>May 2000 – Husband offered job at eSpeed, a divison of Cantor Fitzgerald on the 103rd floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center. Husband turns it down due to low salary, despite lack of other offers at the time. This made me both relieved and nervous. Relieved because I knew that we’d have some financial issues if my non-profit salary made me the breadwinner, but nervous because nothing else was in the horizon and unemployment is worse than a moderate income.
July 2, 2000 – We get married.
August 2000 – Husband receives job offer from small private equity firm in midtown Manhattan. He is very pleased with the opportunity and begins in September.
Sept. 9, 2001 – Husband and I return from belated honeymoon in London. We had a great time.
Sept. 11, 2001 – It was a picture perfect day with the sun beaming down on the City; the type of day that makes you happy to be alive as the sun warms your nose while you walk down the street. I went to my office early that morning, as we’d been on vacation and I wanted to catch up on some work before I went to an afternoon meeting with a city official downtown. The office was empty except for one other early bird. Around 8:45 am, he came into my tiny office with a weird look on his face. His mother had called him from Rochester, where she heard on the news that some sort of plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
We tried to log on to the internet, but all the news sites were overloaded. The street became full of the high-pitched scream of sirens as emergency vehicles sped downtown. Eventually, news reached us in bits and pieces as other people arrived at the office. We heard that it was a small personal plane, like a Cessna. Then word arrived that it was a commercial airline. Still, it could have been a horrible accident. No one was sure. Then we heard about the second plane and now we knew. It was not an accident. A graduate student intern arrived upset because the second plane flew overhead while she walked to work. She saw it slam into the south tower.
My office at the time was located on the corner of the 14th Street and 5th Avenue, with a perfect view down Fifth of the towers. Years before, I had lived in an NYU dorm on 5th and 10th, and I used to lean out the window at night and look down 5th Avenue at the Twin Towers to my south, and the elegant Empire State Building to the north. These buildings bracketed a section of Manhattan and served as a compass for downtown. Now the southern compass point had been attacked. I went outside to see for myself.
Small clumps of people were standing around talking quietly on every corner. At Cardozo Law School, on the northeast corner of 12th and 5th, I stood and watched the buildings burn. There was an inferno at the tops of the towers. I thought, “No one above that fire is going to make it out alive.” That’s where Husband would have been, had we not been greedy. I sat down on the curb and cried. Never once did it cross my mind that an hour later, the buildings would collapse upon themselves. Who but an engineer could contemplate such a horrific thing?
After a few minutes, I dried my eyes and went back inside. Some time passed, with people trying to find news. We heard that one of the towers came down. Shock. Then people began to leave. A co-worker decided to walk to her parents’ apartment on the Upper West Side, and we left together. We headed as far west as we could, lest other attacks were planned on buildings in midtown. (Who knew at this point what was going to happen? Anything seemed possible.) As we trudged in the bright sunlight to the West Side Highway, we heard that the second tower fell, too.
At the pedestrian and bike path on the West Side Highway, we quickly joined the exodus of people. Mostly I remember the bright reds, oranges, and blues of the stock traders’ coats. There seemed to be an infinite number of them pouring out of downtown. People were trying to call loved ones, but cell phone signals were hard to come by. No one spoke much.
I worried about my friend who was visiting from Israel with her boyfriend. That morning they had planned to go to the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center. A few days ago, I had advised them to go to the Statue of Liberty first, as I had heard that the lines could take hours if you did not arrive at the island on one of the first boats out. Besides, the observation deck at the WTC did not open until later, so they might as well go to the Statue first. Where were they? She did not have a cell phone with her, so I could not even try to reach her. I hoped they would call me as soon as they got back to my friend’s aunt’s house in Brooklyn.
By the time I arrived at my apartment, Husband had already been home for quite some time. I don’t think that I had ever been so happy to see him. All I could think about was the inferno on the top of the towers, and how utterly lucky I was that he was here with me in our apartment. Husband had even taken the time to stock up on bottled water and cash from the ATM. He always thinks ahead, and while the water was never a problem, ATMs ran out of cash in the following days. What would I do without him?
In the ensuing hours, we watched TV constantly. We heard from friends. It is amazing how many people were “late” to work that day, and thus safe. (The terrorists may have chosen the hijacked flight well, and they may have succeeded in destroying several buildings and killing thousands, but they did not understand the work culture of New Yorkers – who rarely get into work before 9:30 – and thus they did not kill multiples of thousands more.) My friend eventually called me. She had been boarding the ferry to the Statue when the planes flew overhead. In the chaos that ensued, they fled over the Brooklyn Bridge, but not before the Towers fell and covered them with dust. It took several more hours to get home, but she was safe, too.
I was lucky – everyone I loved was safe, especially Husband. The New York Times ran pictures of the deceased with little stories for months. Husband saw a picture of the man who would have been his boss. Whenever I think about it, I want to throw up. Even though it was not really a close call, as he turned down the job over a year before the attacks, it still feels too close to me.
In some ways, September 11, 2001 feels like yesterday, and in others, it feels like forever. The exploitation of the events of that day by the Bush administration continues unabated. Whenever some idiot tells me I should be grateful for President Bush, “or else there might be more terrorist attacks,” I stare at him blankly. Whenever I read about the latest violation of the Constitution, I bitterly feel that people deserve what they asked for when they voted for Bush. In those instances, I know that the terrorists won.