08 September 2011


It's strange what things stick in your mind.  The inconsequential things.  It's not that you forget the larger things, just that something small stays with you, something that you hang on to through everything else.

For me, it was the tightness of my shoes.

My day was supposed to be filled with training classes.  I'd be sitting far longer than I would be standing, so when I got dressed that morning, I figured the slight tightness of my cute Mary Janes wouldn't be a problem.  If worst came to worst, I could kick them off under my desk.  And really, it made my black corduroy jumper look even better.

The class didn't start until 9, but my train got me in at 7:30.  I stopped by Burger King to grab some breakfast, then headed to main office building where the class was being held.  Since I knew I'd have time to wait, I'd brought my cross-stitch along.  I stitched while chatting with the instructor.  He'd been my instructor for a few of the other Microsoft Office training classes, so it was a little catching up.  Slowly, people started to trickle in, the classroom filling with people wanting to learn how to make the most out of Access.  I put my stitching away and got ready to start working on the computer. As I looked around, I noticed that one of my co-workers wasn't there. She was supposed to take the class with me.  It was odd that she wasn't there, but I figured that she may have called in.  It wouldn't have been the first time.

About 15 minutes into the class, she arrived, apologizing for her lateness.  Traffic, she said, was horrible because of the plane that hit the tower.  No one really realized what she'd said, or if they did, no one mentioned it.  The instructor just kept going on with the class and we kept paying attention.

At around 10, the class was briefly interrupted again.  One of the girls was a new hire from Human Resources and one of her co-workers came in to speak to her.  She took her from the room and five minutes later, my classmate came back in, grabbed her stuff and left.  The instructor didn't say anything to her.

15 minutes after that, it was time for our first break.  And it was only then that we found out what was going on.  Two planes had hit the Twin Towers.  Since we were across the street from the Empire State Building, our whole building was being evacuated.  At the time there were just rumors of what was happening, but terrorism was definitely on the table.  The trains, subways and busses weren't running.  We just needed to wait and see.

Thankfully, my own office building was a few blocks away.  My co-worker and I decided to see if they'd been evacuated.  We hurried from the building out to the street.  People were running everywhere.  I was used to the hustle and bustle of New York, but this was different.  There was a frantic quality that I wasn't used to seeing from the normally implacable New Yorkers.  The payphones had queues of people, desperately trying to reach loved ones to be certain they were ok.  I pulled out my cell as I walked, trying to get through to my boyfriend.  He worked at JFK and I worried that something may have happened there as well.  But trying to get through on cell phones was almost impossible - too many people were trying to do it.

When I got back to my office, I had to show my ID before I was allowed upstairs.  It didn't matter that the guard knew me.  Protocol was being followed strictly that day.  We were also told that if we left again, we wouldn't be allowed back in the building.  The only reason we were allowed in at all now was because we hadn't been in the building to begin with.

My floor was eerily subdued.  Most of my co-workers were sitting the conference room, the television tuned to NY1.  I stopped by my desk, finding a message from my boyfriend.  He'd forgotten that I had training that day, so he called to see if I was watching what was going on outside.  I tried calling him back, but couldn't reach him.  I did, however, reach his mother.  She assured me that he was alright.

Little bit by little bit, information came in to us.  It had been terrorists that had hijacked the planes and flown them into the Towers.  And those two weren't the only planes taken over.  Another was flown into the Pentagon, and a third went down in Pennsylvania.  Everything inside of New York was still shut down as they tried to find out more.  Vehicles weren't being allowed over the bridges, but pedestrians would be allowed to walk to the Boroughs.  The streets were silent.

Around noon, NY1 was reporting that they were going to start the trains soon, trying to get more people out of the city.  Several friends and I decided to chance it.  But once we get to Penn Station, it looked like nothing was going to be happening for awhile.  My friends decided they were going to walk to Queens and I was welcome to come with them.  I wanted to, but my shoes were starting to pinch.  Many of the shops around Penn Station were open, but none of them had shoes that I could purchase.  The closest I'd be able to find were slippers, and I knew they'd never make it.

Between my lack of comfortable footwear and my asthma, I decided that I'd wait for the trains to start running again.  The day was getting to be incredibly hot and I figured they couldn't have it be too much longer before the trains ran, could it?

At noon, I started at the top of the steps near the 32nd Street entrance to Penn Station.  The sun beat down and, for New York, it was quiet with just a small buzz of conversation.  Over the next three hours, I managed to move forward until I was standing at the barriers they had erected.  At one point, before I reached the front of the crowd, everyone went completely silent.  We all heard the same thing - a plane flying overhead.  With frightened eyes, we looked up, wondering if another attack was coming.  It was a USAF jet, there to keep us safe.  But our first thoughts were ones of fear.

As I stood in the hot sun, my feet began to hurt more and more.  I wanted, desperately, to take my shoes off.  But I knew that if I did, I'd never get them back on.  I just prayed that soon, soon they'd let us get on our trains and leave for Long Island.  Though my pained feet did give me something to keep my mind away from worry and speculation.  I had something else to focus on.

So many things were happening that day, during the waiting that we needed to endure.  And most of them were good.  People that didn't know one another - that never saw each other again - were doing what they could.  Someone handed me a cold bottle of water, just because he said it looked like I needed it.  People were letting others closer to the barrier, under the small amount of shade, if they looked like they needed it.  People were being courteous to one another, caring, hopeful and helpful.

It was around 3:30 when they announced they'd start running the trains.  Those of us heading on the Long Island Railroad needed to go to the 34th Street entrance.  The stairs there went directly down to the LIRR level.  Enemas, a large part of the crowd around the 32nd Street entrance headed over 2 blocks.  At the bottom of the stairs were a few people with clipboards, letting people know what track their train would be leaving from.  No train would leave until it was full, because they wanted as few trains running as possible.  Mine, being one of the spur lines, was one of the last to come in.  If it were just the stops on the spur, I don't know when we would have gotten out of there.  But there were several large change-over stops along our route.  I sat close to the window, gratefully having taken my shoes off at last to allow my feet a rest.  I stared out the window, watching people rush to trains.  The two seats next to me quickly filled up. And, finally, the train started to move about 30 minutes later.

Along the way, I called my boyfriend, asking him to meet me at the station.  I wasn't sure if I'd be able to walk home.  He did and we went back to his house, silently watching the television to see what else was happening.  I didn't really want to watch it, but like any tragedy, I couldn't look away. I needed to know more.

I was one of the lucky New Yorkers that day.  No one that I knew died.  But almost everyone else I knew had lost someone, including my boyfriend.  One of my friends arrived at her job at the Tower right as the plane hit.  She was among the first to be evacuated and made it home safely.

It took several days before I really saw the extent of the devastation.  I didn't go in to work on Wednesday or Thursday, but on Friday... Friday, I had to because I needed to meet someone in New Jersey that afternoon for a ride to my sister's bachelorette party. And when I stepped off the train for the first time since Tuesday morning, I was assaulted with flyers.  Over every free surface, flyers were taped, begging for information about loved ones.  Faces in black and white smiled out at passesrby, being caught it a moment of happiness. The names and faces started to blur together for me.  There were too many of them.

On my walk to work, I passed the fire station two doors down from my office.  A poster was propped on an easel with remembrances of all the firefighters they'd lost from that station.  Included was a very special man, Father. Mychal Judge.  He was a Franciscan Monk from the monastery across the street, as well as the chaplain.  He was killed by falling debris while administering to the dying.  There are many that consider this man a saint, not just for the work he did that day before he was killed, but for other things that happened throughout his life.

Along with the poster, a forest of candles sat on the ground around the easel.  Many had come to pay their respects to those lost.  For months, I would cry as I walked past the station.  Hell, I would cry the moment I got of the train, to be honest.  Even though I hadn't lost anyone personally, every single innocent that was lost that day struck me deeply.  I have a fair amount of empathy for those around me, and that makes times like the days after 9/11 harder for me.

I moved away from New York on September 29, 2002.  I was moving to Philadelphia to be with my fiancé.  But I did have one last chance to say good-bye and thank you.  On September 11, 2002, there were bells placed throughout the city.  One was on our street, between the fire station and the monastery.  One of the members of the fire department made a speech and we all had a moment of silence.  Anyone that wanted to could ring the bell for those they'd lost.  I rang the bell for all the lost, tears streaming down my face.  Every one of them deserved to be remembered that day.

The following year, I got married on September 13.  Even though I wasn't originally thinking about it the day my husband and I planned our wedding, it became a way to bring happiness back to the time of year.  I would never, ever forget what had happened that day - though, thankfully, time has softened many of the edges - but I can also find a reason to celebrate that time of year.  Love, I hope, is a good way to remember those that we lost.  And what better way than to celebrate a marriage?

This was written for MamaKat's Pretty Much World Famous Writer's Workshop.  It is written for the 4th prompt, 9/11 Memories.  I debated writing for the third prompt, First Day of School Pics, Let's Have 'em, but posted those back on Teddy's first day of school.  If you'd be interested in seeing them, please read this post.

Mama’s Losin’ It