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I’m writing this letter to tell you not to worry. I’m safe. I’m OK. I’m shaken beyond comprehension, but physically speaking I’m OK. Yesterday’s events refuse to settle with me. It’s a nightmare I cannot wake from. I’m sitting here now in my small hotel room gazing out the window. The streets are lit with red and blue, the silence broken by the cries of the mothers and the wives, the brothers, fathers, friends…all of those who have lost. A loved one, their sense of security, yesterday everybody was robbed of at least something they held near at one point… And I sit here with my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth and my stomach clenched into knots that I cannot ease. How I wish you were here, I don’t feel that I can endure this madness without you. Although your eyes will never see what mine have just seen, I will do my best to share my memories with you, and describe to you what has occurred only 24 hours ago.
It was beautiful out. The sky was a vibrant blue with scarcely a cloud to disrupt its clarity. I had woken before my alarm, refreshed and renewed, feeling as if I was sitting on top of the world. I sprang out of bed and did a little dance, turning my morning routine into a private concert. Sporting my feel good dress and horseshoe charm bracelet for good luck, I checked myself in the mirror once, twice, three times the charm. I pranced over to my papers strewn across the bed, piling them neatly and sliding them into my leather messenger bag. With an air of confidence and dignity, I strode to the elevator and waited impatiently for it to reach the lobby. I couldn’t stay still. From the walk to the taxi to the actual agonizingly long ride, from the feeling of being a small town girl in a dog eat dog world, to the beforehand butterflies that always plague me before a conference. The sights, the sounds, the overall realization that I was here, in New York City! I was here, and I was ready to strut into that office and take the place by storm. And as I exited the taxi, I stood shivering slightly before two of the most beautiful buildings I’d ever see in my life. I was here. This was happening. It was Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, and I was ready to represent my company with pride.
I squeezed my way inside, blending in with the rest of the crowd. They were dressed to the nines, their heels clacked against the floor, their phones buzzed, voices traveled, laughs boomed, elevators chimed, deals were sealed and people’s dreams were made or broken all in an instant… It was all so fascinating and so...it felt right. I knew right then, I just knew that this was where I belonged.
I finally managed to make my way to the elevator and fit inside, snug against a broad man’s shoulder and wall of the elevator’s interior. I endured the awkward silence of the elevator ride until we reached the 16th floor. The time was 8:40 am. I was early, I knew, but isn’t that a good thing? I was told to always be early for business presentations; it made you look like you care. I wasn’t due in until 9:00 am, so I decided to explore the floor. It was nothing extraordinary. Offices with closed doors, ringing phones. I followed a hallway down until I reached a small waiting area, furnished with padded chairs that faced the windows, overlooking the rest of New York City. I sat myself down gingerly, smoothing out my skirt and tapping my foot restlessly. Time crawled slowly, minutes seemed to become hours, and my butterflies were intensifying. 8:45 am, Tuesday, September 11th, 2001.
My mind was drifting, thoughts set on the meeting to come, when something outside the window grabbed my attention. It was still small, but growing larger by the second. I rose from my seat and stood by the window. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what I was seeing until it hit. Literally.
8:46 am, Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. The tremors that shook the North Tower were worse than any earthquake I had ever endured. The object had been an airplane, and it had just flown straight into the tower. I spun on my heel unsteadily, watching as chaos began to unfold around me. Doors everywhere slammed open, people of all sizes, ages, races and backgrounds scurried to the exit. All very different people, all with one common goal: survival. My mind began to numb as my will to live overtook my senses. My legs carried me straight into the wall of people waiting anxiously for entrance to the stairway. Thankfully Dr. Spear’s office had not been on a higher floor, for I fear this letter would never have reached you if that were so. The stairwell was packed already. Screams of terror and confusion filled the air. Questions. So, so many questions. Had it been a mistake? And if so, what careless pilot would ever make such a foolish one? Were there any lives lost yet? Was help on the way? Will I make it out alive?
I gasped as daylight struck my eyes. I ran out onto the sidewalk, absolute chaos had begun to set in. People. There were so many people. Everywhere! Running in every direction. Away from the danger and into the arms of their loved ones. For their cars, for their homes, for the payphones, for shelter. Engine sirens began to wail above all, fire trucks being patrolled in from every angle. Smoke filled the air with a gray so thick it was if a hole had opened up in the sky and despair was beginning to seep in. With wide eyes I looked every which way, at a loss of where to go. With so much commotion around me, if I moved I was likely to get trampled. And with the enormity of the moment, my feet found themselves rooted in place out of shock, fear, and astonishment. So, I stayed where I was.
It was now 8:50 am and the news reporters were beginning to appear. Vans screeched to a halt as close as they could get and frantic cameramen tumbled out, running with their designated spokesperson to the scene. I strained my ears to catch bits of the report coming from the stern looking woman closest to me.
“…North Tower of the World Trade Center was struck by an airplane approximately 4 minutes ago… No reports of deaths yet as we pray for those caught on the higher floors… Rumors of not an accident but a terrorist attack…” she rambled on and on, but my head was beginning to cloud over. Terrorist attack.
9:03 am, Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. It was a terrorist attack. The screams intensified as fingers pointed to the sky. A second plane was headed straight towards the South Tower, and struck with a ferocity that drowned out all other noise. A thicker musk than before clouded the air, completely blocking all rays of sunshine or blue skies. The ground shook as I swayed on the spot, overwhelmed. And then, (at this point I had lost track of time) the unthinkable happened.
It was like the building was made of paper. One floor after the other after the other… It fell. It fell. I can’t….I can’t even tell you what that was like…It just fell so powerless and defeated. It just collapsed with such a lack of dignity, taking hundreds down with it…boom. And it was gone. Just like that, just like that, it was all gone.
At this point my brain was gone. My heart was gone, lying crushed underneath the rubble with the hundreds of souls searching for an escape. All I remember doing was unclipping that horseshoe charm bracelet of mine, dropping it on the ground next to me, and walking away.
I don’t remember when I learned the details of the attack. I don’t even remember arriving back at the hotel. But here I sit, tears streaming down my face yet again. I will never forget that day, no matter how hard I try. I’ll be arriving home soon, when the commotion subsides even a little bit. Until then, stay safe, and do not worry. I will be home soon.