September 11, 2001: My Experience

I lived in NYC for 2 years after college. I had been there about 9 months by Sept. of 2001. Tiffany had just moved up there & was staying with me in my boss's apartment. My boss was in Paris for Fashion Week & I was apartment-sitting for her. She lived in a high-rise on 15th & 3rd Ave. Her apartment faced downtown, with a clear view of the World Trade Center. I had The Today Show on while I was getting ready for work in the bathroom. Tiffany was in the bedroom watching TV. We both heard the plane fly over the apartment, but didn't think much of it until The Today Show reported that a low-flying plane had just crashed into one of the Trade Towers. We went to the window & sure enough, one of the Towers was on fire. Literally, everyone on the street, as far as we could see, was stopped, staring downtown. No one knew what was going on yet.

Both of our moms called, asking if we had seen what just happened. We told them we were going outside to get a better view & find out what people on the street knew. Little did we know what the next few hours would be like.

We had noticed a lot of people on the street taking pictures, so we grabbed a camera & headed outside. Like everyone else, we started walking downtown, snapping pictures along the way. We watched the first Tower fall. I think I grabbed Tiffany's hand & we both started crying. For whatever reason, we kept walking downtown. Everyone did. We were pretty far downtown by the time the second tower fell. We didn't see it fall because all of a sudden a mass of dust-covered people came running up from downtown & we turned around & ran. They were telling us that people were trapped & jumping out of 100-story windows. At some point, we stopped running & turned around. Both Towers were gone. It was surreal.

Now keep in mind, we hadn't been near a TV or a radio this entire time, so we had no idea what was going on. People on the street started saying that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon. Someone in an apartment building hung their TV out the window, which is how we learned that we were basically under attack. I can't describe how I felt at that moment. I've never been so scared in my life.

When the Trade Towers fell, everyone in NYC lost their cell phone reception because the cell phone towers were on top of the World Trade Center, so neither Tiffany nor I could make calls. When we finally got back to the apartment, we learned that the land lines were down as well. Thankfully my boss had cable internet, so we quickly fired off mass emails letting everyone know that we were okay. My roommate, Anjeanetta, was in our apartment in Williamsburg by herself. She couldn't get into Manhattan & we couldn't get to Brooklyn. I don't think Tiffany & I left my boss's apartment for the rest of the day. I just remember we sat on her bed watching CNN all day. I also recall that neither one of us slept that night.

The days that follow are a blur. A safety net had been placed over Manhattan, so no one could get on or off the island. The subways were shut down & no one could go below 14th St without proof that they lived there. My boss's apartment was one block above the cut-off. It was a surreal few weeks. Because my boss was in Paris & couldn't get back into NYC, I didn't go to work. Tiffany & I spent a lot of time in Union Square, where a lot of people were. I remember candle light vigils, fences erected to display the thousands of missing persons fliers. Firetrucks & ambulances racing by to thunderous applause. Above all of this, I remember the smell. The whole city, even inside the apartment, smelled like fire, smoke & dust. Every now & then, especially in the fall, I get a whiff of that smell & I have to stop & catch my breath, even now.

I ended up having a lot of anxiety issues that arose from September 11th. I had a really hard time going back to work because my office was on the 40th floor of a midtown high rise & the windows behind my desk faced where the Trade Towers had been. It sounds silly, but I literally sat there all day watching for planes. I never felt safe there again. And to this day, I have a profound fear of heights & fire. The panic attacks quit for the most part when I finally left NYC.

New York was never the same for me after September 11th. There were daily reminders that the city was no longer safe: armed guards on the subway, fighter jets flying over Manhattan, missing persons posters on what seemed like every inch of the city, and, of course, the smell & the smoke coming from downtown. It wasn't until I left that I realized how substantial an effect that day had on me. Eight years later & it still seems like yesterday.

I love you, Tiffany & I love you, New York.

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