I was chosen for jury duty on September 10.   The rest  of the prospective jurors were allowed to leave and resume their lives and for some of them, I guess, their jobs in the nearby World Trade Center.  Having to submit to the inevitability of jury duty, I left  the courthouse and gave myself a lemons-into-lemonade thought.    I  looked up at the Twin Towers  and decided that since these were the halcyon days of September in New York, I’d try Windows on the World for lunch or maybe breakfast.  I’d never  been there.  After all, my life for the next few weeks as a juror in the NY Supreme Court was to start the next day, at 10:30 AM on Centre Street and I’d want to get out for a little fresh air.

I was awoken the next morning by what sounded like a broom handle battering ram hitting against the door of my top floor East Village  railroad apartment. It was nothing, but it was very disturbing. I was there alone, so I was a bit vigilant.  All my loved ones were out of the city.  I showered and got ready to walk the mile to the New York City Supreme Courthouse which sat in the shadow of the Twin Towers.  I was to be there at 10:30 that AM and was running a bit late when it all began.  Looking out of my window onto the street as the towers burned was the incongruous scene of young mothers pushing their strollers with coffee cups and  brand new freshmen NYU students rushing to their still unfamiliar campus.  Insouciance on a New York City scale.  The towers burned.  The people jumping… seen easily even if a mile away.   The towers fell.  The fall was felt under my feet , a subtle rumble of 3.6 on the Richter scale.

My mother had been on the phone with me during the deluge.  “Well dear, don’t you think you really ought to go to the courthouse anyway.  Don’t you think you’ll get into trouble for not showing up?”  (Had I been there on time I would have been in the chaos and debris).  I figured it was her way of denying her daughter’s life was in danger.

When the initial layers of adrenaline washed over me about a thousand times, when I realized I was alive,  after I watched the news from the only station I could receive (CBS),  and when I realized the manhole covers weren’t going to blow up in some final infrastructure middle finger aftershock, I sat mute and  didn’t dare go outside for fear of the air.  Although the sky was clear around me, I didn’t know whether the wind would shift.   My head was calm but perhaps on account of succumbing to the mania of apartment fever, I started having bizarre desires:  I wanted a facial in the baddest way.  I’ve never had a facial.  I wanted to take a bubble bath.  But as I sat in my apartment after having re-potted my jasmine-scented bonsai and playing the same  piano piece over and over again, faster and faster,  I wanted a bubble bath and a facial.  Then, more practically, I thought I’d go to the local Duane Reade for  an antidote for anthrax and potassium iodide for nuclear radiation poisoning.   For certainly those things were  to come.  And Duane Reade would be closed soon and there would be a run on all the Armageddon supplies.  The St. Ives apricot scrub would be sold out.  Cause after an apocalypse, who doesn’t want a chain store facial scrub to feel detoxified?

I was affiliated with the now defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan’s West Village.  The WTC was in its catchment  area and I did my internship and residency training there.  I was an intern during the first attack on the towers and the place got all the action.  I worked the ER then.  This time my gut told me to get out of New York ASAP.   But here,  my mother appealed to my professional purpose. “But, they’ll NEED you!”  She echoed what I already  knew I was going to do anyway.  But not today.  Today I AM ALIVE.  I’ll go tomorrow, after I slept.  Plus there were highly trained emergency personnel at the ready and a whole slew of actual housestaff. I slept the deepest sleep I can remember.  I didn’t know it then, but by so doing I ensured my mental health for the weeks and months to come.

I volunteered “for duty” early the next morning at St Vincent’s.  I put on my white coat and joined my white coated physician brethern all huddled.   Barely looking at me and without as much as a full sentence they issued a bark:  “New School!  The Families!”.  I left for the New School, a campus in the vicinity, now set up to address the families who had already started congregating there in throngs.  They stretched around the entire block.  I was assigned a work station by a benevolently smiling gentleman of the cloth and was given reams of stapled updates and rosters of area hospitals and make shift morgues from Staten Island to Jersey City to Columbia to Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx.  I was also supposed to do crisis intervention with the families.  But no one was really in crisis. It was ultra-calm.  There was a real sense by all that most made it out.  It was just a question of unraveling  the worst rush hour congestion in the city’s history.  Everyone must be in the process of being attended to  somewhere!  It was only a chaotic skein of yarn of an order of magnitude of chaotic chaos. It’s funny how we all turned into urban Pollyannas with furrowed brows.   Fortunately I had slept.  I was unusually clear-minded as I became part doctor, part hostess,  part soldier, part victim.

As each family and non-family member came before me, the tragedy went to the particulars. “Yes”  a mother said about her son, both immigrants from South America,  “he worked at Windows on the World as a prep cook, he wanted to go to law school.  He called me twice. ‘They’re telling me I should stay up here, mama,’  he said the first time, then ‘I’m going down the stairs….mama,  I don’t think I’m going to make it’”.  He didn’t.  Later he was featured in a TV news magazine show as a promising immigrant who worked to put himself through law school.

As grand as the devastation was, so equally grand were the specificities of people’s lives I began to learn about.

“She wasn’t supposed to have gone into work today, but her boss wanted to go play golf and he wanted her to cover for him “, a man said about his mother,  a secretary to a financial firm CEO.  She survived.   Some people were desperate in their descriptions.  “Have you found her?  She has really big boobs.  I mean really big boobs”, a sister said of her missing, never found sibling. In they came,  more stories, more updates, more instructions.  As soon as the forlorn loved ones left my station,  I could see them get back on the end of the line to wait the two or three hours it took for them to come back to me, eager for any news.  I quickly realized what my colleagues were also realizing. We were being told by the trauma teams and ER that no one was being found.  Most everyone who was to be found was already found.  We became paper shufflers, leafing through dead data simply to distract.  A couple of blocks away all the ER staff, intensivists, nurses and other house staff stood outside the hospital in a phalanx of reception.  No one was to be received.

One man I will never forget.  He typified the complexion of the victims.  Young, bright and upwardly mobile. He told me how he adored his little sister.  She had just gotten out of college and had landed a plum position at the ill-fated Cantor-Fitzgerald (everyone perished there except for its head who decided to take his children personally to their first day of school).  He showed me the picture of his sister, Brooke, saying “Look how beautiful she is, look how alive”.  Every time he’d approach my station,  he’d politely ask me if he could use my outlet to recharge his phone.  He did this seven times.  That meant I was there for over fourteen hours. Sitting. Not budging.  A sessile constant in these people’s upheaved lives.  The benevolent gentleman of the cloth forced me to eat and drink.  I took a few bites of  sandwich he brought.  I ate with the  appetite of the grief-stricken.  I offered my food to others who took it but likewise didn’t take to it.  Mothers came in with their children looking for their children’s grandfather. Co-workers who made it out, fiancees, divorcees, lovers,  friends, children.  It is truly hard to describe the spine- chilling bonhomie of these moments.  We were truly united.  A greater mass love I never experienced before.

I kept a log of the number of people I was “looking for”.  Around 120.  I took down the numbers of  the people looking for said 120 people, I told them I would contact them if I found anything.  I wrote down thumbnail sketches like “really, really big boobs”.  I’m now left with that log.    The day ended and I  walked the abandoned streets of the cordoned off area below 14th street.  I walked in the middle of Fifth avenue alone for stretches at a time with no vehicles or people.

I tried working in my lower east side clinic the following day, but by then the air had shifted bringing the pungent electric stench to my neighborhood.  I advised my patients to stay indoors because I knew that  Whitman and the EPA declaring the air quality as safe was BS.   The air became heavy and foggy with toxins and you could hear passersby talking gibberish to themselves.  The following day I eventually breached the envelop of containment with my face mask, to enter what was the usual bustling of New York above 14th street.   I left for a week.

When I came back, I purchased the accompanying  photograph a local photojournalist had taken while he was just below the towers.  He only suffered a broken limb.  It took me over a month to muster a walk to Ground Zero.  It was still smoldering in the October dusk.

It’s funny how one can retrospectively connect the dots of synchronicity.

One was a child’s painting I had picked up a few years before because I liked its composition.  It was of lower Manhattan’s skyline.   But the Statue of Liberty was looking away from the city, her face looking away from the plane that was flying above the city toward the towers, while at her feet, at the confluence of the East and Hudson Rivers, there floated a sailboat called “Trouble”.

The other, occurring some  years before that:  A set of faux postage stamps I bought on the East Village’s Avenue A from the artist who made them.  They were just like real postage stamps.  In fact, I used one successfully to mail a letter.  On the postage stamps were both Twin Towers ablaze with  the caption: Wish You Were Here.

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bito
Member

I do not mean to detract from your excellent post, Q, but I saw this story in the NYT and with all that is going on this weekend I thought it was appropriate.

“Muslim Prayer Room Was Part of Life at Twin Towers.”
“Muslims and Islam Were Part of Twin Towers

LiseLives
Guest
LiseLives

Questinia …..
I’m grateful that you nudged me last night to read your post, today.
It’s magnificent.
Besides the fact that it’s very well written, you touched so many nerves (of all types), not only awakening memories that had gone dormant, but also adding the dimension of your having been so close to Ground Zero –
I had no idea you had been near the spot that day – nor did I realize what a gift you had shared here, when you told me to come read it.
It’s brought tears – but also extra determination & conviction that for those of us who are lucky to be alive (so far), we have to put our own personal stamp on what it means to live ….
You took the time to put your thoughts & memories in writing.
Thanks for letting me (& us) in on it, Q –

escribacat
Member

What a beautiful and brilliant piece, Questinia. I was right there with you, wanting the facial and looking around for the lady with big boobs.

I never felt so “one” with my country as I did on that day. I felt like shouting out “We are all New Yorkers!” I felt personally affronted, attacked, invaded. In the weeks after, I even loved Guiliani and Bush.

It’s one of those Big Events that I still find hard to watch programs about, even though I was glued to the TV for weeks and weeks and weeks after it happened. I still feel that way about the Kennedy assassination too — can’t watch those shows with the convertible and Jackie lunging back and the little boy saluting. Watching the towers collapse felt like losing a psychic limb of sorts.

Strangely, I was also called for jury duty on September 10. I spent the whole day in the courtroom and was disappointed that the jury was seated before my name was called and I was sent home. I thought it would be interesting to be on the jury. The next day, I was glad, because I would never have been able to concentrate. I always wondered how that jury focused on the trial, which was about a road rage incident. They found the guy innocent.

boomer1949
Member

Questinia,

Thank you for posting this again. Like kes, I didn’t start hanging around here until 4th quarter 2009, thus missing it the first time.

I read your piece at work this afternoon (twice) and had a fairly decent comment written. The only problem? I kept getting interrupted (gosh they actually wanted me to do my job) and ended up losing all I had written. I decided not to try to recreate it because it would not have been the same.

Thank you again for sharing.

KQµårk 死神
Member

The day seems like a distant nightmare to me now almost like remembering the scenes in a disaster movie. You posting your experience makes the event real again which is difficult to suffer but necessary. 911 is one of those events that cannot be distilled into a group narrative rather it can only be described as a culmination of over 300 million individual experiences unique to each American soul.

TakeInAPlay
Member

When I read this post, my first thought was the point of view. The way Questinia tells the story makes it personal because she brings out the emotional aspects of the experience. It wasn’t just watching the events unfold, it was feeling the events that make her post so moving. Given the state of political discourse in the era of the teabaggers, it’s very refreshing to be reminded of the human element. KQ, you are spot on in the idea that there were 300 million individual experiences that are unique and worth telling and re-telling. And let’s not forget, 63 countries lost citizens when the towers fell. When the international newspapers claimed to feel our pain, they did.

PatsyT
Member

Questinia, Thank you for this.
I am glad that KQ suggested this.
Hearing about how you got thru this
is something that will give me strength.

TakeInAPlay
Member

I’m also new to the planet so this is the first time I’m reading this post. I can’t thank you enough for sharing it. I was in LA on 9/11 and it started as a normal day. I turned on the TV as I was getting ready for work and I saw the image of the first tower burning. I was glued. I couldn’t move. When the first tower fell I couldn’t hold back the tears as I thought of all those lives that had been lost in those few seconds. I couldn’t tear myself away from the TV. I called into work and told them I would be late because I couldn’t stop watching the news. In LA there were rumors that we would be hit next and that our taller buildings were targets. My employers, who were far from kind or thoughtful, actually sent us home so we could be with our families. I listened to KCRW all the way home. Their incredibly in-depth coverage got me through all the hype and hysteria that was flooding the mainstream media.

I live near an airport and I can’t tell you how strange it was not seeing any planes in the air. When the airports were re-opened, every time I saw a plane flying I had an image of it exploding in mid-air. A month later I flew to Sacramento for, of all things, a human rights conference. The airport was being patrolled by National Guard troops with the guns in hand. My good friend Samer was supposed to attend the same conference but being Jordanian, he didn’t feel comfortable with the suspicious stares he was getting from other passengers so he skipped his flight and went home.

In LA it is every man for himself and it was unsettling to see such a wave of American flags on windows, cars, lapels not to mention the ‘united we stand’ mentality. Being naturally cynical I didn’t think it would last long. We’ve seen enough instances in our history where the worst human rights abuses have been committed in the name of patriotism and I was afraid there would be retaliation against those who had nothing to do with the attack. Uncharacteristically, we were kind to each other much longer than I expected.

Your post made me remember this experience all over and reminded me what we are truly capable of in times of great need. Thank you for everything you did that day and for sharing your experience with us.

choicelady
Member

Oh thank you, Questina! I am in tears at what you wrote! All the people, all the hope, all the care they had for one another and you had for them all. I was in Sacramento that day and had not, for the first time ever, turned on the news. I was in my car driving to an appointment at about 7 am our time when I turned on the radio to hear the news about the first tower. I was aghast – I thought it was the giving away of the building bombed in ’93, some horrible, inevitable structural fault not repaired. It took quite some time to realize that this was terrorism on a massive scale, the thing I have feared for most of my life, the thing I thought I’d never be strong enough to endure, the unthinkable that doesn’t happen here. Only now it had.

What I recall was a day shifted into slow motion. I think that was NOT a fantasy but real – everyone around me was driving slowly. Very slowly. We were in shock. People were being courteous, careful, compassionate. That lasted for weeks, even in CA where it’s usually every person for him or herself.

I was one of the first people to fly when flying was restored. It was terrifying. I was on an American Airlines flight, and virtually every passenger wore a small red, white, blue ribbon and said, quietly, to the flight attendants, how sorry we were for their losses. The flight crew was numb – and scared. None of us knew for sure that it was safe. At the layover in Chicago, there was a CNN news report of some incident overseas. The entire terminal quieted watching, waiting.

There was a Sikh couple on our flight, he with a turban, and another white woman and I walked with them onto the plane to protect them from the fears of fellow passengers who were staring at them. I think the elderly couple were oblivious, but they may have been perfectly aware since most of the hate crimes after 9/11 had been directed against Sihks due to the turbans.

When I arrive in Pittsburgh, we deplaned to a deserted terminal. It was a long walk through empty corridors – several of us were in tears. The silence was horrible.

Q – your description of the young man who worked in Windows to the World is familiar. I’ve related to him since his story first appeared. I had been to WTTW twice, and I had, for whatever reason, nightmares about its falling as AdLib had felt. I dreamed it exploded, the floor fell, and then the tower went over. That was in 1994. I’d never gone back because of that dream. When the people above the plane strike fell, it was sickening beyond belief. All of it was, but especially that. I pray they passed out or had died from smoke before – but I think that’s not likely.

I will always treasure the stories of human kindness and courage that emerge from that horrible day. Something so simple as the shoe store uptown that broke open its inventory to hand out sneakers to women running from the scene in high heels. How basic. How kind.

Glenn Beck’s “September 12” movement is such a travesty. Yes we were good to one another, yes we were kind, yes we came together. But his hate and vitriol caused much of the Great Divide, and it is HE who did not learn the lessons of Sept. 12.

Ques- thank you for sharing your extraordinary experience with us. We are glad you came through it intact. Thank you for your service and thank you for your courage. And I understand about the facial. Life affirming moments aren’t always sensible, but they ARE life affirming.

AlphaBitch
Member
AlphaBitch

Questinia: Now THAT is a fitting and loving tribute to 9/11. Screw the haters. Love speaks ever so more powerfully. I want to copy it and send it to my boy in Herat. He wrote yesterday, because he had “heard” all sorts of things about 9/11 (usually that the Jews did it, or that it was staged by Americans so that we could invade Muslim countries – not the first time I have been asked what I think about these theories). This boy is a poet at heart, and I think will really, really appreciate your writing. OK w/ you and AdLib if I copy and send?? I don’t want them on blogs – too iffy for their security if they are in a cafe. But I would like him to read this – my others, too. Thanks for reposting! I missed first time around.

escribacat
Member

AB — I’m troubled by how many in the Muslim world believe that the attack was staged. I’m also troubled by how many Americans believe that Bush did it.

AdLib
Admin

AB, you’re always welcome to share the posts here by email with others, especially your adopted boy in Herat. I’m sure Questinia would be honored.

AdLib
Admin

Thanks for posting this article again, Questinia. It remains a powerful, emotional and poignant work.

When we were first dating, my wife lived on Front Street, literally in the shadow of the Twin Towers. I remember taking the elevator up to Windows on the World, looking out at the spectacular view of Manhattan. I leaned against the window cautiously, felt it move slightly (as all skyscrapers are designed to) and stepped back with the split second imagining of how frightening it would be if this building was to fall.

On September 11, 2001, we were living in L.A.. I was awakened by my wife who had a friend call her, she told me something terrible had happened and that the World Trade Center was on fire. In fact, the buildings had already collapsed by this time and that morning began my desperate addiction to the news channels for any new tidbit I could gain about 9/11. For weeks, I was glued to the news channels, flipping impatiently between all (except Fox).

We visited NY the following year, in the first week of September 2002, just short of the one year mark. We went to Ground Zero and even a year later, the acrid smell of burnt substances and chemicals was still in the air. It was very affecting.

We headed away but as I looked back I realized that it wasn’t what you could see that hammered into you, it was what wasn’t there. A huge emptiness where there shouldn’t be one, a visual sense that something that couldn’t possibly be missing…was.

As we wandered through the streets we just happened to come upon St. Vincent’s Hospital. On its wall were a huge array of aged, sun-faded posters and photos created by the families, friends and loved ones of those who were killed in the collapse of the towers. They were heartbreaking, all the desperately hopeful people such as you describe, Questinia, asking if you had seen their mother, son, wife, best friend and always the pictures seem to show such happy, vibrant people.

Kalima
Admin

Your description about flipping channels sounds so familiar AdLib. My hubby was out of town but due back that evening when I tuned into our few sparse international news blips that usually just run for less than 5 minutes. ABC news coverage was continued but that was all streaming in on our national tv stations. When hubby returned about an hour later, the news was still coming in. We sat hand in hand watching the details emerge, neither of us being able to move away from the tv screen.

The ABC live news from NY started to become just a trickle before midnight, and the next morning we signed up for cable. It was connected by the following afternoon.

I can’t remember when something ever shocked me so deeply that I couldn’t form words, or at least words which made sense for the week we watched the continuous broadcasts where there still seemed to be hope for those missing. If I close my eyes, it could have been yesterday, it’s still that raw in my mind, something I’ll never forget as long as I live.

whatsthatsound
Member

I agree with others that this is worthwhile for reposting. Such a story! Thank you, Q. Do you think Moist Robot will have anything to say about this?

Mightywoof
Member

I heard the news of the first tower burning while listening to CBC radio – nobody knew what had happened and there was so much speculation and rumour going on. So I walked to my family room and switched on the TV flipping from CBC to CNN and back again, watching the pictures of the burning tower, horrified that it was burning and not believing what was now being reported as fact – a plane had flown into the tower. Then – even now I cry remembering it – the second plane flew from behind and to the left as I looked at the screen and it smashed into the second tower. The explosion – the flames – the horror – the intense grief and disbelief. In my head I was screaming No No No …. maybe I screamed it aloud. I shall never get the image of that poor man falling/jumping from the tower out of my head or of the towers just crumpling up into dust.

The whole world stood at America’s side on that day and in the following months – and it is hard to imagine it was 9 years ago.

I too missed this article the first time around Questinia so a big thank you for posting it again – life must have seemed a little surreal during that time.

kesmarn
Admin

Q, I missed this last year, as I joined the Planet in late October and it must have been put online in September. I’m so glad you reposted it. What an amazing first hand account.

A lifelong friend of mine was living in Manhattan then, working as an Associate dean at Yeshiva University. My son, then 16, and I went to visit her in August of 2001, since he’d never seen NYC. (I had spent lots of time there in the years before he was born and knew my way around reasonably well.) We did almost every “touristy” thing you could imagine, and kept reminding ourselves that we really should get up to the top of the WTC to get the magnificent big picture. Our time flew by so quickly; and somehow we never did make it to the World Trade Center.

“Ah well…next visit. It’s not as though the towers are going anywhere!” I said, laughing.

It’s hard to believe that next year it will be 10 years. My friend moved from Manhattan to upstate New York in 2004.

Kalima
Admin

Q I’m so glad that you posted it again, it was worth reading the first time, and certainly worth reading again. Thank you.

When I think of this post I go back to the time of our enlightenment at another place, do you remember, and is it already a year ago?