Living in NYC on 9/11 and experiencing the aftermath in person was difficult to say the least. I was working part-time as a Desk Assistant at Nightly News with Tom Brokaw and interning at I/D Public Relations.
That morning, I was on the 6 train heading to 51st Street when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. When I got off the train I remember thinking it was a beautiful day. As I walked towards 30 Rock, I overheard people saying that a plane had hit the WTC. I thought, how the hell does that happen? How do you not see two giant towers sticking up in the sky?
As I got into the elevator at 30 Rock and headed to the 3rd floor, I arrived just in time to see the second plane hit. It was pretty clear that this was no accident. I worked in the newsroom throughout the day and into the night. Most of the details are pretty fuzzy to me at this point. I remember finally being able to get ahold of my brother to tell him I was okay (cell service wasn’t working); getting phone calls in the newsroom from people downtown who were trying to call the police (a producer had a very similar phone number); Ron Insana arriving in the newsroom from the WTC area covered head to toe in soot. I had no idea how I was going to get home, I figured the subway was still shut down. But, it was running – it was free and completely deserted. I got back to my Upper East Side apartment sometime around 9:00 pm (I think). I had left the windows open since it was such a nice day. My tiny apartment smelled like smoke… all the way on 95th Street.
In the days that followed, Manhattan was different. There were people all over the streets, but it was quiet. Everyone talked to each other. So many people were looking for loved ones. It became difficult to find some necessities like milk and juice and produce – since everything is trucked in from outside Manhattan. I remember going to 3 different stores before finding orange juice.
Again, I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was a few days before they allowed subway and pedestrian traffic below 14th Street. I remember going to the I/D PR offices and walking along Canal Street. There was this little restaurant that remained open for the First Responders, it was constantly filled with police and fire fighters not only from NYC, but from many other cities – they felt like they had to come help their brothers and sisters. I always made sure to say hello and thank you to them as I passed. It just felt like the right thing to do. I had a feeling I can’t describe seeing those men and women there, knowing at that point that the likelihood of finding survivors was slim. But, they didn’t give up. You could see on their faces that even though they really needed a break for some food and water, they wished they were back at Ground Zero helping dig through the rubble. Aside from the overwhelming love for these folks, there are two things that I remember very clearly about those days walking along Canal Street that will haunt me forever. The first is the sound of the emergency whistles attached to the firefighters that were buried; the second is the smell.
But, now as a mother, this one memory sticks out to me and breaks my heart into pieces. There was a woman in my building that I saw often. She had twins – maybe 9 months old. Afterwards, as she roamed the streets with her babies, she had a sign hanging from her stroller that said “Have you seen our daddy?” with a photo of her husband. I don’t know her name and I don’t know if he ever came home to his family. But, I think of them often.
While the specific details have gotten fuzzy over the years, I will never forget 9/11 and the sacrifice so many people made – hundreds of them while trying to help others. The one image that sticks out in my mind after 13 years is this one… and it takes my breath away every.single.time.
And I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.
And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land God bless the U.S.A