Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Dormez vous? Dormez vous?
Sonnez les matines, Sonnez les matines
Din din don, din din don
As is a tradition for this blog, I repost my personal story of September 11 every year here to pay tribute to the memory of an experience that profoundly shaped and saddened so many lives. At the time I was a 26 year old architect living in New York City with my then boyfriend, now husband JR, and working in Tribeca, about a mile north of the twin towers. I wrote this letter via email to friends and family on Sept. 12. The photo below was taken by my co-worker Nick as we watched the chaos from the street near our office.
I just wanted to let everyone know that JR and I are okay. Yesterday was probably the worst thing we have ever been through. I wrote down what I experienced and I want to share it with you:
I don’t even know how to start writing about this but I want to get so much off my mind right now. Yesterday was one of the most terrifying, awful, unbelievable days I think I will ever have to face. I keep replaying the events in my head and I still can’t believe they aren’t parts of a nightmare.
I left the house at about 8:40 AM on my way to work worrying about the most petty things: my new pants, all the tasks ahead of me at work, a friend coming into town that night…. I was at Mott Street just south of Houston when I heard a plane very close above and a couple seconds later a thud. At first I thought the plane was probably nothing and the thud was coming from a construction site nearby. As I reached Lafayette Street between Prince and Spring I saw fire trucks racing out of the fire station there and then saw smoke in the sky in the direction of the World Trade Center and suddenly knew something awful had happened. I ran down to Lafayette and Kenmare where I could finally see the World Trade Center and I just couldn’t believe what I saw: a giant hole in two sides of the North Tower. It gaped like an open wound, like nothing you could imagine. Smoke and flames were coming out of the hole and everyone around me was staring in disbelief, calling people on their cell phones, muttering stifled exclamations. I ran across Lafayette and walked/ran to my office at White Street, a couple blocks south of Canal. We are about a ten minute walk from WTC. My coworker, Nick, was in the elevator on the way up to the office. Nobody was in the office when we arrived and we decided to go up to the roof to see what was going on. At that point on the roof where we stood we could see just the North tower burning. You could see the bent steel at the mouth of the hole and again flames and smoke. Papers were flying through the sky, flickering like in the Ticker Tape parade. It was so haunting and awful. Nick and I then when back to the office where still nobody was, so we went down to the street. At Church, a block south of White Street we saw my boss Jeff and at that point saw that the South tower, which had been fine minutes before, was now on fire. Up until that moment I had really believed that this was an airplane accident. It just seemed impossible that it could be anything else. But once we found out that the South Tower was also on fire we knew, just knew it was terrorism. People didn’t know what had really happened at the South Tower, my boss thought it was a bomb. Then eventually we heard there had been two planes. All I could think of was how could this be happening, how is this possible? And we all thought this was it. The worst that could happen had. I asked Jeff if he thought the towers could recover from this and he said he thought they were doing pretty well so far.
We went back to the office. Our client who was scheduled for a morning meeting called. She said she lived down by the WTC and was on her way up. We turned on the radio and heard reports that the Pentagon had been bombed and the White House evacuated. It felt like the world was collapsing around us and we couldn’t do anything. I tried to clean up my desk a little, I called JR, I called my parents. I startled my dad and brother and told them what was going on; it was 9:30. I told them not to go anywhere.
I don’t know how much time passed, and as I continued to clean my desk suddenly our building shook. We heard on the radio that a mushroom cloud had erupted at the South Tower. We looked out our window over to Broadway and saw masses of people running north. At that point I ran up to the roof and traipsed over several roofs to see the South Tower but there was nothing except smoke and sky and the lone North Tower. People on the roof said the South Tower had collapsed! All I could think of was all the rescue workers who had been there trying to help and were probably crushed and killed by the falling debris. I turned to a woman near me and we just cried and said how awful we felt that the rescuers were probably themselves killed. My bosses came up to the roof and I pointed out that the South Tower was missing, gone. I think they hadn’t even conceived that anything worse than the plane crashes could happen. They went back downstairs but Nick and I stayed to watch the fire at the North Tower. I just kept thinking I had to stay in case the North Tower also collapsed. It was that sick fascination mixed with disbelief, mixed with the feeling that you are witnessing history, mixed with concern, fear, worry. We watched and part of me said that the collapse of the South Tower, which had seemed more badly damaged because it’s corner was ripped off, was all the more that could happen. Surely the North Tower, whose top1/3 was on fire but whose bottom 2/3 seemed perfectly intact would make it through. As we watched we could see huge pieces of debris falling off the building. We saw flickering rectangles float to the ground-probably windows. At some point we could see that the part of the North Tower closest to the former South building, had been scarred, gashes running down the side.
I moved to a shady part of the roof still trying to comprehend what was happening. And then the impossible. The top of the North Tower, giant radio antenna and all, turned from a square to round circle of dust, the antenna fell north, the building disintegrated, exploded before our eyes, paper and dust. The whole building just sunk to the ground, even the bottom 2/3 which had seemed okay. There were no guts left, no elevator shaft, no steel skin, in a couple seconds. The entire thing was gone.
I hugged my coworker and just screamed and cried. I don’t remember any sounds at all, just screaming. After a few moments of pacing and looking up in disbelief and crying, I looked over at my coworker who was crouched down, upset, and told him let’s go inside.
We got back to our office and reported to our bosses that the North Tower had just collapsed. We just looked at each other in shock. I don’t think any one of us could have imagined it possible to destroy the WTC so swiftly, so deliberately, so awfully. To me the towers were like two giants, themselves containing thousands of lives and watching this destruction was like watching thousands die in the shape of a building.
We waited and waited for our client to come. I called JR and my family again. Finally our client showed up and we were so relieved. We talked about how the collapse had been so clean. A structural failure seemed like it would be messier and we wondered if additional bombs were set to go off to collapse the buildings, intentionally an hour or so later when even more people, rescue workers etc. would be at the scene. It seemed too sickening to fathom and yet everything we had just seen would have been impossible to imagine just hours before.
Our bosses said to go home. I left the office and joined thousands of people on the streets. All the subways and roads were shut down. There were lines at every pay phone. I saw a group of people who were covered in dust and I asked them how they were. They said they worked in WTC and had managed to walk down before the collapse. They said some of their friends weren’t as lucky, some didn’t get up. They said they saw bodies and body parts everywhere, it was horrific. I told them God Bless and continued home. I stopped at a friend’s house on the way and we just hugged and shook our heads.
The rest of the day passed in a blur, just the news, and walks up to the roof, and downs to the street. JR and I took a walk last night and the streets were almost empty. Most businesses and restaurants closed. The few people on the street were mostly silent. All you could hear were the sirens, a never ending stream of sirens. Later as I tried to fall asleep I couldn’t tell if the sirens I heard were real or in my head.
Today I just feel devastated. I feel like everything that was important to me is just petty. We’re just lucky to be alive. I love you all.