September 11 Digital Archive

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How has your life changed because of what happened on September 11, 2001?

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, at 8:45 AM, I ascended the stairs of the A train stop at Fulton Street, called my husband from my cell phone as do every morning, and chatted with him for a few minutes reminding him to vote and move the car... I heard a huge boom... I looked up and saw the first tower burning...it took me a few seconds to realize that the "paper" I saw falling out of the windows were actually people diving for their lives. I stood there thinking terrorists had struck again until someone told me that it was a plane that had hit the tower... Oh, thank God, I thought, only a plane...an accident. Minutes later, the second plane hit.... huge explosion.... people scattering.

Then, it hit me: Bastards! This is no accident! Terrorists! The word blew through my head like a shot...Terrorists...Oh, God, I have to get out of here, now...I thought. I ran to my office at 55 Water Street...I'll be safe there, I reasoned. Of course, I didn't get very far because they had evacuated my building... I wasn't safe anywhere at this point. I left my building and stood watching the masses mill around in shock...people crying; people gawking; people confused... I was thinking to myself, How am I going to get back home? I live in Northern Manhattan. It takes me an hour from door to door via subway. I walked north on Water Street...strange how your usual routine takes over when you're in shock. I talked to people along the way...people who had loved ones in the towers... a man in a suit dashed by -- his wife was in there. Women sobbing for co-workers and friends and family who were presumably dead. People who were reminiscing about the last bomb to hit the Trade Center...

I got to Fulton Street and I heard a huge rumble and I looked up to see Tower I collapse like it was a house of cards... Dust everywhere! I could see and I couldn't breathe.... Gotta move, I thought. Keep moving...keep moving. I ducked into a church. I hadn't been in a church in years.... amazing how you cling to your familiar routines in crisis. In the church, I broke down. I told the lady I met that I'd seen everything and she shushed me, "There are children here...their mother works at the Towers...they're terrified." Oh, God. How selfish of me! How could I be so wrapped up in my pain to not see the horror in those kids' faces. The lady told me to drink water and sit for a while..."You're safe here," she said, "You're in the projects. They don't want us...we're too poor." Projects? Safe in the projects... Yes, what a concept. Safe in a church in the projects. After a while I left the church. My four-year-old was at school in Hudson Heights...gotta get to her. Gotta get home... Oh, my God! Suppose they hit the George Washington Bridge! Gotta get to Alexandra.

I went out on the street and I heard another rumble. I turned and looked and watched Tower II go down. Weather geek that I am, I thought, Southeast wind. Move Northwest...NOW! As I was moving I heard someone yell, "Get down. Get down, now" Oh, God. Here we go again.... I made myself small against a building...and wondered what I should do next.... I saw two men get arrested for attempting to rob someone... I'm outta here...my head screamed at me.. You will not die today...not here...not now. Keep moving! Keep moving! A bunch of official-looking limos screamed by... I need to get away from these limos....they're targets... "Which way is 9th Avenue? Can anyone tell me which way is 9th Avenue?" At last I reached Chinatown...OK. I think I know where I am...Bowery...West is that way.... Finally, I found 6th Avenue...asked a cop which way to go. "Up 6th as far as you can and West..." East wind, I thought, easy.

Met a man as I was walking...he had his dress shirt fashioned into a sling.... He told me he had escaped from the 80-something floor...he doesn't know how...all he knows is that the smoke came so quickly that people were dying around him...he's thankful to be alive. More people: a woman on a park bench...she was on the 23rd floor. Maintenance people who escaped...all heading up 6th Avenue. Also, well-dressed people...you can tell by their shoes, mostly. Look at their shoes... "Thank God you're alive." "My friends, my coworkers...probably dead." "Yes, but you're alive. You're going home. God blessed you today." I made it to West 4th Street and 6th. A man sitting in shock on the stoop of a bank. "Sir, are you OK?" "The plane crashed directly into my office. I had a beautiful corner office...if I wasn't running late, I'd be dead. My employees are most likely all dead." "Oh, God. I'm sorry. Thank God you're alive. Can I get you water? "No, I'm fine...thanks." "Go with God, my friend. Remember the gift you were given today...focus on life...not death." Word of the devastation finally got me...I stopped to listen to a radio. High jacked from Boston! Oh, God...those poor people. We were lucky; we didn't know what was about to happen. Those on the plane knew.... they knew...had time to prepare; had time to be terrified. The Pentagon; the White House... someone told me Federal Plaza had been hit and the Stock Exchange. Sharon! Oh, God. Rumors were flying everywhere...What if they hit the Statue of Liberty?

My cell phone wasn't working. My people had no way of knowing if I was hurt or dead.... Oh, good...only 183 blocks to go. Gotta keep moving.... gotta keep going. I ducked into Saint Vincent's Church...noon mass. I need God right now. Sobbing...sobbing. How could God have saved me today? Was I more worthy than those he took? I'm a sinner...ungrateful sinner. Why was I spared today? I almost got off the A train at Chambers Street because it was such a nice day...but I was late. Go to Fulton, my head told me. Note to self: Always listen to your intuition. Never doubt that little voice in your head. Of course, there was the job I almost had in a law firm on the 82nd floor...turned it down to go to S&P.

At one point, I got onto the subway that had begun running again after several hours of being out of service. As I sat on the train, I panicked. Can’t be here…not safe and I bolted from the train. On the way out of the subway, I met a man who asked me if the trains were running…”Yes,” I told him, “but I don’t feel safe here.” After I made back up to street level, I finally made it to 30th and 8th Avenue...I need food and I need Irish. The Molly Wee Pub was mobbed. A man offered his seat. I took it and sobbed on his shoulder for a second or two and ordered a shot of good Irish whiskey to calm my nerves. Amazing, I thought, when the going gets tough; the tough go drinking.

At last, my cell phone rang. Lev called to tell me that Sharon was alive and nearby. 23rd and 9th Avenue at a friend’s house…not a problem after the distance I’d already walked. The apartment was your typical Chelsea apartment, small and small. I saw Sharon and we both dissolved into tears. I was so glad to see her alive and OK.

Eventually, we took the A-train uptown. Everyone was talking about what had occurred downtown. Sharon noticed a man sitting with a huge duffle bag and wearing army fatigue pants. We both felt bad vibes from him; he was smiling and smug and put his sunglasses on when Sharon looked at him. Could he have been involved? Or did we imagine it? Nobody is above suspicion. That’s a huge price to pay in a city as culturally diverse as New York.

Safe at home, at last. I had to take a shower immediately to wash the death and dust off my hair and soul. Unfortunately, the water could only cleanse my body and my clothes. No amount of water or soap will ever wash away the dirt on my soul; not even time can remove that stain. I slept last night; I don’t know how…I guess I was exhausted; physically and emotionally. When I awoke at about 8 AM, I looked outside and thought, “What a beautiful day! What a horrible nightmare!” It wasn’t until I moved. It wasn’t until I felt the soreness in my muscles and my lungs that I remembered… It wasn’t a dream. It was cruel reality.

The wind is from the South tonight and the smell of wire burning and death is creeping up the Hudson River north to the Bronx. It reminds me of the old movie “The Ten Commandments” when the creeping Angel of Death killed Yul Brenner’s son. My immediate coworkers are safe but we don’t know what happened to those employees who were commuting through the World Trade Center at the time of the explosion and subsequent collapse. All we can do is wait and pray.

How will you remember the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks?

Personal reflection and sharing (for the first time publicly) the stories that I wrote in the days, weeks, and months following the attacks. The above story was written as a blog by me on the day after the attacks.

Collection

Citation

Deborah Greenstein, “[Untitled],” September 11 Digital Archive, accessed March 21, 2019, http://dev.911digitalarchive.org/items/show/97049.