Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 Where Was I?

I just came out of an elevator and thought I was going to die. It was as if the man who stepped off the elevator just before I entered, actually sprayed his cologne on IN the elevator. I am not allergic to perfumes and colognes, but I think the amount of cologne sucked up all available oxygen in than non-ventilated elevator and if I would have had to go higher than five floors, I certainly would have blacked out or possibly died from lack of O2.

The previous paragraph has absolutely nothing to do with my post today, but between that episode and the toxic smell of fresh roof tar in my child's school, I may have lost some brain cells today, and it could very well affect my writing.

So, today is the 8th anniversary of 9/11. Since I started my blog in October of last year, I may as well write my 9/11 story, now that I have reached my first September of blogging.

We all have a story - the "Where Were You?" story. It does not matter if you lived in New York at the time, or elsewhe
re. It is a day that has us remembering what we were doing when we heard of this horrific attack on the U.S. Like those who can recall where they were when JFK was shot, or what they were doing when Apollo landed on the moon, we can suddenly pull from our human data base, exactly what we were experiencing as planes were crashing and buildings were imploding and valuable lives were being stolen.

I was living in Teaneck, New Jersey. I was right across the Hudson River from two towering buildings that my husband and I
would pass so many times on our drives into Manhattan.

It was my first day of orientation at Holy Name Hospital. Orientation started early in the morning, and I was expected to be there all day. In the meantime, three of my close relatives were to be flying this day.

Hun said goodbye to me as he waited for the taxi that was to take him down the New Jersey Turnpike to Newark airport. He was on his way to Atlanta for a food show. His father was also to be leaving from Newark to Atlanta, on a separate flight. My father was to be le
aving early that morning from Chicago towards Newark.

I was in a conference room with no windows, orienting to some general hospital information. The orientation was to be three days long, and was to cover information about the ins and outs of this hospital as well as more specific information for my department in "Special Infant Care". We would have many department managers coming all day to inform us about such things as, hospital security, staff rules and regulations, computer reporting, human resources, etc... After each sp
ecific department orientation, we would have about a fifteen minute break. We would have the option of leaving the conference room to seek out cafeterias and vending machines, as well as washrooms... I was also scheduled to have my Employee Physical that morning.

After about the first hour of orientation, it was already after 8:00 am when we were allowed to have a break. I knew my husband was already at the airport because his plane was scheduled to take off just about now. As I left the conference room to find a washroom, I passed a patient waiting area of a some hospital department. It may hav
e been x-ray, or blood lab, I do not remember. What I do remember is the TV in the waiting room that was displaying some odd images.

It first looked like the patients were really engrossed in some Hollywood blockbuster, but I could not imagine what movie would be on so early in the morning. And why were the patients all huddled so close to the TV? And what was so exciting that hospital staff in lab coats, Residents and therapists, also stopped in middle of their days work to watch?

I saw a tall building that looked familiar and the
re was a lot of smoke billowing out the windows, but I would not have known exactly what was taking place if I did not hear the chatter amongst the viewers. Although, it was too soon to have appropriate information.

"A small Cessna went into a window of the World Trade Center"

"It must have been having trouble"

"Do you think it could have jeopardized some people who work near those windows?"

And as I was standing there, watching the smoke billowing out of the first tower, as we were ALL standing there and speculating, along came another plane and in a moments time, the othe
r building was on fire. Right before our eyes, and it was NO Cessna. And all the chatter stopped. And all I could speculate at that point, was that every one else in the room who suddenly became silent had the same dreadful feeling in the pit of their stomach that I had.

But I had to return to orientation. I did not know the others who were having orientation that day, I did not know if
they saw what I saw. But I guessed that no one did at that point, because they just carried on in the same jovial spirits that we ALL had earlier that morning. And our latest department head just carried on as if she was unaware also. I could not think straight, and I could not speak up. So for another 45 minutes, I just sat there, trying to make sense of what I saw. Could two planes have had an accident in the same exact spot? I don't believe so, but how could I wrap my brain around the OTHER possibility.

After that segment of training was finished, I was expected at the Employee Health office for my Employee physical
. When I walked in, this waiting room had the TV on as well, both buildings were still standing. Both buildings were infernos. The nurses and office staff were chattering about it as they tried to work, but I was sent immediately into the room to see the Doctor.

After my physical, I stepped back out into the waiting room, I heard the nurses talking about how they were commercial flights ... they left from Newark .... one was American and one was Con
tinental ... more planes were missing and unaccounted for ... hijacking.

The fact that some of their information was later learned to be wrong, did not help at THAT moment, because all I heard was,
"Missing Plane

Oh My G-d,


I ran out of the office, did not even know the first tower was in the midst of crumbling to the ground. I got on my cell phone and tried his number, over and over and over again .... no answer ... what is going on ... OH MY G-D..... my Dad .... my father-in-law.

I called, again and again.

I called my Mom in Chicag

"Where's Dad?"

"He's flying, I dropped him off at the airport this morning, he should actually be landing soon."

"Mom! Do you know what is goi
ng on?"

"What is going on?"

"Do you have the TV on?"

"No, actually I am in the kitchen reading the newspaper, haven't turned the TV on."

"Mom, the Twin Towers are on fire."

I could not bring myself to tell her that the fires were due to impact by two commercial jets. But she turned the TV on, just as I reached the TV in the original waiting room, where I now saw, ONLY one tower, where there used to be two. And then the second one came down.

My mother still had no idea that what she was seeing was due to airplanes that were used as missiles.

"I can't reach Hun, he is supposed to
be flying to Atlanta."

"I am sure he is fine."

"Mom, what are you hearing on the news?"

"They were planes... (pause) ... I am sure Hun is fin
e, I am sure dad is fine. We will hear from them."

"Ma, I gotta go back to orientation. If you hear from dad, please let me know."

At this point, I returned to orientation and everyone was now aware of what was unfolding just across the river. The head of orientation actually came from the roof of the hospital and could see the plume of smoke and debris from New Jersey caused by the collapse in New York

But she was intending to continue with the orientation. So I called her over and she could see that I was pale as a ghost, when I informed her that my husband was on a plane and I was waiting to hear from him, and I might step out to try again. She told me that would be fine.

I stepped out to try again and that is when I finally reached him.

"Oh, thank G-d, I was so worried."

"What exactly is going on?"

"You mean you don't know."

"We were on the runway, about to leave the gat
e when all of a sudden we were told we were grounded. They did not tell us what was going on, but said that all air traffic was stopped and all planes were grounded."

"The Twin Towers were attacked."

"I saw something when I returned back to the terminal. People were huddled around the TV screens watching something on fire, but I did not get the whole story."

"Hun, two planes went into the towers, where is Aba?"

"He also did not take off yet."

"Thank G-d, now I need to find out where my dad is."

At this point, the Pentagon was attacked as well and planes were still unaccounted for. I was very worried about my
father, and the people I knew who worked in or near the twin towers were not yet in my thoughts.

I returned to the conference room and the orientation head asked me if I was able to get in touch with my husband. I thanked her for asking and said, yes and took my seat. But we only sat for a few more moments.




This is a code that does not get called frequently
. It was also information we just received in our orientation.

Code Blue - someone is in cardiac arrest, get a crash cart...

Code Red - Hospital Fire, close fire doors, evacuate...

Code Pink - newborn baby is unaccounted for, lock down Mother/Baby units...

CODE BLACK - mass casualties, expect patient overload...

It gives one chills.

Yet, the first thing that came to mind ...... unfortunately, there will not be enough living to carry over into hospit
als in New Jersey.

But when the code was called, the head of orientation decided to pull the plug on the rest of that days lessons. We were al
l dismissed, back to our homes.

My apartment was just a short drive from the hospital, where I spent the next minutes, hours and days watching CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Local News. Just flipping and flipping from channel to channel, trying to understand.

I still had not heard about my father, until an hour after I returned home. His plane was actually only 30 minutes from landing at Newark airport when the first attacks took place. His plane was put into a holding pattern for a while, and was then diverted to Philadelphia. He ended up being stuck in Philadelphia for a few days befo
re they re-opened the air space. He could not even find a car to rent, to drive home. And the highways became filled, not just with those like my father, but with Fire Stations from all over the country trying to get into New York to help with the relief effort.

I was never so happy to see my husband walk in the door of our apartment as I was that day. I needed him there. The images, the day, the knowledge of those from my community who did not return home, the stories from family who worked in the financial buildings right across about watching bodies jump and fall to their deaths right in front of their eyes was just too overwhelming to experience alone.

The Battery Park Tunnel was closed for m
onths. Other main thorough fares in between New York an New Jersey were shut down for a small time, including the upper level of the George Washington Bridge.

It seemed like the entirety of New York and New Jersey was a crime scene. And to drive the New Jersey Turnpike was terribly disheartening, as it was impossible not to notice the gaping hole where the Towers once stood.

But it was not just September 11 2001 that is so fresh in my mind. I remember September 11 2002 just as well.

I was due with my first child. Her
due date was September 8th. I remember thinking that so many first pregnancies become overdue, and I hoped that I would not deliver her on September 11th. I did not want to have that darkness hanging over her birthday every single year to come. September 8th, came and went. Because I was now officially overdue, I was supposed to have Non-stress-tests, every three days at my Doctor's office. His office was on 65th and Park Avenue in Manhattan.

It was Wednesday and I stepped outside to take the ride into Manhattan. Unlike the year before which started out a m
ost beautiful day, this day was noticeably different.

It was not cold, but there was a chill in the air. But more noticeable, was the wind. It was so immensely windy. It would not be an exaggeration to say that one could easily get knocked over in the wind. But it was not a constant wind. There was a second of calm, an
d then thrusts of wind. It almost felt as if thousands of spirits were swooping up and down, left and right. There was no consistent direction to this wind. And American Flags were blowing so ferociously, you could hear that flapping sound that material makes in tremendous wind.It was eerie to say the least.

My baby came 10 days after her due date. But I remember driving down the FDR on Wednesday September 11 2002, for my appointment and looking across the Hudson to see emptiness. But it was not just empty of the two buildings that sto
od there, it was empty of the lives that filled that space. And I felt a kick at that moment. I was bringing a life back into this world only a year later.

I am not one who is really into these sorts of souvenirs. This is NOT a 9/11 remembrance plate. My husband bought this for me the day after 9/11. It is what was sold to depict New York, BEFORE the skyline changed and innocent lives were stolen. It sits on my buffet as a reminder. I am fortunate to only have a measly "Where Was I" story to tell. Other people have more tragic stories to tell, and furthermore, there are those whose story can never be told.

Where were you on September 11th 2001?

2 have shown Orah a little love: said...

Wow. You were way too close to the epicenter of this tragedy. Thanks for sharing your story.


adinab said...

my was so weird. i didn't have class til late, and had to be at work late morning too. but for whatever reason, i woke up early when eric got up to go to shul and couldn't fall back to sleep. so i decided to flip on the tv which i also usually never did that early in the morning. PLUS, it was on channel 5 which was ALSO weird cuz i usually watched some cable tv late at night before i went to bed (you know those pre-child years when you stayed up really late watching nothing for no reason) so anyway, the news of course was on the towers, and same as you, only the first was on fire at that point. being an out of towner of course they looked familiar but i didn't really know THAT much about them. eric hadn't left for shul yet so i casually said, "one of the twin towers is on fire" to say he freaked out was an understatement (him being from ny and all.) so we sat glued to the tv, saw the second plane hit, watched them collapse. eric was going nuts calling everyone he knew in ny. his grandparents lived not too far away, friends worked around there. it was crazy. he forbade me from going to work. i think we spend the entire day holed up in the apt, watching the news and making phone calls. i totally freaked out the first time we flew to new york after that, and we actually took a ride down to ground zero cuz eric felt a strong desire to see. it was nuts. i should have taken pictures. but you're right. it's one of those days that everyone will remember exactly what they were doing during.