Where I Was 9 Years + 362 Days Ago

It was the day that the world changed.

The day that loved ones were lost.

The day that a piece of America fell apart.

The day that I woke up in New York City for a morning class, not knowing how drastically life would change in just a few short hours.

Everyone has a story of September 11, 2001. Today I’m going to tell you mine. It's a long one, but I hope you'll stick around for it.

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In September, 2001 I was just beginning my sophomore at NYU. I was living in a dorm in Chinatown with 3 of my good friends. We had a great place! Big bedrooms, a nice bathroom. We were so excited to decorate! For those of you who don’t know, Chinatown is about 10 blocks or so North of the World Trade Center site.

It was a week after classes had started and my great friend Maggie and I walked to class in Greenwich Village. We had a science lab together; a class I was dreading because I was always more of an English/Reading/Writing type brain and my skills in Math & Science were lacking, at best.

It was such a gorgeous day. Seriously. It was one of those days that makes you feel happy to be alive. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t hot. The sky was the clearest blue. The wind was blowing a perfectly cool breeze. I was so happy to be living in the greatest city in the entire world on such a beautiful day. Everything was good. Everything was right.

Maggie and I stopped across the street from our class for coffee. Well, I got coffee...Maggie stuck with her bottled Starbucks frap. Love ya girl, those always make me think of you. As we crossed the street to our building on Waverly Place, I looked overhead to see a giant airplane directly above us.

It was flying so low!

I turned to Maggie and said...”Isn’t that plane flying a little low?” She nodded and shrugged and we walked into the building. I wouldn’t think of that plane again until that evening, where that scene would continue to play in my head until...now, at least.

Maggie & me at my wedding in 2008

We went to our class. Not 15 minutes later our TA told us that someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center. All I could think of was...like a small, prop plane? That’s weird. What kind of idiot does that? I hope no one was hurt.

Our class resumed as normal. We didn’t have windows in the room or TV or smartphones. No one knew the gravity of the situation. We assumed it was a small plane and a small accident had happened.

Near the end of class, our professor came in. He said that the World Trade Center was gone.


I didn’t know what that meant. Could you have fathomed what that meant? I couldn’t. I was 19 and my mind couldn’t comprehend it. How could it be gone? It didn’t make sense. It just wasn’t possible. This man obviously heard the news incorrectly or was certifiably insane.

Two planes flew into the World Trade Center, and now they were gone.

It was an act of terrorism. The buildings and the people inside of them no longer existed.

All I could think about was my Dad. He was flying to California that day. I didn’t know at what time or on what flight. I left the classroom to try and call him. My calls wouldn’t go through.

10 years ago, cell phones were still on the newer side. And terrorism wasn’t something that I’d really lived through...it wasn’t something that had made an impact on my life. If my cell phone randomly stopped putting calls through today in 2011, I’d know instantly that something was wrong. But at that time, I thought it was just shoddy service.

this was my cell phone in 2001. yep.

I went back to the class and everyone was exiting. I found Maggie and we poured out onto the city streets, which were in utter chaos. I spotted a pay phone on Broadway...I had to call my Dad! But the line was so long and people were walking up Broadway like floating on a current in the river. There were so many people everywhere.

{I should say here that somehow, I felt in the pit of my stomach that my Dad was ok and wasn’t on one of the planes. You know how people get those feelings that something bad has happened? I had the opposite. Even though I couldn’t get in touch with him or couldn’t call him, somehow, I felt that he was ok and still in his office on 34th Street probably wondering where I was}.

Maggie and I tried to start walking downtown toward our apartment to find our other roommates. Somehow, we spotted them in the crowd of people walking North. They told us that they had to leave the apartment. We couldn’t go back there because of what had happened. I still didn’t even understand what had happened. The entire neighborhood was evacuated. We didn’t know what to do. Subways weren’t running. Phones weren’t working. Trains, ferries and buses were shut down. There was no way out of Manhattan.

Where do you go when tragedy strikes? When you can’t get in touch with your loved ones? How will they know that you’re ok? Or where to find you? At the time, I was 100% unprepared for anything like this...and why would I have been prepared? It wasn’t the same world that it is today.

I knew that whether my Dad was in town or not, we could go to his office and at least stay there until we could get out of New York. It was near Penn Station and Port Authority, so we could try to get a train or bus out to NJ at some point. So that’s where we headed. We walked from NYU campus to West 34th Street all the way on the West side.

On the hour + walk to my dad’s office, I felt like I was in a movie. There were no cars or buses running. It was silent. No babies crying. No one yelling. People were walking down the middle of the streets like the end of the world was coming. Car doors were opened in the streets with radios blaring so people could hear the latest news. The country was under attack. A plane flew into the Pentagon. A plane went down on its way to The White House. Was it over? Was there more on its way? What did this mean?

Eventually the four of us made it to Dad’s office. He was there! He had been in touch with my mom (who had been in touch with Shaun) and he assumed that when everything went down (pun not intended), I’d head for his office. Ah instincts. They are amazing, aren’t they? I felt relief. I was with my Dad, so no matter what, we’d be ok.

But then I learned of all the people we knew who worked in or around the World Trade Center. We didn’t know if they were ok. Our neighbor. Friends from our hometown. My mom’s cousin. My sister’s best friend’s dad. We’d learn later that some made it out ok...and sadly, others did not.

Still unsure of what to do next, my Dad (the ultimate calm person in horrible situations) took us for lunch down the street. There was nothing else to do. We ate lunch in silence. The restaurant was packed with people. It’s an odd scene to think back to.

Then we found out that some trains were running. Two of the girls got a train to Westchester while Maggie, my dad and I hopped a train to Jersey. People on the train were covered in ash, I assume from having been at or near the WTC site. We arrived home where I watched countless hours of footage, still in disbelief of all that had happened...and all that was yet to come. I felt so lucky, yet my mind reeled with ‘what if’s’. What if I’d been at my apartment that morning? What if I’d gone to Century 21 (the discount department store) at the World Trade Center site, something I’d planned to do the very next morning?

I was so happy to be safe. But I had no idea how the world would change so drastically after that day. Heightened security everywhere...a seemingly unending war...fear.

Last week, I came across a photo gallery on Yahoo of 9/11. It contained those first shocking images of the first Tower that was struck. Smoke and debris are exploding out of it. Horrific images of people jumping from the top floors to escape the extreme heat. Ten years later, it made me feel a mix of emotions. Namely nausea, sweaty, shaky hands and a giant, painful lump in my throat with an intense desire to cry. Even as I write this, I have tears in my eyes.

And still, 10 years later, I remember it like it was yesterday. I get an inkling of this feeling every time I take the Path home from the World Trade Center stop. In ways, it feels like being on a movie set. Huge overhead lights. Building construction. In my head, I can still see the crowds of people everywhere. I can still hear the radios blaring in the quiet Manhattan streets. Something still feels missing when I stare into the Manhattan skyline from Jersey City.

lower Manhattan, as seen from the marina in Newport/Pavonia

I still get a pang of fear when the Path train stops underground for more than 30 seconds. Or when I see gun-toting NYPD officers in the subway stations.

So despite the politics and media saturation that will go along with this occasion, join me in taking a moment to remember. Remember the people that were (and who live on in spirit), the amazing building that was and the world we lived in before that day. I don't think I'll ever forget.