As usual, I woke up before the alarm went off.
I think it was a psychological reaction since the DONG DONG DONG was such an awful sound to wake even the dead. It was traumatic! I don’t know why I decided to call my parents. I usually call them on Saturday but that day I felt like talking to them.
“Hi dad, how are you?”
“Hey, how come are you calling on a Tuesday? Did you fall out of bed?”
“Nay, I woke up early and since I have few minutes, I thought I would give you a call…Is everything ok?”
“Yes, sure…you mother is in the other room, wait a minute so I can call her”
Telegraphic as usual, my dad. He was always worried about me spending too much money.
I quickly drank my coffee since I was late as always, grabbed my purse and left the house.
I was supposed to be at work at 9am and it was already 8:30am.
I had to take different transportations to get there: first the 6 line, change at 53rd Street to the E line across town, get off at 49th Street and 8th Avenue, and jump on the bus that would take me to the office. The first part of the commute went pretty smooth but once I reached 49th street, I waited a very long time for the bus to come.
I kept looking at my watch: 8:55…I was already late. One last glance at the road but there was not sight of the bus. I could hear the sound of distant sirens but I didn’t pay much attention to it. I stopped a cab and asked him to take me to destination. The driver was listening to the radio: a disturbed voice was saying something about a plane…the Twin Towers… I asked him if he knew what was happening and he said an airplane crushed right one of the buildings of the World Trade Center. I thought the media was over-reacting to what was probably a small accident. I though it was probably a small Cessna with some engine troubles near downtown. I asked myself how could they allow a plane, even if small, to fly so low over the city.
Finally I reached my office. I had already in mind how to justify myself for being late again but once inside, nobody was paying attention to me but listening to the news on TV instead.
“Did you hear it? Two planes went flying into the Twin Towers!”
“Yeah right…..now they are two! The usual bullshit…at the radio on the cab they said one plane…are they maybe two Chessna that collided in mid-air?”
“NOOOO…they are two Boeing 747… went straight thru..first one, and then the other…it’s a tragedy…we are under attack…”
I grabbed the phone, not sure yet about what was happening, and called my father again.
“Dad, are you watching TV?’
“Well, if you turn the TV on, be assured I’m nowhere near the accident”.
I put the phone down and that was the last time I was able to talk to him for the next thirty-six hours. On the West Side Highway, ambulances and firefighter trucks were speeding towards downtown with the siren piercing the air. My office was right on 12th Avenue, so we could see the smoke caused by the fire rising up in the sky. The newscasters frantically tried to keep the population informed of what was happening. I could see the fear in my colleagues’ eyes and the more news we heard, the bigger the fear. Marco called me at the office.
“Where are you? Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine..what about you?”
“They are evacuating the UN Buildings…”
The news kept coming; all the planes flying over the States had been grounded and in the meantime, another plane had just crushed against the Pentagon.
Dalia was the next to call me.
“Have you seen what’s happening?” She asked me with a sobbing voice, “I’m afraid”.
“Try to stay calm..where are you now?”
“I’m home…MG…the towers….they will come down…you will see …they won’t last…they will crumble!!”
“What in the world are you thinking? They can’t come down, it’s impossible…do you realize what you are saying?”
As soon as I said these words, I heard her screaming on the other side of the phone. I turned around just on time to watch TV and the first tower falling right in front of my eyes like if it had been made of cardboard. The phone fell off my hands and I felt of rush of cold blood going through my veins. The roads, the bridges and the tunnels that connected Manhattan to the rest of the world were shut down. Nobody could leave or enter the city on board of a vehicle so people that live in the suburbs had to walk back home. The Brooklyn Bridge was one of the images that kept running on the screen and the scared expression on people’s faces did not leave any doubt about the gravity of the situation. No matter what though, they all left downtown without causing any further commotion.
My boss sent everybody home and since my apartment was twenty block south of where I was, I had to walk back home against the flow of the crowds moving uptown. It all seemed surreal to me. I felt like I was in a movie and all the scenes I had seen so far were happening somewhere else, and not in my city.
Dalia was able to call me again.
“Come to my house, we are all here”.
Her apartment was four blocks north of mine and when she opened the door, I found all my friends there waiting for me. We spent the rest of the day trying to call our families and our friends we knew worked at the Twin Towers while the TV kept showing even more dramatics scenes. We stayed glued to the screen, tears coming down without been able to stop them. We followed all the rescue efforts, praying they could find as many people alive as possible, hoping somebody could survive such hell. All the hospitals were on the alert; all their personnel back to work waiting to help the wounded. Unfortunately, the only things reaching the hospitals were human remains and the cold-storage units stood for years to come, right on my street, being as close as I was to NYU Hospital. We fell asleep at Dalia’s house: some in bed, some on the floor, some on the chairs with the head leaning on the table. The TV was on all night. Every saved life was a celebration, but we really had very little to celebrate. The next morning the entire city was silent. Bettina and I woke up very early while the others were still sleeping. We thought we could go downtown and try to help somehow, not really sure of what we could do and what we would find. The buildings’ walls where plastered with the pictures of the missing people, their family giving out fliers hoping somebody had seen their loved ones alive.
We weren’t able to pass past Chinatown. The police barricaded the roads to make sure the job of the rescuers went on without any obstructions. The symbol of America and the free world didn’t exist anymore and three thousand people lost their lives that day. I remember every time I exited the subway on Fulton Street, I rose by eyes to look at the Towers, so big and impressive. To this day, every time I exit the station, my first instinct is to look up, but I can only see the blue sky now where they once stood.
PS: Freedom Tower is there now!!!