Remembering 9/11

September 5, 2011 JAlfonso 5 comments

Warning:  this blog is long, originally not meant to be shared..

I can’t believe ten years have gone by since that life-altering day.  For a very long time, I never spoke about it.  This is the first time I am even sharing my experience.  That morning was like any other traveling to work.  As I exited the subway station just a few blocks away from the Twin Towers, I heard the explosion.  I looked up to see flames coming out of one of the Towers.  The women standing next to me tearfully fell to her knees.  I felt nothing.  It was as if I was in a dream state, and it wasn’t really happening.

I walked over to my place of employment where Lance, the owner, was standing and gazing at the disaster unfolding.  I asked Lance if someone had set off a bomb.  The gentleman standing with him replied no.  It was, in fact, an airplane!  Within moments, we began to see dozens of people running up the street, away from the Tower.

Lance sighed and made some comments; however my mind could not focus on what he was saying.  My work companions, now all around me, watching the Tower, in an instant began to sigh, gasp, and cry when we witnessed someone jump.  I still felt nothing.  As they continued to jump, some of my workmates turned away as they could no longer bear to see it.  As shameful as this might seem and difficult to admit, I somehow rationalized in a distorted way that those individuals were choosing to jump.  Perhaps it was a way to justify my lack of emotion.

It was during this period of time that we noticed someone with something white, perhaps a shirt, waving and flagging.  It was one person seeking help, trying to survive while others were choosing to jump.  For some reason, my eye became fixed on him, hoping the helicopters would do something.  I couldn’t understand why they weren’t doing anything.  I watched as he continued to flag for help until the moment that he appeared to collapse, possibly from the heat and smoke rising towards him.  As the shirt fell from the building floating in the wind, the feeling of helplessness overcame me; helpless to do anything to save the life of an unknown person struggling to survive until his last breath.

Keep in mind only minutes had passed, and it was not enough time to absorb and comprehend the significance of what was happening.  While still stunned, the next unthinkable thing took place.  We witnessed an explosion on the second building.  I didn’t see the plane because it came from the opposite direction, only the explosion.  Once again, everyone reacted in horror while I stood unfazed, feeling nothing.  Thinking quickly in his wisdom, Lance told us that we should walk home immediately.  ‘Don’t take the subway,’ he said, ‘they go under the Towers and probably it would be shut down anyway.’  He recommended that we should form groups with coworkers living in the same area.

Galina and I lived in Brooklyn, so together we headed back to Brooklyn.  As we approached the Brooklyn Bridge, I could see thousands and thousands of people with the same dazed look.  I concentrated on the mission to reach home.  They just stood there watching as we easily passed them toward the bridge.  I knew it was a horrible disaster like nothing I had ever seen.  I envisioned that the top pieces of the Towers were capable of falling off onto the street below.  I imagined power outages, even fires extending in lower Manhattan.  This was a moment to let the professionals get in there and do their job, and for the rest of us to clear out.  Why couldn’t they see that?  Why were they just standing there?  Only later did I realize that had it not been for Lance, I would have been another bystander as they finally collapsed.

Galina and I easily walked onto the Brooklyn Bridge.  She cried over her boyfriend who worked in the Towers.  She feared he would lose his life.  I told her that they were evacuating and that he was probably ok.  For now, the goal was to get home.  As we were halfway across, the bridge shook to the very core of its foundation.  We heard and felt the collapse of one of the buildings and we turned to see a giant cloud of dust over lower Manhattan.  It felt like an earthquake and the damage was worse than I could have dreamed.  Galina cried out as I turned her around and continued our journey home.  To make matters worse, someone with a working cell phone said that the Pentagon had been hit, and that possibly more planes were out there to hit important targets.  Someone then suggested the Brooklyn Bridge.  This was another moment of fear and panic.  All I could reason was, well if that is the case, let’s just keep moving and get off this darn Bridge.

If things weren’t surreal enough, the dust from the collapsed Towers showered us.  We covered our faces with our shirts so as not to breathe it in.  Galina and I made it to my home first and from there, she was able to get a ride to her home.  Her boyfriend was fine.  I was happy to be home with my family.

I arrived at home on foot around 12:00 noon.  A number of my friends that lived in my neighborhood and left immediately after the collapse arrived home around 6 in the evening.  The Brooklyn Bridge bottlenecked as all of lower Manhattan now raced to cross it.

After that day, for a very long time, I had trouble sleeping.  It has bothered me to consider that I had so little emotion.  It is more disturbing to contemplate my reaction to those that jumped.  I am not a mind reader so as to know what they were thinking in that horrible time of crisis.  What I do know is that there was one person that I could see trying, fighting for his life.  To this day I can’t escape the image of the shirt falling off the building.  I became transfixed on one sole person trying to survive.  As the days and weeks passed, I grasped that just like that one unknown person, there were thousands more inside also trying to survive.  Also, there were so many courageous firefighters entering the doomed buildings to save lives.  So many people later developed illnesses after working on the rescue efforts. All the families left behind.

I went back to work as soon as I could.  So many of our clients had worked in the Towers and lost their lives.  Curious tourists would come in and ask me lots of questions.  The problem was that I wasn’t ready to chat about it and I still had to be nice.  I constantly had to endure listening to the one subject I didn’t want to deliberate about.  It wasn’t just the tourist.  Many locals needed their voice heard, to cry and unload with someone who shared the experience, someone who could empathize.  I had to be there for them also.  I hear so many people talk about 9/11.  They know so many facts and details.  What would they say if they had lived it in lower Manhattan?  The fact is we all lived it, whether in person or on TV.  It became part of who we are.

I still don’t like sudden noises, not even the phone ringing.  The events of that day forced me to ponder my life.  I always recognized that in an instant I or someone I love could lose our life in some random accident or occurrence, but now it became a realization.  I can take nothing for granted.  It made me ponder about what are the important things in my life.  My priorities shifted.  Although work is vital, my relationship with our Creator and my family are much more significant to me.  As time went by, I realized that the most tragic fear-inspiring day I had ever experienced, the day that changed me forever would be considered nothing compared to Armageddon.  I guess that is why my priorities have changed. Although I believed that I felt nothing, obviously it affected me profoundly in view of the fact I still lose sleep over it.  In fact, when it occurred to me that we are approaching ten years since it happened, I couldn’t sleep for two days.  I am hoping that by writing this, I can get it out of my system.  Then again maybe it won’t.

Update: Since I wrote this very therapeutic blog, I have written several more every year. Below are the links.

Remembering 9/11 My friend Willie

Remembering 9-11 What happened afterward

Remembering 9/11: Rebuilding

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