog, but oddly enough thought of you this 10 year anniversary and wondered where you were that day. Though I live far from there now, I had connections in D.C. at that time. You have expressed exactly the grief and fear I felt too and I’m sure many others. This year especially, I have been very reflective. I don’t speak of it much as I just feel timing saved my life. Like you said, so many died just because they went to work or got on a plane.
Thank you so much for sharing Anna.
The following comment is not intended to be an indictment of you specifically Anna.
I am very sorry for your traumatic experience but . . . isn’t this just a taste of the venom the U.S.A. has been spreading around the globe in Central America, South East Asia, the Middle East etc. over the past 50 or more years?? The American government has been dropping bombs on human beings, who have no televisions to see what and why the bombs are being dropped, or telephones to check and see if their family members are safe???
I love the U.S.A., but the foreign policy of the U.S.A. is absolutely despicable, and what goes around comes around. It is time American citizens own up to the actions of their democratically elected government.
This is the most grotesque kind of response to this post I can imagine. Sorry, but I do not subscribe to your “eye for an eye” beliefs. We cannot continue to justify retaliatory action at the expense of the human life. PERIOD. You cannot expect an end to this kind of brutality regardless of the country or organization or individual behind it if you see such repulsive acts of MURDER as being “payback” for the actions of others. That is a sick way to live, and I fear for the future of our world if that is the mentality of anyone in a position of power. (And sadly, we know that it is.)
I did not write a post about the politics of the United States. I did not write a post about events that have occurred before or after that day. I did not write a post about the politics of any other country. I did not write a post about anything you have commented on here. I wrote a post about what it was like on a personal level to experience a terrorist attack in New York City. I wrote about the loss of the lives of people of every walk of life, every age, and from more than 90 countries who died that day. If you think you see something else woven into my words, then you are rather pathetically mistaken.
“The following comment is not intended to be an indictment of you specifically Anna.”
Yes, it is. You wrote it in response to this post, did you not? Don’t try to make excuses for your words by putting in a disclaimer directed toward the one person you’re replying to. If this is what you believe, then this is what you believe. I don’t know you and you very clearly know absolutely nothing about me, so perhaps you need to take your agenda of justifiable revenge somewhere else. I want nothing to do with it.
Well put. That comment was gross.
disgusting. your version of “karma” is monstrous.
Thank you for your post sweetheart. Interestingly I too had been “writing” a blog post in my head for years – probably even before I knew what a blog was! It all (well some) of it came out this year. I think 10 years and an anniversary allows a little bit of healing.