I was a first year teacher at a South Bronx middle school. I had no idea at all what I was doing in the classroom, but I sure tried to put on the face of calm confidence each morning. The kids saw through it by lunch. Grad school was beating down my back.
I remember leaving the house in an outfit with new red shoes. They hurt by the time I made it down the 1 flight of stairs onto the street. So I ran back up barefoot to get another, more comfortable pair. That was by far the best decision, but I didn’t know how good a decision it was at the time.
My classroom was in a small hallway of 4 classrooms that had fights and chaos all of the time. I didn’t trust my students really. They didn’t really know me. I didn’t really know them. We had only been thrust together 4 working days earlier. My schedule was in flux. Classes I was supposed to teach hadn’t even been organized yet. Such was the life.
My boyfriend-at-the-time worked at the United Nations. I had just quit working at Happy Kids, a clothing licensing house where we designed childrenswear. Their offices were one block over from the Empire State Building in the childrenswear district. My roommate worked in the World Trade Center. I think my other roommate was working downtown near the WTC. Another 3 friends worked in the Financial building across the street. My dearest Emme worked at Martha Stewart on 23rd St. These people were my life.
A knock came at the door. It was Mr. Garcia and Ms. ________ (her name escapes me, she was the social worker for the floor and he was the dean). They came to tell me the WTC fell. They explained we weren’t sure how it happened, but I needed to ask the kids if any of their family worked down there.
I was teaching class 708 at the time. My sweet little babies. I didn’t know how to explain this to them, as I didn’t have any information myself. So I just asked if any of their family worked downtown. No one’s did. Some said their cousin might, but they weren’t sure.
Not 20 minutes later, the announcements started. Will so-and-so please report to the office with their books and coats–You are going home. These lists continued for hours. Why? I didn’t really understand. What happened? Of course there wasn’t a working TV in the building, so it wasn’t like we could watch and see. We just had to guess.
And my world seemed to fall apart when class 809, my class of kids that had a paperball fight across the room a day earlier, came bounding in for social studies. They said they had been listening to the radio in Mrs. Parker’s English class. The World Trade Center fell. So did the Empire State Building and the United Nations. I was stunned. They didn’t know all of the important friends in my life were in these areas. I didn’t know what to say for a while. So we turned on the radio.
The rest of the day was spent listening to the radio and trying to have some sense of order in the room. The kids were remarkably considerate once they knew I did have people very close to me in the WTC area. I spent hours trying to get them on my cell phone. Some I was able to get through to. My mind was assuaged, for the most part. Except I couldn’t get Ripsy, an old college roommate of mine. She and I were good friends across many years. I just hoped and prayed she’d be ok.
Once the school day *finally* ended, I tried to make it home. It’s normally a 15 minute train ride on the 5 from Jackson Ave in the Bronx to 86th Street. But the trains weren’t running. No buses ran either. So a social worker in the school drove me across the 3rd Ave bridge from the Bronx to Harlem. I had to walk from 135th Street and 5th Ave to 86th St and 3rd Ave. It took hours, and it was minorly scary as I didn’t know the neighborhoods at all.
By the time I got home after 6pm, all 3 of my roommates were there. I was never so relieved in my life. Eric, who was crashing at our place for a month before he got married, was late getting to World Financial because he needed to stop for breakfast. Wendy was fine–I forget what she did, but she was ok. Dani was home, and ok.
The TV was on. I remember us sitting there, watching the footage, over and over in complete disbelief. Who in the world would do this? Why would they do this?
The cloud of smoke from the ashes of the WTC was making it’s way over to our nice pad on the Upper East Side. You could see it in the distance.
Then the candlelight vigils began. I remember a nice woman from our street was killed in this horrific explosion. Her family put her picture along with flowers and candles in the tree on our street.
To walk 2 blocks over is the fire station. I passed it every morning and evening without fail on the way to the subway. They lost 9 firefighters that morning. I remember their cars were on the street for days. It seemed as if reality was suspended. I couldn’t walk by that fire station for days without crying. My designer friend, a newlywed herself, had lost her firefighter husband in this tragedy.
My boyfriend was living down by Union Square. I remember going to his house that night– like a crazy idiot. He was fine, or so he said. He was ready to go to Afghanistan and help the people. Or so he said. He ended up going to Azerbaijan to do humanitarian work not much later. Our relationship was breaking up before 9/11, but Osama bin Laden definitely stole my boyfriend. He wanted to help the people so badly that came before everyone and everything else in his life, or so it seemed to me.
Our stake received letters from all over the world of other Mormons expressing their sympathy and love. The letters were taped to the walls of the gym on 65th St. We were told to take a letter if we wanted one. I took one from a dear sister in Nevada. She wrote on a gorgeous sunset paper, expressing her love and sympathy. That letter was very close to my heart for a long time afterwards. It is still bringing tears to my eyes now as I type. She cared enough about me to write what I needed to hear to help me through this tough situation. I will be forever grateful.
The days of seeing missing posters, people openly wailing in the streets, and candlelight vigils everywhere was difficult. I remember I wasn’t able to laugh or cheer, until I went to the first Yankees game after it. It was a hard time to be in NYC, but the love and resurgence of spirituality was refreshing. New York is not a spiritual town. People are there to make money, make a living. They leave the city to relax or unwind. Work takes precedence, family and religion are solidly in the backseat. Or at least they were pre-9/11. People were humbled. They came out to services. There was a baby boom about 10 months after 9/11 where more women were pushing strollers than I had ever seen. They decided now was the time to give birth– not just work themselves to the bone.
It forever changed our nation. I will never forget the feelings of that day. It still brings tears to my eyes that such a tragedy occurred. The accusations that Bush knew about it infuriate me–especially if they are true. The witchhunts of any Muslim is disgraceful. I had a student’s parents get beaten in the streets of the Bronx, simply for being Muslim.
I want my children to know that I will never forget the horrors of that day. I will never forget the stench of burning deaths. I will never forget the last time I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge with Anne, Audrey and Leslie not 10 days earlier in one of the best times of my life, to see the WTC through the suspension of the Brooklyn Bridge. I will never forget the fear that paralyzed me. I will never forget the long walk home. But most of all, I will never forget that I was merely inconvenienced by this–Others lost all they had. It still brings me to tears 5 years later to think of the wives without husbands, children without parents and all those who lost a lot more than I did. I just got a big blister.
Yet I also saw a miracle happen. Amongst the members of our stake (5000 strong, many of which worked downtown), not a single member was lost. Every single one of them was preserved through little measures– a child forgot their lunch so Dad stayed a few minutes extra to fix it; breakfast was late so they stopped before getting on the subway; or my favorite– for some reason, they asked to work from home that day.
I don’t know why they were saved from this destruction. I will never understand why others were not.