I was working at a small fashion company in midtown on Tuesday, September 11. It was my second day and I was just returning from delivering clothes to a magazine nearby when I heard about the first plane. My first thought was a small plane hit it by accident.
It was when I got back to the front desk and answered call after call for staffers from their mothers that I realized something was horribly wrong. It was an office of eight salespeople and I had five moms on hold looking for their daughters. Thankfully, they were all at their desks. Then my mom called.
“My God! They’re trying to kill us.” She sounded like she was singing.
“It’s okay. It was just an accident.”
“Not the second plane. Oh God.” I heard the phone change command.
“Honey.” It was my dad. Lifetime military and one tough fella.
Behind me, the office began to buzz. The sales pool was getting louder. It sounded like they were crying. I turned on the computer. Images of the burning buildings from a helicopter. All I could think of was the people. All of those poor people. Please, God let them get out.
“Get yourself together and get out of there.” My dad cut into my thoughts with his serious dad voice. It wasn’t until noon, our boss wasn’t in the office and no one was telling us what to do, that we all filed into the stairwells and out into the streets.
I headed west to catch a ferry to New Jersey. People were huddled around cars, listening to the radio. In front of stores watching the news. An older woman in a burqa was walking alone and so I joined her. She said she was afraid because there had been reports on the radio of people attacking mosques in retaliation for the attacks. Arm and arm, we looked south as we crossed to the promenade to join the miles long line stretching north; the air left my lungs. There were tanks on the West Side Highway.
Quickly, we headed to the gate. A Port Authority employee was counting passengers in her bright yellow vest and sunny sweet smile. When we stopped to ask instruction, she hugged us. Just for getting there. We all talked for a moment, because the line wasn’t moving, and she knew it was a scary situation for my new friend. She took her from me and accompanied her onto the ferry, with the elderly and endangered. I joined the line.
Early on the morning of September 12, 2001 I took the Boonton into the city because I didn’t know what else to do but go in, I couldn’t be alone all day with the news and my thoughts. The train schedules were off, of course. There were delays and incidents. Once at the station I noticed the trash cans were chained closed, most stores were dark and there were police everywhere. Station parking lots were full, a car in every spot, but the trains were nearly empty.
There was only one other passenger in my car. He watched me board and waved me over. We introduced ourselves and I sat down.
“Where’re you from?” He was holding his briefcase so tight his hands were red. I think I understood how he felt. Or how he wanted to feel. I think we needed to feel normal.
“No. Before here.” He looked like every fortyish, hard-working Dad type in every movie and show. Balding on top and big round glasses. “I’m originally from Florida. Long line of Gators.”
“From Virginia, originally. With a little bit of everywhere thrown in.”
The train curved wide to the right and we looked out of the window at the same time, sitting across from each other, not talking but still not alone. Taking in the big view, he took a deep breath before his voice cracked.
“I guess we’re all New Yorkers today.”
We made more friends on the train that week as the city tried to keep moving. There were nine of us, meeting on the train in the mornings and at the station in the evenings, most of us with a hot dog and beer in hand. We were loud and boisterous, trying so hard to be happy. When the train would pass the station parking lots, now cramped with tow trucks moving cars belonging to victims from the towers, we were always quiet. The streets of our towns crowded with funerals every weekend. The pictures of those lost remained on the walls of stations and stops.