Join Date: Oct 2006
| | Not Only Those Who Died
Not Only Those Who Died
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not crying for myself. However, there are many tiers of people who were affected by 9/11. There were, of course, those who died, and their immediate families. So too were those who had close ties with them. But so many more have been touched.
Police and firefighters, men and women, Port Authority workers, and later the DOT crews who kept the machines running, and iron workers wrestling tons of superstructure will suffer from diseases caused from the smoulder of the pit. And what even of those who graciously fed them? We ran away, they all walked towards.
The entire community of firefighters in the metro NYC area, and their bretheren across the country and the world felt the agony that is reserved for those that have risked and lost their lives in that extraordinary way. Never underestimate the courage of those who run into a burning building.
This is merely MY story:
I was on the 25th floor of Tower I, the North Tower, when half a million pounds of metal, fuel and flesh slammed into the building at around 300 mph. The building swayed, slowly, so very, yet unmistakably, slowly. Thinking it was an earthquake I sought a doorway to stand in. Then someone espied papers futtering like oversized confetti in the airspace above the plaza, and yelled bomb. We did not yet know...
Fully aware that panic does not help, I calmly went to my desk, but a few yards away and grabbed my backpack, leaving pictures of my son, a coffee cup I had since I was a child myself, and my Mont Blanc pen (afterall, I wasn't dawdling either). I joined Charles, a co-worker, and began the descent of stairway B. Here too calm was the answer. Pushing and shoving was accepted as unnecessary, nor yelling or cursing. All of New York should be proud. The scent of kerosene was in the air, as was the sound of the NYC Fire Department walkie-talkies. We now knew that it was an airplane. We did not know it was a jet.
When we reached the 17th floor the firemen directed us off the stairs and into the offices. They had done so to clear the passage for their own use, going up. Many of us looked out the windows at the broken bodies amidst the wreakage in the place where we used to hear lunchtime concerts. Others tried to call home. I left a message on the machine.
Only a few minutes later we were allowed to resume our downward spiral along the periphery of the stairwell, as the firemen trod up the center. However, before re-entering the stairs I saw what must have been the first casualty after the impact itself. A firefighter was slumped on the floor, having suffered a heart attack from climbing those 17 flights with some hundred pounds of gear.
When we reached the 12th floor the air resounded with a dull thud, and the steps quivered. As one we looked up the way we had come, fearing that the fuel we could smell should turn to flame. When that did not occur we resumed our trek. A couple, one in hysterics, flew past us, and this was allowed without comment. A fireman told us that the other tower was hit too, and the word "terrorism" created a buzz.
With each step down a brave firefighter was taking one up. I saw the faces of young men, some of whom I thought would lose their lives, as too often happens when battling a blaze. I did not realize then that they all would. If I were to meet a pair of eyes, I would say thank you. Some said thank you back, and some; "You're welcome".
By the time I reached the 7th floor, the stairs were a waterfall. By the time I reached the 3rd, there were no walls to speak of. We exited into the elevator lobby, destroyed by the shockwave that traveled down the elevator shafts. I had witnessed what had happened only minutes ago on the 25th as the secondary expolsion bulged the walls next to the shafts. The lobby made upstairs look like nothing. The lobby was now next to nothing.
We were led through the curtain of rain from the sprinkler system into the below grade promenade level of the World Trade Center. Police and P.A. employees guided us past shops closed with their doors open, wares scattered about. Dim illumination was provided by emergency lights alone. Up the stationary escalator, in front of the bookstore that occupied the Northeast corner of the plaza we encountered fresh air. Walking towards Broadway, still with Charles, looking back over my shoulder I exclaimed, "Towering infernos, just like in the movies."
But this was no movie. In the 35 minutes that elapsed, between the first strike and this moment, bodies had been removed. But not the blood they left behind. Bodies had been removed, but not the severed limbs now covered yet plain to see in silouette. I said "I'm going home," and continued, "they're not going to let us back in the building today". Charles replied "I don't think they're letting us in this week." We walked along John, and up Broadway, crowded with hoardes of others. We were escaping. Others were walking towards to gawk. Fools, I thought then, and still do.
Peeking South as we strode North, smart enough to avoid the subways, we saw the smoke billowing from West to East. The antenna of Tower I identified the structure we could see. Its smoke obscured the South Tower. For those who know the Gaseteria at the corner of Houston and Broadway, and the precious unobstructed view it affords to the South, you know why Charles and I stood there and waited.
And then we saw it. A puff of smoke in the distance. On the ground. Like the images of imploded buildings on the news. We knew. We looked up. There was the red and white antenna, which I had always thought looked like a bull's eye, signalling the destruction of the Southern twin.
The streets of Manhattan were strangely silent. Except for two sounds: Sirens and car radios. Cars were stopped everywhere with their doors open amidst a crowd of people listening to their radios, in a way I imagine hadn't happened since the advent of TV. We kept walking. Somewhere along the way we entered a deli (NYC breakfast and lunch style) to view the footage. What we saw exceeded what we had imagined. We kept walking.
It was somewhere North of Union Square Park that we heard that our own tower had succumbed. We kept walking. Well before that we had finally spoken to our frantic wives. Other wives, mothers and daughters; husbands, fathers and sons; brothers and sisters were not so lucky.
At 23rd Street I told Charles to go West to the Hudson River. I knew that in an emergency that every merchant mariner would become a ferry. He landed in New Jersey with another 14 hours to go until he found home. I kept walking. North to Herald Square, where I sat and ate my brown bagged lunch. Where I sat as I changed into $1 socks to replace the ones soaked on the staircase. Again, I kept walking.
I had already passed my brother's apartment in the West Village. I could have walked to my father's girlfriend's place uptown. But I crossed the 59th Street bridge, along with so many people that I walked the steel beams to avoid the sea of people that limited the flow of vehicles to one crawling outbound lane. I kept walking, up to the elevated 7 train there at Queens Plaza. The trains were not running, and an officer was the gate before the walkway to the station. It had been seven miles to this point, and another ten to home. I stopped walking.
There was no way I was not going home, even though I could have stayed with a friend in Astoria. I wanted my boy to see me. He was seven and a half. I didn't need to see him. I thought he needed to see me. So I waited. I waited for the trains to run. I was on the second train to leave the station. The first had no passengers. At the end of the line, I waited for the bus.
At the end of the bus line I crossed the street and walked into my park. I saw my son, and he, me. He ran to me, unaware of the import of the day, as a child would sprint into the arms of a playful parent on any given day. My wife kissed me. My urban park community greeted me warmly. The somber nature of the crowd was revealed by the news that one of our own had lost a brother. My son's friend's uncle was gone.
Our friend's apartment in Battery Park City was looted. My neighbor who worked in the pit sacrificed his lungs. A co-worker moved back to the Dominican Republic. These are not my stories, but belong to some of the people I know. There are thousands upon thousands more. Tens of thousands of people who did not die in the Trade Center worked there, and many times that number in the surrounding buildings. My offices were destroyed. A year and a half later I was unemployed, but alive. Another 16 months and we moved out-of-state. And another 2-1/2 years later I am writing this message.
I am a member of a very small club. Only some thousands of us escaped from the World Trade Center and The Pentagon. 266 died at the Pentagon, in the plane and on the ground. 44 died heroically on Flight 93 near Pittsburg, keeping an untold number from joining my fraternity. 2752 souls were lost in the destruction of one of the 7 wonders of the modern world.
As a child, I literally watched the towers rise.
As an adult, I literally saw them fall.
As a nation we still stand.
As a country we still mourn.
As a people we still remember.
To those who have lost a loved one I grieve with you.
To those who lost the life they knew I live with you.
To those who have lost some faith I pray with you.
To those who think we are defeated,
Last edited by JeffLL; 11-23-2006 at 09:44 PM..