Ten years ago I began religiously checking the news online, where before I had never bothered to seek out information on anything beyond the boundaries of my university.  I mentally painted a picture of the Chicago skyline in case I never saw it again.  I walked home from work to the sound of silence.  Busy intersections were devoid of cars; the sky near O’Hare Airport was empty.  I was confused.  Shocked and stunned.  But I didn’t understand.  I could see the images on TV, but I’d never heard of the Twin Towers.  I was so far removed from the tragedy that I wasn’t really afraid…just sad. 

It’s hard for me to put into words how I feel about September 11th, so I asked my husband Greg to write a guest post today, as he lived in New York at the time of the 2001 attack.  Here is his story:

9 am the morning of September 11th, 2001.  The second week of my senior year of college at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.  I left my dorm with my roommate Mike and we walked to our early morning class.  Walking along the path, we looked overhead and saw the dark grey plume of smoke stretching from one end of the sky to the other.  Fires were not uncommon in the bustling city.  He asked “What’s burning?” Looking at the size of the plume, I replied, “Uhh… everything, I think.”  We shrugged and headed off to class.

About a half hour in to class, a staff member popped their head in to give us a heads up, “A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.”  My professor responded with a simple “Ok, thanks.”  We all sort of snickered.  Some stupid amateur pilot had crashed his little prop plane into the building.  Sucks for him.  We carried on learning about techniques and tools in some particular software.  To this day I can’t remember anything about it as the next interruption that came virtually shut my brain off.  “The World Trade Center tower has collapsed.”  Again, “Ok, thanks.”  My mind was completely elsewhere.  What was happening?  What did they mean ‘collapsed’?  Like a piece of it fell off?  This was before ubiquitous email and internet in every pocket.  We were cut off from the outside world when in class. 

I was a complete zombie until our 10:15 break.  I raced back to my dorm room across the street, slammed open the door and ran out on the balcony.  I took in my former view from which I had been able to see the World Trade Center rising from the skyline the night before.  Nothing but a cloud of smoke rose where it once stood.  The TV flipped on, my other roommate Max and I huddled around, watching the same images on every channel.  Two jumbo jets slamming into the buildings over and over again.  It was like a dream.  Over and over and over.  They showed the Pentagon, the Philadelphia crash- we were being deliberately attacked.

Max escorted me back to class where I collected my things, abruptly told the professor that I would not be returning and wished all my classmates good luck.  I honestly could not say if I would see them again.  As we had the largest dorm room of my friends, we gathered up as many of them as we could and congregated around the TV in my room.  Not having a clue what would happen next, we just began cooking up large batches of spaghetti to have in case of power failures or other unforeseen situations.

All phone lines were completely jammed.  Our only contact with our parents three states away was through emails back and forth with my father at work.  From that one point of contact in Boston, he was able to contact the parents of all the other friends in my room.  At least they knew we were ok.  This contact kept up for about three hours until the internet suddenly died.  We learned later that our ISP was housed in WTC building 7.  When it fell, our communication was completely gone.

The bridges to and from the city were all shut down to vehicles. The main subway line from Brooklyn into the city passes directly underneath the WTC and was decimated.  There was no way to get out. The campus opened up for anyone to stay overnight and set up temporary housing for commuters.  Nobody knew what the extent of the destruction was or if it was over.  We just had to sit and wait.

Smoke rose from ground zero for an entire week after the attack.  In the months that followed, there was an eerie calm to the world’s busiest metropolis.  Everyone passing on the street smiled and nodded at each other where before there had barely even been eye contact.  Everyplace we went had a feeling of welcome, of “We’re glad you’re still here.”   Every single Fire Department in the city had lost family members.  Missing person fliers littered every street corner.  Flowers decorated the ground, mixed in with ash and dust.  There was even a feeling of disorientation in the city.  The towers had been such a landmark for signaling the south point of the island, just like the sun setting in the west.  We literally couldn’t tell which way was up anymore.

I’ll always remember this day as if it were yesterday.  Some people have their JFK moment.  This is mine.


The view from Greg's roof the night after the terrorist attack