September 11, 2013. You’ll look at the month and date and you’ll probably pause and reflect. You’ll look at the year and you’ll not believe that that much time has passed.
It has and always will be the worst day of my life—most other people will probably consider it to be their worst day, too.
I wrote about what was then the eighth anniversary back in 2009. Everything I said then still applies now.
September 11: a Day I’ll Never Enjoy
The day is still a touchy subject for me to discuss or to hear discussions about. It’s a day that nearly ended horribly for me and was a day filled with such horrible memories.
I remember waking up in the morning not looking forward to another day of school. My mother left for work that morning and said goodbye to me; I didn’t really answer back with an emphatic goodbye of my own as I was still partially asleep. I didn’t think it was a big deal since I assumed I’d see her come home later. I was more concerned with catching the bus and then the train to school.
As I rode a Diamond-Q train over the Manhattan Bridge (at the time, the Q train had two varieties: a “circle-Q” and a “diamond-Q.” It made a few people confused), I looked out the window at the magnificent view of downtown Manhattan. The skies were perfectly clear—a deep, azure blue—and the sun was shining brightly. There was that Verizon building and further behind it were One Liberty Plaza (where my mom used to work) and the two twin towers that made up Tower 1 and Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. I was spoiled by such a beautiful view and I had always thought I’d see it again.
The start of the day was rather ordinary. I had a technical drawing class to start the day (we drew things in AutoCAD) and then an English class after that. Sometime during English, an announcement was made over the loudspeaker, something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center.
The World Trade Center…that’s where Mommy works.
Right then, I finally put two and two together, I had this sinking feeling inside, a feeling of horror, terror, and fright all coalesced as one. Students who had family working in the towers were asked to gather in the auditorium. I asked my teacher, with a quivering voice, to be dismissed. As I made the trek downstairs, I tried my hardest to hold back my tears.
There was no way I was going to lose my mother that day. No way.
The auditorium was rather morose as it was filled with others like me, who had no idea if they were going to see their parents, uncles, and/or other relatives at the end of the day. Several were crying. I sat next to a girl whom I had some disagreements with in the past over petty issues; all of that was put aside as we both joined in prayer.
I wasn’t religious at all but I needed something to take my mind off of the horror that was transpiring outside and something that could ensure I’d see Mommy again.
Yes, call me a Momma’s Boy if you want, but I was close with my mother. She, after all, took care of me, raised me, supported me (you know, the things a responsible mother does)—the thought of losing her just like that, without even saying a proper goodbye, was too much for me to handle. Speaking of things too much to handle, there was a radio in the auditorium that was broadcasting what was happening at the World Trade Center. All we heard were sirens and people running and fleeing in terror; it was hardly something that could placate a bunch of worried teenagers.
I never saw the towers collapse, or get hit by the planes, though to this day, I swear that I actually heard them falling. I remember hearing a faint rumble in the auditorium, and hearing the ceiling creaking and rattling more than it normally would on any given day. I think I would have been completely inconsolable (and seeking counseling) if I had seen that in person, especially as I didn’t know of my mother’s whereabouts.
She worked in Tower 2 (the South Tower and the second one to get hit) and was still working at her desk when the first plane hit. I think she told me that she recalled hearing some sort of sound from outside but didn’t think much of it and remained at her desk working conscientiously—she was, and still is, always known her strong work ethic. Eventually, someone rushed in and basically told her to get out of the office because a plane had hit the other tower. She couldn’t gather all her belongings (including a little plant she had and pictures of me and my brother) but she only told me recently that she thought of only two people as she was evacuating: her mother and me. That thought alone still gets to me sometimes when I think about it.
She and a co-worker both got out of the building, even though others were going back in and milling around inside one of the skylobbies because they thought nothing more was going to happen. If it wasn’t for that co-worker who was adamant about leaving, my mom might not even be alive today. Sometime after she had escaped, and was onboard the M train, the second plane hit.
The rest of my day was spent in the auditorium as I sat trying to figure out what to do. Some teachers did walk around with bottled water for us. By the afternoon, many students were just cutting class and hanging out in the auditorium. I still chuckle at this comment some other student made:
Okay, this is the start of World War III, IV AND V!
Eventually I managed to make a phone call inside someone’s office and I called home. My father answered and after asking him about my mother’s whereabouts, he told me she was on her way to pick me up. I couldn’t believe it at first and I had to ask him a couple more times just so I knew I heard exactly what I had heard. Within a half hour or so, my brother was inside looking for me.
He led me outside and I finally saw my mother standing in front of me. I don’t think I had ever hugged her for so long or with as much strength. We cried together in our embrace. Shortly afterward I looked towards the sky and saw a giant plume of yellowish-grey smoke—the World Trade Center was gone. I used to be able to see the Twin Towers from outside my school on a daily basis. I had thought there was a partial collapse and that the planes that hit the tower were just small private aircraft.
It was a somber drive home as we drove up Myrtle Avenue (highways were closed, I think, so we had to rely on this local street) and went to a McDonald’s drive-thru for dinner (I remember eating a McChicken sandwich). It was just so weird that the World Trade Center was now gone. The Twin Towers that could be seen from practically anywhere were now just memories.
I don’t remember as much of the evening once I got back home. That morning’s “goodbye” turned out not to be the final one she ever made and I hope that final goodbye doesn’t come for a very long time.
The happiness I once had after seeing my mom alive dissipated and became more of a general aura of sadness. I couldn’t believe how many lives were lost that day, how many children never got to see their fathers and/or mothers return; even a story about dogs whose owners died on 9/11 saddened me because it mentioned how the dogs were still waiting by the door for their owners to come home weeks after the attacks had already taken place.
My future children will probably be asking me where I was on September 11 and if I have any “cool” stories to tell. I’ll probably relay this same story to them that I had shared with you and perhaps teach them never to think of a routine as being absolute because it can change in an instant. And I guess I can teach them the value of life as well.
Epilogue: I just remembered my mother was also working near the World Trade Center in 1993 when terrorists first tried to blow up the Twin Towers by detonating a bomb inside a truck parked inside an underground garage. The goal was to have one tower topple onto the other. My mom worked in One Liberty Plaza, located directly next to the World Trade Center, but she was unharmed. I was still in first grade and I don’t really remember that much of that day, other than being dismissed early from school and how a lot of the channels were showing the same thing (coverage of the bombing).
Her office at One Liberty Plaza was literally next to the Twin Towers—if you were to walk towards the window and stare out, the Twin Towers were practically right there in your face. It was a beautiful view.
My mom always wanted to take me and my brother to the World Trade Center to eat at this restaurant. No, not Windows on the World, but there was some other restaurant on the ground level or in the basement that she wanted us to go to. There was also a Borders bookstore that she went to on occasion.