Sep 11, 2010

Where I was 9-11 (reposting from last year)

It is about a 20 minute walk to the ferry from my house. I did that walk on September 10, 2001 and it was nice, so I tried it again on the 11th.
I boarded the 8:30 boat and headed to Manhattan. When we were minutes from docking, we heard a distant noise and the boat jolted a bit. We couldn't see anything but someone who was on the phone yelled out there was a fire at the Towers. He never said why.
We docked and began to walk off the boat and down the old ramp, which was removed with the renovations a few years ago. I could now see the fire on the top of the one of the Towers, but we were seeing from the back. Once I got off the ramp, I saw hundreds of people from as far down as Battery Park (where I was now) straight up Broadway, all straining to see the fire. I thought to myself, wow this is going to be a bad day for the people who work in that Tower.
A moment later, over the trees in the park, the second plane arrived. I thought to myself, in my morning daze, that I never realized they fly so low. I watched it go into the tower. In my mind, it hit the tower and kept flying. I still don't remember seeing it crash. My mind doesn't like that memory and I cannot picture what I actually saw. At that moment, it seemed like a movie, it went silent and still. We heard the first tower was also a plane. This was not an accident anymore. Seconds later, screaming started. Everyone grabbed his or her cells phones only to get no reception.
I turned around and headed back to the ferry. The 8:45 was in the water and they immediately turned around and never docked in Manhattan. The 9:00 was pulling out as droves of people ran to the terminal to try to make it on that boat. We were stopped at the top of the ramp.
I called my office from a payphone. Someone answered and the calm voice that was in my head did not come out of my mouth. I asked him why he was answering the phone and to leave immediately. He said they had turned on my radio and were watching out the window. I had a perfect view from my desk of the second tower. I am pretty sure I screamed at him to leave again. Then I called my mom and told her I was all right, and heading home. It was one of the last calls to get through. People continued to pick up the pay phone hoping the landlines were still working, only to find them all dead.
The Ferries were all called back to the Staten Island to check for bombs before they were sent into get us. The Staten Island Yankee stadium was set to be a triage site, the Red Cross went into action to get their areas ready including Curtis High School. The city ordered body bags and put everyone on alert. We didn't know any of this yet.
A fighter jets flew past the terminal on the side we could not see, and everyone flipped out for a split second not knowing what we were hearing. Several men calmed the crowd and helped keep some order.
About an hour later the first passenger boat arrived. By this time, the terminal, the ramp, the lower level and the street around it, were filled with people waiting to evacuate Manhattan. The crowd was mixed and full, but I never saw a person I knew. The person I usually ride the boat home with worked in Tower 7. She never showed up.
We stared at the Towers watching the flames and the hole in the building, crying. One man kept saying, why, those people didn't do anything to deserve this. An older lady I didn't know tried to comfort me.
When the boat arrived, every one was at attention ready to board. The same men at all sections of the line took control and made sure no one was pushing. They yelled we are all getting on this boat; let's help each other. And we did. We heard another fighter jets and panic was setting in stronger. As we arrived at the seats, the women were seated and we all pulled out our life vests and just held them. The men stood over us on guard. It was packed to capacity and then some. It was silent. We knew we were on a floating target that was also our only way out.
Suddenly the silence began to take over and soot from the Towers was floating in the air. It landed on my black pants and lingered there are frightening as ever. We pulled out without knowing where it was from. Half way through the ride, the news messages started to come through on some cell phones. The Pentagon was hit, more planes were in the air and the Towers were gone. So was the silence as it filled with crying and phones calls: "I am on the boat, on my way home." It was the first time some got through.
St. George in Staten Island is near the water and has the perfect view of downtown and the Towers. When we arrived and exited the boat, hundreds were there watching Manhattan. I looked over once and don't remember what I saw then either. I walked a mile home along the water and never looked over again. I couldn't.
I arrived home after 11am. I put on the TV and news coverage on channel 2 was the only thing on. I finally saw the Towers falling and saw the second plane again on film. It was surreal to me.
My friend from the boat arrived home after midnight, but she was okay. Others I knew were also okay. The guys my fathers worked with in Tower 2, were out and fine. He had left that building for Brooklyn a short while before. And my aunt was able to get out right away. I lucked out and didn't lose anyone close, but I knew too many that did.
My office left New York that fall and I some how managed to get a new job right near Battery Park. I still rode the ferry in for work at the same time, but since then, I cannot help but to notice different faces. I don't know where the old ones are. Did they just lose their jobs or did they lose more?
One day while on the same ramp later that year, looking over at the sky where the Towers should still be, a woman who knew my friend saw me. Her face went white as she neared me. I knew what she was thinking in an instant and I told her our mutual friend was okay. I was glad I was able to give that answer and not another.
By: Mary-Ellen Rozak

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