These are unedited journal notes from the September 11 and 12, 2001. Written while I was still in shock I find them crude. But they are what I could bear to write at the time.
091101 = day 1
It is hell, I guess.
Mar was in the shower and I was working at my desk. I heard a plane, large, slow, and way too low, and then the unmistakable crash. “A plane crashed. I heard it. I’m going out to see”. I grabbed my camera and ran out of the house. I stood at Chambers and Greenwich, five blocks north of the World Trade Center, and watched the fire spread. I called Mar on the cell phone and told her I was all right. I saw the second plane hit. Terrorists.
People were starting to stream by me, heading north. A crowd began to gather, with silence broken by screams as people resolved the slowly floating objects, dolls, sheets, paper airplanes, dolls, dolls, silently drifting down, down, people.
I stood there pinned by the horror. I had been taking pictures until I realized that the last shot had captured the image of people leaping from the highest floors of the tower. A woman in a white dress; slowly spiraling down. My stomach rose. I thought, “I’m not working for UPI. What the hell am I doing taking these pictures?” There was an urge to go and help but my feet didn’t move. I got a cell message from Jeremy, “Get the f–k off the street,” but still did not move.
P. S. 234 is on the corner of Greenwich and Chambers. There was an initial panic quickly quelled by staff. Parents and nannies were streaming to the school. Parents were taking their children out. Kate (the 5th floor neighbor I hardly know) had her two kids in tow. She could hardly speak, and I was speechless. Tears were not streaming down all our faces. I couldn’t look at the children, who were in shock, I guess, quiet, heads bowed. She dragged the kids along toward home. They could hardly move.
Marilyn came down into the street and pulled me away.
We threw passports and a couple of things into a pack and walked over to the East Side to Jeremy’s apartment. As we walked we heard a roar; people gasped and screamed; we turned to see a space where the towers had been. “It’s not buildings. It’s people”.
Marilyn, Jeremy, Megan (his friend visiting from Zimbabwe) and I walked, subwayed, and walked to Mark’s house in Brooklyn. I am glad the four of us are in the same city, are safe, can hug. I am glad the four of us are safe. I am glad Megan is safe.
After a bit of sitting at Mark’s, looking at TV, and sitting in shock we move to volunteer somehow. Mark is adamant about not leaving Mar alone in his apartment. His alert sensitivity shames me into seeing how my selfish wish to help pushed my consideration for my family aside. Megan stayed with Marilyn and my sons and I head for the local hospital.
We volunteer as drivers at the local hospital. We do nothing. There are not many injured. This is a second tier hospital in the emergency hierarchy. It is meant to take the overflow. There is no overflow. There are not many wounded. “What does that mean?”
That night Jeremy and Megan stay with friends and Mar and I go to the Orlow’s. Mark goes back to the hospital with a friend.
My first call is to my brother, Ken, runs his business from an office on Broadway, one block from the WTC. He is OK. He was on the street when the first plane hit. He went back to the office when the second plane hit to tell everyone to leave. He leaves, sees the chaos, and goes back to make sure his people are all out of there. The first collapse happens when he is back upstairs. The sky turns black, then a rain of particles begins to fall. They all leave and head to their various homes. But there is more news.
Mitchel, my brother’s son, is missing. He is a court officer at the NY Supreme Court on the East side of downtown. He was walking to work with a colleague when he heard the first plane hit He is a trained and twice decorated Emergency Medical Technician. He’s got a couple of saved lives under his belt. He immediately started running to the site, yelling over his shoulder, “I gotta go”. He goes, of course, to ground zero and gets assigned to a fire company’s emergency crew. They do runs into the underground passages beneath Borders Books to pull out the injured. He was last seen going back into the passageway just before the collapse. At the end of the day we don’t know for sure what happened to Mitch
Ben’s friend who was in WTC 2 at an 8:30 A.M. meeting heard the first attack and ran out with her co-workers. They all agreed that they would soon be evacuated and so started back to gather their things when second plane hit. They are OK. There are lots of stories like this. Near misses.
Rachelle was one of the first to email. I sent a short reply but was unable to express anything beyond our being OK. I am sending one-liners to all who write, and speaking one-liners to most who call. It is only once in a while that I get to touch anything real inside of me, and then there are tears. Sleep is strange. David and Anita have opened their home to us, we are in a comfortable place in a comfortable bed, but it is not home. “Is home caught in a fire-storm? What about all those people?” I have a few nightmares about the boys volunteering for something and getting in trouble.
091201 = day 2
Mar and I came back home, for a few hours. We thought, “Let’s go back in and see what it’s like. We can make a decision from there.” It wasn’t good, and it didn’t take long to make up our minds.
We were stopped at Canal Street. We talked our way in, trying at each block to pass the police who were only letting people in who lived within two or three blocks south of Canal Street. After the first three rejections I told Marilyn we should just keep trying and eventually we’ll hit a cop who doesn’t know where Jay Street is. At Varick Street and Canal, our last chance, the young cop was a volunteer from New Jersey.
“Yeah, it’s just a couple of blocks down.”
He turned to his partner who never heard of Jay Street either.
“OK,” and we were through. You never know what will be important in your life. Living on an unknown two-block long street is very important.
We run into a few neighbors and stand in the street for a sad while commiserating on our own shock and grief. We stand for a while on Greenwich, at our corner. The scene is horrible, and not quite within my grasp of understanding. WTC 7 has collapsed into Greenwich St. about five blocks south of here. The site is a smoking ruin and the pile of rubble we can see must be ten stories high. As we watch there is a steady traffic of various vehicles and rescue workers moving in and out of ground zero along Greenwich. The faces going in look scared and the faces coming out are in shock and exhausted. We say “Thank you” to all who come our way, and sometimes get “Thank you” back, but often get nothing but deep, hollow stares.
We pack the two rollerboards, optimistically, with three days of clothing, laptop, bath kits and little else.
I went up on the roof with our 6th floor neighbor. Orange-brown smoke heaves up from the site and our eyes tired and our noses and throats quickly burned with irritation. Handkerchiefs helped a little. He is leaving with his wife and child for at least a few days.
Mar and I walk North, rollerboards behind, and join the thin procession of people heading out of the zone.
I see Mitchel. He is pinned and angry. He knows his people are digging him out and he thoroughly pissed at being pinned, unable to help, causing extra work. His anger will keep him alive until they get him out.