My 9/11 Experience…

In Family, Life, Life Lessons on May 3, 2011 at 7:30 am

I didn’t personally lose any loved ones on 9/11, but it did have an effect on me because I was as close as you can get to it without actually being a part of it.

For those of you around the country that watched this all unfold as if it were a tragic movie, trust me, it was more real that any of us would like to believe.

At the time of this tragedy, I was living in Jersey City, NJ in a condo on the water. The view from my balcony was the Twin Towers. In fact, I could even sit on my couch and see the towers hovering above the whole city. Below is a recap of what the day was like for me, and the aftermath, which changed my life forever.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

Around 8:50am, I got in the shower to get ready for work. I worked in the music industry at the time, so my hours were later than most commuters. While in the shower the phone kept ringing. I knew that it was probably my wife who was already at work in lower Manhattan. Usually she would just leave me a message for me to call her, but this time she kept calling and calling.

When I answered the phone, I said “Why do you keep calling, why didn’t you just leave me a message and wait for me to call back?” She replied, “Look out the window.” I stepped out onto my balcony to take a look and was shocked to see a hole in one of the Towers. We spoke for a little while and we both thought, as others did, that a small plane probably hit the tower. It didn’t look good, but at the time, we had no idea of what was to follow.

We hung up the phone, and I continued to get ready for work, not realizing that the Path Train that I was planning on taking had already been stopped, as it ran directly under the World Trade Center. I watched the news from a vantage point that allowed me to see the TV and the Towers at the same time.

On TV, I saw the 2nd Tower get hit live. I immediately called my wife (whose office was about 10 blocks away) and told her to get home now. She asked why. I told her that terrorists were attacking NYC. Not realizing the gravity of the situation, or maybe overwhelmed by shock, she responded, “but it’s not my building.” At that time, she and other co-workers were watching the events out of their office windows. I said to her “Just leave. Quit your fucking job if you have to, but get home now!” Fortunately, she was the first one out of her office. Others that waited ended up covered in soot and had to be hosed off when reaching their destination. To this day no one knows what health effects these people may suffer down the road as a result of the exposure.

My wife got to the ferry which took her directly back to our condo complex. Normally, it was a 10-minute ride, and ran basically every 10 minutes during rush hour. She should have been home no later than 9:30am. However, the ferry was packed, and they were told to move much slower than usual to avoid creating underwater currents that could contribute to the possible structural problems that the Towers were facing. By my wife’s recollection, there were papers and debris flying all over the docks, which were about a half mile away. I kept trying to call her on her cell phone, but all lines were busy and remained that way for most of the day. I had the helpless feeling of just waiting for her arrival.

Sitting in shock on the couch, watching the towers burn at a little after 10am, I felt a rumble (like a small earthquake) and then Tower 1 collapsed. With only the Hudson River separating my condo from the Towers, there was nothing to block the tremors that were felt when the tower collapsed. When Tower 1 went down, and my wife was still not home, and unable to be reached by cell phone, I feared the worst and lost it. Already in a terrible state-of-mind after suddenly losing my father less than 2 months earlier, I thought that my world had ended. Fortunately, my wife walked in a few minutes after Tower 1 went down and explained what had happened, and why it took so long to get home.

Along with all of our neighbors, we both sat and watched in shock and horror as Tower 2 went down right before our eyes. Words can’t describe the feelings we had. After all, one of the appeals of this condo was the view of the Towers, and now it was gone, replaced by a cloud of smoke that would hover literally for months, with a burning smell that cannot be described by words. During this time, we couldn’t open our windows because the smell would be in our home.

To make matters worse, our condo complex was also a ferry destination. Most of the people that took the ferry worked in lower Manhattan, and the cars were parked outside the gate of our community all day long. When September 12th came, there were still a number of cars sitting parked outside of the gate. The only cars to park there were commuters, as nothing else was close by. These cars were a constant reminder of those that didn’t make it out of the Towers. Slowly over the following months, the cars started to disappear, but it took a long time before the final car was picked up by a loved one.

After returning to work a few days later, the Empire State Building was evacuated due to a terror threat. I left my office, along with many others, and my wife did the same. It took hours to get home as there was a mad rush out of NYC. When we got home, I told my wife that we had to get out of town for a while, or I was going to lose it. It was all too much to take. The pain of my father’s passing was only made worse by the cloud of smoke, the constant burning smell, the cars that still lingered outside of our community and the terror threats still coming. We retreated to upstate NY to visit her parents for a few days. A place that is usually a little too slow-paced for me (not much to do in this small upstate town) became a temporary haven, as I was finally able to get away from the chaos and into a peaceful place. The sights and sounds, and even the smell of the country air provided us with a great respite from the turmoil that we were living through.

After 9/11, there was a truly eerie silence blanketing NYC. A cloud of shock and despair hung over our grieving city. Suddenly, New Yorkers that were always in a rush and usually fairly impatient with each other, became quiet and polite. Horns weren’t honking at each street corner. Hopefully, most of you can’t relate to this, but it had a feeling similar to that of a high school after a student dies. It’s a silence, a mood, that is so thick that you feel like you can touch it, or cut it with a knife. It was so surreal, and it lasted for about 3-4 weeks, and seemed to end overnight. The process of getting back to “normal” was not at all gradual. It seemed that there was a grieving process and then it was time for New Yorkers to be New Yorkers (for better or worse).

I kept commuting to NYC, but hated being there. I had always been interested in real estate, so I started reading self-help books and real estate books to make the commute more tolerable. I was in the sales profession for years before becoming a real estate agent, but always resisted it because I didn’t want to work weekends. When I finally made the decision, it was the best one that I could have ever made. I wish that I had done it sooner, but I guess it just wasn’t the right time. Ultimately, that day may have actually sped up my entry into the real estate profession.

Although there have been good times and bad times as a real estate agent, the flexibility has allowed me to spend a lot of quality time with my family. After 9/11, and my father’s sudden passing, I realize that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Life is far too short and fragile to be spending it commuting on a train to jobs that I didn’t find fulfilling.

As Americans, this day should have had a tremendous impact on us all. It should truly be a day of remembrance and a national holiday, but unfortunately, people would eventually use it as a chance for a barbecue or getaway so it’s better not to declare it a holiday. For those of us that were touched by this tragedy directly by losing a loved one or friend or even surviving, but being close to the action, this day will never be about “business as usual.”


The Victims of September 11, 2001

The above website lists all of the victims of 9/11, each one featuring a profile about the person and a place for comments by friends and loved ones. It’s more than a list of names, which may be hard to relate to. It’s a list of people, people that were parents, people that were someone’s child, people that had friends and careers and lived until their lives were taken from them by evil cowards that deserve to suffer until the end of time. Please take a moment and read about some of these people. If you never felt connected to the situation, you will now.


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