Mornings in Brooklyn were lazy for me. I hated getting out of bed. Mike worked at Metrotech, Brooklyn's business center, so his commute was an unbelievable 20 minutes door to door. No one in New York has a commute like that. Since he had the better commute and since I was so selfish, I often begged for a subway drop-off by car because I was always running late. He would be saving me the 15 minute walk. He did it often and never complained.
One morning I asked him to leave me at CVS so I could run in and get my birth control pills. I had already missed a day and wanted to catch up ASAP. He insisted the pharmacy would be closed. I still insisted he drop me off there just in case. We went back and forth several times about how I was wasting more time, but then no I would be right....etc. I marched smugly to the back of the store to find the pharmacy closed. He was right.
Even more late for work than usual, I headed to the subway (F train) for a regular Tuesday. I worked for a bank as a temp in HR in Jersey City, NJ. It was ridiculous how many subway lines it took to travel through Brooklyn, then Manhattan, then under water to get to work each day in another state. But it was a good job with a good company, so I knew it was worth it because it would lead to a permanent job.
Like usual I stared at the subway floor waiting for time to pass. People on, people off. The typical jerking of the train car as it switched tracks and adjusted its gears. It was a warm, sunny day for September. I checked my watch and saw I was running more than my typical chunk of time behind, but not too terrible that I needed to feel stressed about it. We came to my final stop in Manhattan in my journey before transferring, Cortlandt Street. The train car was packed, the doors opened, but no one moved. Someone on the platform said "what was that sound?" I don't know if someone else or that same person said something about a 'boom'. A few people got off, but the doors were staying open. I saw a poof of brown dust and broken glass drop onto the platform from the sidewalk grates in the sidewalk above us. In my mind I thought 'I am not going to suffocate and die in this subway train in the event more smoke were to come in! Get me outta here'.
I nudged past several people, still few were speaking and it was silent in the air. A man going up the steps in front of me hesitated, but I put my hand on his back and voiced my urgency "go!" He sped up. Once I got above ground I saw cars and taxis stopped in the middle of the street with heads poking out car windows and looking up, people standing on the sidewalk and in the street on mobile phones talking about what we were all looking at: smoke streaming out of the world trade center. Downtown Manhattan felt like it was frozen all around this trail of smoke sneaking out of a really tall building. Perfect pieces of paper were floating from the sky like a ticker tape parade. It was like all the filing cabinets got shaken, however no folders or furniture or anything else was on the ground. Just perfect sheets of work paper similar to ones I had waiting for me on my desk. I looked at one work form and almost wanted to keep it, but left it on the ground because I felt sick for thinking of the person who started their morning just like mine, only they might be burning or suffocating from smoke right that moment. She used a felt tip pen on that paper, wrote a name on it, it was in black.
My typical commute would be to cross the street and enter the world trade center building that was not burning then to get into a train that carried me into New Jersey. I decided immediately I wasn't going to work that day. Then I thought bomb. That was all I could think. My feet ran, I was the only one leaving the area for some reason, those feet took me as fast as they could to 1 Chase Plaza a couple blocks away where I knew I could get a subway home. I stopped in the retail part of the bank open to the public to use a phone to call Mike and tell him I was okay- I just used the first phone I could find on a desk. Rules didn't matter. People were walking into the building with grey soot on their heads and they didn't even realize it. Got his voicemail. A woman working there was crying and her coworkers were comforting her, asking which floor and which building he worked on. I think they had her breathing into a paper bag. I then ran down the stairs to the 2/3 subway and the ticket person said it was a plane. I told her it had to be a bomb and wished she would join me on the train and go home, too.
The train was ghostly empty. I was shaking like a leaf, hoping no more 'bombs' would go off above my head. A girl from another train car got off at my station. We walked up the street together with the silence in the air, much smoke pouring from Manhattan's skyline, and dozens of fire engine sirens from far and near sounding in every direction. It made me feel sick, to know they were going where I couldn't get away from fast enough. I had no idea what was happening, I just knew I needed to get far away. And I had no idea how the people in those trucks were going to get those people help in that building so high up there.
I got home and the phone didn't want to work. I should remember who I spoke with first, it might have been my mom or my sister. I just remember my t.v. wouldn't work so she was giving me all these details my head couldn't accept. Planes?! No. I was just standing there, I didn't see any evidence of that. As I tried to think about all the details another plane went down and the buildings collapsed while I was on the phone with my sister. A lot happened during my commute home and it didn't stop happening.
I remember a thin layer of gray ash on the roof of my car. In Brooklyn. Way far away. I remember walking around my small apartment and cleaning just to keep from crying and waiting impatiently for Mike to get home. He walked home. The subways closed down right away. Not sure how I snuck home, everyone else had to cross the Brooklyn Bridge by foot. He had seen from his building in Brooklyn on the 11th floor the second plane go in. He was looking out the window when I tried calling him. He saw that second plane go into a building I normally would have been commuting through right about that time had I not gone to the closed pharmacy that morning, giving me an extended delay I will always be grateful for.
When I finally went back to work (1 week later?), it was incredibly hard to trust that everything and everyone in my path would be safe. I wanted to hid under my bed forever, but then they would be winning. And we can't have that. No one talked, no one smiled, no one made eye contact during those first weeks back to work. I think we were all just lost in thought about it. Like a long-term moment of silence. And then everywhere you turned there were photos of people posted "missing". Hopeful loved ones. Weeks those pictures were posted all over of faces that were all done here on earth. And even though I wished they were all just lost and disoriented on a street somewhere to be found, I knew they weren't.
I never wanted to write about this, it was such a dark day it's like tweaking the nerve endings of my guts to speak and write about it. Especially after knowing the survivor stories I have read and heard first hand. I don't have much to say, my experience was so slim and easy. I didn't see body parts, death, nor pass bits of airline seats, or run out of the burning building. I didn't save anyone, comfort anyone, or lose a friend or relative. I was just a really lucky wife and daughter and sister that got to live. And that day I felt so grateful for the breath moving in and out of my chest. I never want to forget that feeling. The gift of being alive.