9-11-01 Ten Years Later

If you normally stop by Free From Broke to read about different aspects of personal finance, well I’m not going to talk about that here.  Let me apologize in advance.  Feel free to move on to another site if you don’t want to hear about 9/11.  Really, I don’t mind.  (just come back tomorrow)

Ten years ago we had an attack on our way of living that changed our lives forever.  I know mine was changed.  How?  I can’t say entirely.  After ten years I still can’t pinpoint everything I feel about that fateful day.  I’m just going to write out some things in my head I’ve thought about.  Bear with me.

I was at work.  At the time I worked on Madison Avenue in the 20’s.  I remember the cubicle (I’d like to think office but hey, it was a cubicle) I had.  I was in the corner of the floor where there were only about four of us working.  A friend came by and told me a plane had hit the Twin Towers.  Wow.  “That’s pretty crazy,” I thought.  In no way did it occur to me, or just about anyone else who heard about it early on, that this was a terrorist attack.  I mean, come one, that’s an absolutely INSANE thing to do.

I’m going to flash back a little further for a bit.

I was going to college in Manhattan some years before.  I came home on wintery day ( I commuted to school).  I think there was some snow flurries that day.  I flipped on the TV and heard a car bomb had gone off in the garage of the World Trade Center.  What?!?  It was a horrible thing but I have to admit, it didn’t really stick in my mind, not like the next attack would.  Relatively, the damage was minimal.  We all went on with our lives.  This was some freak thing.

Flash back to 9/11.

So I heard about the first plane hitting, which was the only plane at the time.  As horrible as hearing about a plane hitting the WTC is, we didn’t think it was the catastrophe it would turn out to be.  I remember hearing about a small plane hitting the Empire State Building a long time ago.  I figured it was some little plane that got off course.  It wasn’t until the second plane hit that things really froze for us all.

Things were serious.  Two planes DO NOT go off course in the same place in a short period of time like that.  Something was going on.  Reports were coming in on the radio of what happened.  It was horrible. [Crap, I’m getting chills writing that.  Not good chills.]

I can’t say exactly what happened next.

For sure everyone in the office was buzzing about what just happened.  Phone calls were coming in and out as we all started talking to everyone we knew.  Seems everyone in NYC knows someone who works in that area.  My dad worked not far from there at the time.  That was an initial concern.  He was OK.

I don’t recall if I spoke with my dad.  I think I spoke with my mom.  She was working in Brooklyn.  She would later tell me how she was in shock as she saw the towers actually fall.  [I’m rambling a bit here.  I never claimed to be a great writer.  Also, my stomach is turning a bit now.]

We went outside.  We needed air and to get our heads around this.  Two planes were now in the Twin Towers.

If we walked over a block we could see the smoke.

It wasn’t much later that the unthinkable happened.  A tower tumbled down.

An architectural feat for the times just fell.  This is not supposed to happen.  How can this get worse?!?

Ends up it could.  The second tower fell.  It was like the world was coming to an end.  It was so unimaginable that this could ever be.

I had been in these buildings.  I’ve been underneath and have worked in the area.  I went with my dad and the scouts years, many years, before to visit the top.  I loved those towers.  Really.  They represented everything that was great about New York City.  Anything was possible.  The sky was the limit.  These had, at one time, been the tallest buildings in the world.  If you were driving in New Jersey you knew north from south by looking at the skyline.  Empire State Building was north of the WTC.  You could always get your bearings seeing the tops of those building (I’m not much of a Jersey driver).

To say we were all in shock just isn’t enough.  But there’s no better word right now.  Maybe disbelief?

I stayed at work for a while.  We were all sent home.  Hell, there was no way any work was even being thought of.  But I stayed longer than I had to.  There was no way home anyway.

I lived in Queens.  For those not familiar with NYC, Manhattan is an island and Queens is part of Long Island across the water from Manhattan.

Public transportation was shut down.  No trains or buses.  The bridges and tunnels were closed as well.  Who the hell knew what might happen next?!?

Through all of this we heard about the other planes as well.  It’s hard to be optimistic and afraid at the same time.

So I sat at work and listened to the radio.  I got in contact with anyone I could.  This would be something most of us did.  It was a time of reconnecting.  We all needed to know that everyone was OK.  I’d get emails and calls with friends checking in.  In an odd way it was good to be able to connect with so many people I hadn’t heard from.  But it shouldn’t have been under those circumstances.  Why do we do that?  I need to get in touch with old friends again.

It’s afternoon and I hear the trains might start running again.  I remember one friend offered to let me stay over their place but I needed to get home.

I left work.  First I walked east towards the nearest hospital.  I heard there was a blood shortage.  I wanted to give blood.  I got there but they weren’t taking anyone else in, so many others came by with the same idea that they were full.

I remember it was a beautiful day for September.  I want to say it felt like 85 degrees out.    And it was sunny.  I know I was sweating and had a line of sweat where the strap of my bag hung over my chest.  How does this happen on such a beautiful day?

I walked towards Penn Station.  I figured I’d see if the LIRR was running yet.  I walked near the Empire State Building.  I couldn’t actually walk close to it because the building was evacuated in the event it was a target too.  I think the whole block was blocked off with police tape.

I’ve seen jet fighters before.  I visited the Air Force Academy when I was a teen and I’ve seen air shows.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a jet fighter fly directly above me.  It flew over the Empire State Building.  I want to say I heard some sonic boom but maybe it was just the sound of the jets?

Understand that the skies were quiet.  In fact for a city in turmoil, NYC seemed pretty quiet.  All flights had been grounded.  So there were no planes in the air.  Except for this jet fighter.  And it wasn’t here to film a movie or do stunts.  It was here to fight, if needed.

I made it to the LIRR.  The trains were running limited out of the city.  There was no fare.  Just pile in and go.  I was happy to leave Manhattan and find my way home.  But I couldn’t help think about the fact that we’d have to go through a tunnel.

I made it back to Bayside, Queens where I lived.  I was actually living with my folks at the time so going home meant not being alone, which was nice.

Going home I would pass over a walkway going across the LIE (Long Island Expressway).  From the apex of the walkway you could see the Twin Towers, that’s how tall they were in the NYC skyline.  They weren’t there anymore.

I remember the quiet in NYC in the days afterward.  To live in Queens and not hear planes overhead all the time is a strange thing.  Queens is home to both LaGuardia and JFK airports so there’s always a plane going and coming from somewhere.  Traffic was quieter and lighter too.

And you didn’t hear sirens like you would normally.  It was quieter.  It’s like crime actually stopped.  But here’s the thing, when you did hear a siren it had to do with Ground Zero (the new name for the site of the WTC).  The siren would be some ambulance or something coming from the site going to a hospital.  Being at work and hearing a siren was chilling.  At least that’s how I remembered it.

I don’t know when I did the math in my head.  It was the day of the attacks.  Perhaps it was after I got home and the country stayed glued to the news for days.  Did the Twin Towers host somewhere around 50,000 people?  Could that many people have perished?  I must have thought about that while I was still at work.  Thankfully, most were able to get out.

But not everyone.  We heard the horror stories.

Hero became a different word that day.  We heard about all of those who went into those buildings and responded that didn’t go home again.  We heard about those who tried to help other people at their own peril.  How many stories will we never know about?

When my dad came home he had ashes on his clothes.  God knows what those ashes were.

The towers smoldered for I don’t know how long.  Should a place be able to smolder for days, weeks, months?

I was driving with my mom somewhere near home.  Planes were still grounded, commercial flights that is.  I saw one of those Cat’s Eye planes flying.  You know, the military planes that are used for communications?

Maybe a few days later (I don’t recall exactly) I’m on the express bus heading to work.  Traffic those days was horrible if you had to cross a bridge or enter a tunnel.  There were check points everywhere.  Vehicles of all kind were stopped.  This particular day the driver of the bus didn’t have her company badge.  She was supposed to have it hanging from her shoulder.  After sitting in traffic we get to the toll and we are turned around because the driver didn’t wear her official badge that day!  This was how high on alert the city was.  It took hours to get to work that day.

I get to work and I see a look of relief on my co-workers faces.  What?  So I was late.  Seems my grandma had called the office to check in on me.  I wasn’t there.  She called my mother.  She couldn’t get in touch with her either.  She was stuck in crazy traffic getting to her job.  My grandma assumed the worst and somehow got in touch with people at my job, worried about where I might be.

You couldn’t not assume the worst anymore.

An interesting thing happened in NYC.  We all cared.  People were nice.  We were all supportive.  It was like we all just attended the same funeral and were commiserating with each other.  That part was kind of nice; to see the city band together.

It didn’t take too long though, for the hate and distrust to settle in as well.  Social profiling took on new meaning.  If someone looked different then they could be a terrorist.  If a store closed down where the workers looked like they might be from the middle east then it must be terrorist-related.

We were no longer innocent.

Was it the next year or two years later that we had the blackout?  Again I was at work and the power went out.  You think it’s just part of the floor, then the building, then you hear it’s the whole city.  Did we first think it was a transformer or something electrical that caused the blackout?  No.  Collectively we thought it was terrorism.

A decade is a long time.  It feels like it flew by though.  I guess that’s what happens as you get older, time goes quicker.

In that time I fell in love and got married.  We have three amazing kids.  I’m a stay-at-home-dad running a web publishing business.

Ends up I had a bunch of friends and family down by ground zero that day.  Thankfully they all made it home and I don’t directly know anyone who was lost (though I did meet a fireman who would die years later of lung-related complications who had been working at ground zero).

Has the city changed?

That day, 9/11, leaves a fresh scar even after ten years.  But we get on with things.  Time will heal the scar for most.  Our oldest was one and our other two weren’t born.  They’ll learn about 9/11 in history books and from us when the time comes.

A new building is being erected as well as a memorial.  I still don’t know how I feel about a building going up again.  It’s like when your dog dies.  He’s your best friend.  Then your folks bring home a new puppy.  How can anything ever replace your best friend.

That’s a pretty crappy comparison, I know.

I’ll never forget 9/11.

I wasn’t sure if I should write anything about the “anniversary.”  This is a personal finance site.  The subject doesn’t fit.  But I’m a blogger and that gives me some leeway.  And that personal part means it can write about things that have affected me.  If you’re reading this far, thanks for hearing me out.  It’s good to get some of this out.

I’m not the most eloquent by any means.  My feeble attempt to get my head around that day is, well…feeble.  Ten years later and I still don’t know quite what to make of it.  It has no meaning, does it?  It’s senseless.  But it has a profound affect on the city, and the country.  We’re at war over this, or at least a police action or something.  We’ve lost more soldiers fighting overseas as a result of 9/11 than we lost people on 9/11.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either.  Not trying to be political.  Just can’t make sense of all this life lost is all.  When people die it can’t be good, can it?

9/11 is one of those days that makes you want to crawl up into a ball in the corner of the house.

But we can’t do that, can we?  There has to be some hope, some continuance.  We have to move on.

But never forget.  But try to heal.


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Published or updated April 4, 2013.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts! As a former New Yorker, your description has a lot of meaning. My company bankers were in one of the twin towers.. They were on the second floor, so they got out. I remember visiting there a few times and seeing the Statue of Liberty out back. I guess I will always feel connected to New York.

  2. Wow, to be in NYC while it happened must have been EXTREMELY petrifying. I was terrified and I was across the country. Thanks for sharing, man. We need to be in prayer for those who have lost so many and also for those troops overseas.

  3. I use to travel to NYC and it was actually right after 9-11. I used to stay right by ground zero. Now, I never saw the twin towers but I can only imagine how grand they were because there was a huge hole in the ground.

    What was great to see was how people pulled together after the tragedy…helping each other heal and rebuild.

    I think today is a great day to sit back and be thankful for everything.

    • What was amazing was how you could see the towers from so far away. I remember seeing the Sears Tower in Chicago, and though it’s taller, it just didn’t impress on me the same way.

      It was incredible how people pulled together. Shame it had to take a tragedy for that to happen though.

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