I lived just outside New York City for most of my life. For 27 years, I lived in Elmont, NY and when I got married and we bought a house we moved to Valley Stream, NY. Both are just over the Queens/Nassau border. In Elmont, I lived in the landing pattern of JFK Airport. I went to high school with jets interrupting class every 90 seconds on a regular basis. In Valley Stream, we lived in the take-off pattern.
My father and my spouse both worked in the City, but other than my late teens and early twenties, it was never a regular destination for me, despite having nearby Long Island Railroad stations which were about an hour to Penn Station. I enjoyed the clubs there back then, but we had some good clubs on Long Island. The best thing about taking the train to the City was we had time to sober up.
On September 11, 2001, I was co-President of the PTA at our local elementary school. Our school year had just begin, and I’d been at the Welcome Back Bagel Breakfast where we had volunteer sign-up sheets. I was leaving to go to my part-time job at our church when I turned on the radio. My spouse was at work, driving a bus in Manhattan.
I heard that something had happened at one of the towers of the World Trade Center. As I listened on the radio, they were talking to someone who was in the other tower, describing the fire and damage that they saw in the other tower. I grasped the fact that a plane had hit the tower. All of a sudden, they lost that person on the phone. The second tower had just been hit.
I turned my car around and went home. I had to see this on the television. I ran in and turned on the television and couldn’t believe what I saw. I didn’t know where my spouse was – he didn’t have a regular route. His thing was to work wherever was needed – filling in to keep the busses running on time. I tried to call his cell phone, but all circuits were busy. I tried a few times, then ran upstairs to my parents’ apartment (we had a mother/daughter house). My mother was using her WebTV and hadn’t seen the news yet. I couldn’t even talk – I was hyperventilating. I shut off the WebTV box and switched it to a news channel. That was how I told them what was happening.
We were in between Pastors at the church so I was the only person in the office, but I didn’t want to leave the television. I called our Nursery School downstairs. They didn’t know what was going on. I told them what was going on and that I was trying to find out news about my spouse and then I’d be there. I was torn – wanting to be there to support anyone who needed it and at the same time not wanting to step away from the television. This was at a time when we couldn’t stream things on the internet – most of us were still on dial-up. Smart phones were a dream.
I continued to try to call my spouse while watching coverage. Finally, after about an hour, I got through. He was working an Avenue route which meant he was going between uptown and downtown Manhattan. He had turned his bus around at the World Trade Center 15 minutes before the first plane hit. As I was on the phone with him the first tower collapsed. He was sitting at 14th Street pointing north. The news was saying a bomb had gone off and I was screaming at him to get out of there. He had people lined up at the bus stop who were walking away from that area and yelled at everyone there to get on the bus NOW and not even worry about the fare so he could get out of there with as many people as he could.
It was only later that we realized the Tower had collapsed on its own. Before I left the house, I put the American flag up on our flagpole outside of the house.
My first stop was at the school. They knew what was going on but weren’t telling any of the kids. If I wanted to tell my kids, I would have to pull them out of school for the day. They didn’t know what parents they had to be worried about so the idea was to keep them as isolated as possible. I made sure they knew to tell my girls that their Dad was safe should the students somehow discover what happened.
I made my way to the church and arrived there shortly after the second tower collapsed. I called my birthmother in Texas and found out my sister’s husband who was a firefighter had been heard from. They were on their way in from Queens when the Towers collapsed. I talked to my father-in-law too and let them know Marc was safe. When the Nursery School morning session ended, I went down to talk to them. Once the children were gone, they put on the television for coverage. By then the Pentagon had been hit. We were hearing all kinds of rumors about other planes and didn’t know what was happening. We heard about a plane going down in Pennsylvania, but didn’t know what was true.
I took a couple of phone calls, and went to the parsonage to the interim Pastor who technically hadn’t even started yet. We talked and decided to have a prayer service that night. I started our phone chain going, also letting people know about the service. The pastor told me to go home and she would listen for any phone calls.
When I arrived home, the first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. With all of the airplanes grounded, it was very quiet out. That would continue for several days. However, when I passed the corner of Sunrise Highway and Mill Road near my house we could easily see the smoke coming up from the World Trade Center, about 18 miles away. There were a few days we could stand out on my parents’ deck and see the smoke.
When I picked up my kids from school, I told them what happened and I told them Dad was safe. I tried to then go and give blood, but traffic was a mess. All of the major highways were shut down so emergency equipment could get into the City. All of these people were trying to get home and the only way were routes like Sunrise Highway. I turned around and went home. One of our friends was a waitress in one of the diners on Sunrise Highway. She told us later that this woman came in covered in dust and sat down. She’d walked all the way from the World Trade Center over the Brooklyn Bridge and just kept walking, in a daze, until the saw the diner and stopped there.
I learned that night at the prayer service, that one of my church friends’ husband was missing. He was a firefighter. They would find his body in March. We had a memorial service for him a few weeks later. He was in the same Battalion as one of my spouse’s cousins, who we found out the next day was also missing. The sister of the Pastor at the church I’d gone to during my formative years had been on Flight 93. We learned that over the weekend. We were still pretty close to them and I remembered seeing her the year before at one of their kid’s wedding (I used to babysit those kids).
There were so many close calls among the people we knew – other parents who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and were late due to it being one of the first days of school. Someone who worked in the maintenance of the building who managed to survive. I can still remember it so well all these years later.
Categories: Personal Stories