I cannot believe it has been ten years since that tragic day on September 11, 2001. The decade seems to have flown by in the wink of an eye.
I was working at HMG Worldwide back then, creating presentations and doing research as the Marketing Associate, helping the online branding subsidiary Ego Media with photo/video shoots and writing copy. The Dot Com crash was hurting us, but we kept working, hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel.
So many have commented on how beautiful the weather was that morning, and I agree. My commute took me from Penn Station past Madison Square Garden to our building on the West Side near the Jacob Javitz Center. There were days I hated walking all those blocks, when the wind from the Hudson River felt like it was ripping right through me, but that late summer pre-autumn morning was perfect. The air felt crisp and fresh, the sun was bright, not a cloud in the sky.
I arrived at work at my usual time, around 8:20 a.m. and started my morning ritual of eating breakfast at my desk as I logged onto my computer to skim through my e-mails. I saw a news alert on AOL's Homepage that a plane had struck one of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. We could see the Towers from our windows, so I got up and went to a south-facing office of one of my co-workers. A couple of others were gathered, looking downtown at the smoke rising from the hole in the facade of that iconic skyscraper.
Looking back now, it was strange how nonchalantly we all behaved at first. We all assumed it was a small plane that lost control and flew into the building by accident. I remember thinking how it looked like a scene from a Hollywood movie, it was like a meteor-hole from Armageddon or Deep Impact.
I walked back to my desk and called one of my sisters who worked at the Empire State Building. She too was watching outside her window. Then, she screamed that there was another explosion. I heard my co-workers also screaming. One of them was shouting profanities, "Oh, you bastards! All those people! You bastards!" It took me a few seconds to comprehend what was going on -- another plane had struck the second tower. My sister, in a nervous voice, said she had to go because they were evacuating her building. That's when it first dawned on me that we were under attack.
I went to my co-workers and listened to them as they told me what had happened. I looked out the window and saw thick dark smoke flowing up and blown by the wind from both Towers now. My co-workers had seen the second plane fly by low and fast and they had watched in horror as it slammed into the second building.
We were all anxious now. I tried calling one of my other sisters who worked on Wall Street, but she didn't pick up her phone. When we heard about the attack on the Pentagon and the fallen plane in Pennsylvania, that's when it elevated to panic. Most of my co-workers left. I called my other family members to let them know I was okay and just watching everything unfold outside our windows. We saw the first Tower fall (the second one that was hit), then the other. I couldn't comprehend what was happening -- I felt like a passive observer watching a far-fetched story unfold before my eyes, but it was all real.
After a while, only a few of us were left in the office. Our company president said we should go home and be with our families. I finally heard that my sister from downtown was fine and walking to her apartment on 23rd Street. I connected again with my youngest sister (the one from the Empire State Building) and confirmed with her that we would gather at the apartment and figure out what to do.
As I walked the streets of Manhattan, I saw armed soldiers at the intersections and a bizarre, irrational thought briefly past through my frazzled mind -- "Were they ours?"
I arrived at my sister's apartment, joined by my other sis. We decided to go up to the Bronx to my parents house. My sister didn't want to leave Manhattan, but we tried to convince her that it was for the best, at least we were heading to the mainland and not isolated on an island in case anything worse happened. We could still hear sirens passing by, so many sirens. She decided to stay.
I rode uptown on a packed subway train, everyone quiet except for two ladies talking about who was responsible -- did another country declare war on us? Were we experiencing an insurrection, a coup d'etat? One guy chimed in that it was terrorists like the bombing in 1993. I remember hearing one of the ladies retort, "You don't know that. How do you know that?"
That night, I watched the coverage on TV. I called some friends whenever I could get through and the phone lines weren't tied up.
The next morning, I woke up at my usual time. I recall how quiet it was -- no sounds of airplanes in the sky. The newspaper was waiting for me as usual on my doorstep -- I breathed a sigh of relief, gripping it as a sign of normality in a world that had gone crazy.
I decided to go to work. On the subway into Manhattan, I could smell the smoke -- all the way uptown and I could still smell it.
Not many others came to work that day. My company had been laying off workers for the past year, a trickle here, a trickle there. A bigger round of layoffs happened in October, but I managed to keep my job for that one, but a month later I was part of the next wave and the company folded soon after that.
Everyone's lives changed on that day. So many lost loved ones. To this day I am still overwhelmed by the scope of it all.
I become angry when I see people use the events of 9/11 for their own political aims. I had hoped that the unity we felt after the attacks might carry over longterm, but many things still remain unchanged. It did, however, bring many of us together and made me, at least, appreciate more some of the things in my life that I had previously taken for granted.
Let us never forget.