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|| first person ||
I was there
Personal stories from gay and lesbian people from New York City, Washington, D.C., and around the world shed light on the immeasurable personal impact last week’s events have on all of us

Last One Out Alive
Chris Briggs Young, Brooklyn, N.Y. 

Surviving the WTC Lobby
David P. Draigh, New York, N.Y. 
The New York skyline, 8:20 a.m., September 11
Harold Levine, New York, N.Y. 
In a New York E.R., awaiting the wounded
S.M., New York, N.Y. 
Washing the walking wounded
A friend writes: 
A view from the Newark Airport
Randy Turner, New York, N.Y. 
On a boat in the Potomac
Stephanie Spears, Washington, D.C. 
Across the Street from the WTC
Artie Van Why, New York, N.Y. 
Watching the skies, near Dulles
Kathleen K. Taylor, Washington, D.C. 
From my kitchen window
Catharina Torok, Jersey City, N.J.
Witness to the first attack
David Rosenauer, New York, N.Y. 

An Advocate.com exclusive 

Last One Out Alive

Chris Briggs Young, Brooklyn, N.Y. 

Alone. It describes my experience of the World Trade Center attack. I was alone from the moment the first plane hit One World Trade Center until I ran out of the building a mere minute before its collapse. Here’s my experience: 

I don’t work in the Trade towers but for the past six weeks I’ve been temping for an insurance firm, Marsh, that has offices both in midtown Manhattan and One World Trade Center. Until Tuesday morning I had never been to the Trade Center office because my job was in midtown. The Friday and Monday before the attack I ended up working with a managing director of the company on a report for a meeting she was presenting at in the World Trade Center on Tuesday. Her assistant was out sick, and I was pulled from my regular job to help her out. The report still needed a lot of work, and I had to rush to get it finished and produced before Tuesday morning. Most of it was finished by Monday afternoon, and it was shipped down to the World Trade Center office. A small part of it wasn’t finished until the evening, and I couldn’t be sure that we could get it shipped in time for the morning meeting, so I told my boss that I would come in early on Tuesday morning to the midtown office and bring it down to the meeting. And that’s exactly what I did. 

After going to midtown office Tuesday morning I went downtown with the last parts of the report to deliver them to the 99th floor. I arrived there around 8:40 a.m. and helped my boss get the reports arranged for a few minutes and asked if she needed anything else. She said no and sent me on my way back to the midtown office. I took the elevator down to the 78th floor, where I had to switch to the express elevator that takes you to the ground floor. I caught one right away. People poured out of the elevator, but no one else got on because everyone was going to work, not leaving like myself. I was all alone as I took the elevator down. 

Being all alone in the elevator, I did some of the silly things you do. I jumped into the air to see if I would get that “light” feeling, and I started singing to myself--“I am, I Don Quixote” from “Man of La Mancha.” I had stopped fooling around by the time I neared the lobby and the elevator slowed and already read that it was at the first floor. At this moment there was a violent shaking of the elevator, and it lurched to a stop. A few light fixtures fell and hung by wires, but the power stayed on. A fine dust was pushed into the elevator by this huge whoosh of air, so I ripped off my shirt and wrapped it around my head to breathe. I immediately rang the emergency button and waited. 

The only voice I heard was a computer voice repeated over and over and over--“Your call has been received; someone will be with you shortly.” After a quarter of an hour, a real but squawky voice that I had trouble understanding rang through the small speaker. He would only inform me that it was “an emergency situation” and that I should remain calm--help would be there soon. He asked how many were in the elevator with me, and I told him I was all alone. 

In another five minutes or so there was another shaking of the elevator, not nearly as violent as the first, and just a small amount of dust. I could faintly hear sirens from the outside, and I could barely hear people yelling, but I still had no clue what had happened. Of course I suspected a bomb, but in reality I had no way of knowing. I have a numeric pager but no cell phone. The pager kept going off, letting me know that I had messages in my voice mail. 

I felt the need to do something, so of course I tried to pry open the elevator doors. There were actually doors on both sides of the elevator, and I tried to open them both. The power was on, and it was holding the doors shut. I could only sit and wait. 

About an hour after of being trapped came the next big shaking. It was more violent than the first, and more dust was pumped into the elevator as well. It became harder to breathe, and the shirt wasn’t keeping as much out. I tried to get someone to respond to my calls for help, but no one would. Now the computer voice just kept repeating its message over and over again, and I couldn’t make it stop.

Another 20 minutes passed, and finally the power went out in the elevator. The emergency lights kicked in. The call button no longer worked. There was an alarm button that would make a ringing sound when I pushed it, and I started ringing in a recognizable pattern like three-one-three and “shave and a haircut” in the hope that someone might differentiate it from the other alarms going off, but there was no response. After five minutes, in frustration, I tried the doors again, and to my amazement the first one I tried slid open. The power being off seems to have released the doors, but I am faced with a steel wall. I close the door because only the doors have kept so much dust from coming in. I go to the other door and it slides open to reveal a deserted, dust- and debris-covered lobby. I had been there the whole time, and no one had come. I don’t see a single person around, and I start running to one side when I see two firefighters standing in a large, blown-out window. I yell out for help, and they signal me over. I run to them, and one of them grabs me and begins to walk me out. 

I look up at the tower when we are a few yards away, and I see the flames and smoke from the top. As I look to my right I see a mass of debris, which at the time I assume is one of the smaller buildings which must have suffered a blast. Only later do I realize that it was the rubble of the other tower. I still have no clue about anything that has happened--not the planes and not the collapse of the other tower. 

The firefighter keeps leading me away, and we get about half a block from the building at the corner of Vesey and West. I start to hear a rumble, and then a push from the firefighter, who yells “Run.” I run on Vesey toward the water but look over my shoulder to see the building collapsing behind me. A great cloud of dust steams toward me, but as I get to the water it has retreated, as the wind was blowing it the other way. I collapse onto a bench and begin to break down. A couple of rescue workers come over and try to get me breathing normally and quickly encourage me to walk north along the water, away from the towers. When I’m breathing more normally they let me go, and I join the massive crowd of people that is moving north, but I don’t know exactly where I’m going. 

As I walked in a state of shock, I picked up small bits of information from people walking around me. The plane hitting the first tower and then the second. The collapse of the South Tower and finally the North. I wanted to talk to them, but I couldn’t find words to speak. 

I just walked. First along the river and eventually into the heart of the city. At 10th Street I turned east and walked towards Sixth Avenue. I walked up Sixth Avenue until I got to Bryant Park at 40th Street. There the tents for the fashion show were set up, and as I walked past, a security guard emerged, yelling for everyone to get away from the park. People began to panic and scamper. I ran across 40th Street until I got to Fifth Avenue and continued north. I still don’t why we were told to run. I assume it was a bomb threat. 

I continued up Fifth until I got to 45th Street and walked back to Sixth Avenue to go into my building. They already had signs up for people who were Marsh employees from the Trade Center to go to the 35th floor, but I went to the 42nd where I work. The receptionist, whom I had talked to just hours before from the 99th floor of the Trade Center, looked at me in disbelief. A few people were gathered around, and as they asked me how I was I began to break down, and they took me to the 35th floor for the company nurse to look after me. 

I don’t have a scratch on my body. The only mark I have is a slight bruise on my right arm where the firefighter grabbed me. The elevator trapped me, but it also protected me, and then by a miracle it released me. I was almost certainly one of the last people to get out alive before the collapse. I didn’t see anyone else as I came out. 

The thought of those people I know who were on the 99th floor for the meeting plagues me. I’m probably the only person who was on that floor to get out alive. They are all officially “missing.” 

My family is almost all in North Carolina, and my brothers are driving up here to get me. I have had the most amazing support from my friends and my cousin and her husband. They have all looked after me 24/7 for the past few days. Now I’m never alone. 

I’ve never had a worse day in my life, but I also have felt more love from family and friends than I could ever imagine. The images and memories are haunting me, and the scars are very deep at the moment. I’m not always able to keep it together emotionally. But despite the horror of it all, there is a feeling of great hope inside me. I must be around for some reason, and I certainly intend to find out.

Surviving the WTC Lobby

David P. Draigh, New York, N.Y. 

My name is David P. Draigh. I am 38 and an attorney (associate) in the litigation department of the firm Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, which had offices on the 54th through 59th floors of One World Trade Center. My office was on the 54th floor. I usually do not get in to the office until 9:30 a.m. or later, but on Tuesday afternoon I had a deposition scheduled, so I had decided to get in early to do some extra preparation. Fortunately I overslept, but nevertheless I arrived earlier than I would have on an ordinary day. My taxi receipt says that the meter was turned off at 8:39 a.m. My building, the first to be hit, was struck at 8:42 a.m. 

I arrived at the building at the West Street entrance, the taxi letting me off under the canopy over that entrance. I went through the revolving doors and was standing in a rectangular glass vestibule, with a glass roof, built into the lobby proper. The plane hit as I emerged from the revolving door into the vestibule, which heaved as if it were taking a deep breath, then exhaled and settled back down as the set of swinging doors into the lobby proper whooshed halfway open and then were sucked closed. I cannot explain why I continued into the lobby, but I did. Immediately after passing through the swinging doors--I was now looking down the length of the central elevator lobby, a wide corridor perpendicular to the West Street (or west) wall of the building--the first thing I heard was an indescribably thunderous crash, and then I saw debris flying across the central elevator lobby. I believe that the crash must have been of one of the elevators coming down. 

The next thing I saw was a fireball, which I believe must have emerged from the elevator shaft and must have been fueled by jet fuel. I turned to the right; the lobby is divided into thirds by two elevator banks and I was heading to the southern third, where I saw a large steel planter for a palm tree, against the south wall of the lobby and near the entrance to the Marriott Hotel, and I ran to it and dove behind it. 

I stayed there, crouched behind the planter, listening to a series of additional tremendous crashes, which I can only imagine were the rest of the elevators coming down. Within seconds, the lobby was filled with thick black smoke, and I could not breathe. I looked to my left for some escape route and saw that the west wall of the lobby— a wall of glass—had been mostly blown out. There were still in place some of the steel struts that had once supported the plate glass, but I made a run for the gaping holes in the wall, running through giant shards of plate glass and jumping over one of those metal struts. 

Then I was back on the sidewalk facing the World Financial Center, and what was so bizarre and surreal was that everything looked perfectly normal. It was a beautiful, blue sky day and as long as I looked west nothing seemed out of order. Then I looked to my right and I saw a woman lying on her side, her back to me, motionless, on fire. I thought, Oh, my God, she’s dead, and then a large piece of debris fell onto the sidewalk to my left, about 10 or 15 feet in front of me. I thought I have to get away from this building, and I ran into West Street, where there was no northbound traffic. At the median I could not get across the southbound lanes because of traffic, so I ran down to Liberty Street and crossed there, then headed into the World Financial Center to try to find a mirror to see if I was in one piece. 

In retrospect, I believe that the burning woman I saw must have fallen from the sky. I do not know how she could have come from the lobby, as there were so many obstructing structures between the lobby and where she lay. The piece of debris was not glass—it did not shatter—and did not look like part of the building. It may well have been a piece of the plane. I have no idea. 

Somehow, miraculously, my injuries were minor. My right hand was cut and bleeding, but it turned out to be only a superficial wound to a finger. The back of my left hand was burned, but not severely. I have some nicks and scrapes and much less hair. Most of the hair on my head was singed off, as were half of my eyebrows. I also have no hair in my nostrils, but somehow my face was only very mildly burned and now, three days later, you can’t really tell. 

After I got away from the building my only thoughts were to get to the esplanade along the Hudson River so I could walk home to the West Village. My briefcase was separated from me somewhere in the lobby—as was my beautiful watch, which had been a Christmas present from my boyfriend of four years (in fact, the briefcase had been a present from him too)—and I had no cell phone and all the pay phones I passed were of course mobbed. 

I did not know what had happened, though as I walked home I heard people talking about the WTC being hit by a plane, and as I walked near Stuyvesant High School I heard people say, “Oh my God, another plane just hit the second tower.” I just couldn’t look. I thought about my secretary, Helen, who always gets in early, and I thought about my boyfriend, John, and my mother watching TV and being very frightened. The walk home for me takes about 35 minutes. When John heard my key in the door he rushed to me in his underwear, emotions everywhere. I immediately took off my clothes—I had kept thinking about that guy in TV movies who gets shot and doesn’t realize it and walks around on adrenaline for an hour before collapsing—to make sure that I didn’t have a bunch of holes in me. 

Then I called my mother, who was equally hysterical. I gave a TV interview on ABC that day and have talked to People magazine, but I am not sure what has motivated me to write this E-mail. I am alive and OK, if a bit traumatized, but there are thousands of people dead and thousands of people affected profoundly by those deaths. That is surely the real story.

The New York skyline, 8:20 a.m., September 11

Harold Levine, New York, N.Y. 

I had been in Washington, D.C., on Monday for a meeting with the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (I work as a consultant with GlaxoSmithKline to support hepatitis A and B vaccination programs around the country). 

I went to National Airport on Monday night in time for the 7 p.m. shuttle back to New York City. Due to weather problems in New York, all flights were canceled, and I decided to stay overnight in Washington and fly out early on Tuesday morning. It had been only a one-day trip, so I had no luggage or clean clothes. 

I arrived back at the airport bleary-eyed and unshaven at 7 a.m. and caught the 7:30 Delta Airlines shuttle back to New York. At 8:20, on our final approach to LaGuardia Airport, we banked over lower Manhattan. I looked down from my left hand window seat and even I, hardened New Yorker, muttered “wow.” It was a beautiful, sunny, peaceful day. The skyline was magnificent, crowed by the World Trade Center. I must have been one of the last people to see the intact skyline from the air. 

I landed at about 8:30 and caught a cab. When we had hit the elevated approach to the Triboro Bridge I looked back at the skyline and saw what seemed to be a strange cloud around the World Trade Center. Just then the radio broadcast was broken into with an announcement of an “explosion” at one of the towers, then a report of a plane crash. 

By the time I hit the FDR Drive, the major East River highway, police had blocked the way and were redirecting traffic onto local streets. Reports continued to come in of the first plane crash, then the second. I frantically started calling family and friends to turn on the TV. 

Fortunately, my immediate family and circle of friends are all accounted for, although there are some harrowing stories of close calls. But I am now starting to hear of friends of friends and the terrible toll paid by the fire and police departments in New York. 

Most people I know don’t want revenge. We want peace. We want to understand what causes the type of hate that would lead to a horrible event like this and find a way to solve the roots of the problems caused by regional strife, fanaticism, and racism.

In a New York E.R., awaiting the wounded

S.M., New York, N.Y. 

I am a medical student who volunteered at the Bellevue E.R. on the 11th. I, and those around me, went with expectations of an emergency room overrun with patients, taxing our every resource. But the scene we encountered was quite different. We waited. By far, staff outnumbered patients. Everyone imaginable showed up to help out, from eye doctors to dentists to medical students like myself. Police and firemen, covered in white ash, came in with eye injuries and suffering from smoke inhalation. But the hundreds of injured civilians I had expected simply never showed up. Much of my time was spent talking to other staff members as information about the tragedy trickled in. 

The rumor I heard as the day went on was that most civilians involved were either killed or suffered minor injuries and so went to find their families instead of coming to the hospital. Someone came in and told me that the National Guard was out on our streets with machine guns I went and stood by the door to the E.R., and as emergency workers came to the E.R. covered in thick ash, you could smell the smoke on them before they entered the room. The wait to give blood was several hours because so many New Yorkers came to give blood. However, my boyfriend and I were turned away because gays cannot give blood. 

One patient in the hospital had walked down from the 92nd floor of the WTC. Another man came in with an arm injury and said he had been running from the collapsing building and slipped on someone’s liver. Someone’s liver was lying in the street and he fell on it. 

I sat with idle hands for a significant portion of the day, which was frustrating as I felt there must be something I could be doing for someone somewhere. Everywhere I went, my colleagues were out looking to offer their help. One of my friends learned how to draw blood “on the spot” so that she could assist at the blood donation center in Bellevue. 

The thing is, I have lived in Manhattan for over seven years now, and the WTC towers are a background for so very many of my memories. It is still unfathomable that they no longer exist. I still feel that tomorrow I will step out of Bellevue and look left and see them standing there. I watched the first building collapse, and still it is not real. I saw the firemen returning from the scene firsthand. I smelled the smoke on them and saw black boots turned white with ash. I felt the fine dust between my fingers, and still it is unreal. I held in my arms the wife of a missing man and heard the sobs, and still it’s not yet set in that Manhattan has lost its innocence. 

I walked with a victim’s family to meet with the police yesterday and did not know what was appropriate to say to them. The gentleman said to me, “Is this the first time you’ve done this?” I asked if he meant “the first time I’ve been involved with a major disaster.” “Yes,” he said. “Yes,” I said. And we nodded to each other. The elevator door opened and we stepped out, and everywhere there was navy blue and badges. 

Today we begin classes again, and my eyes are tired and I cannot imagine sitting down to study. I slept poorly last night, waking regularly, by images of falling buildings and screaming planes. 

I have to go to class now. 

I am writing to share my thoughts with you and to help make some sense of it for myself. If you do publish any of this, please use just my initials and do not publish my E-mail address.

 If you would like any more information, please let me know. I do not know that I can provide very much but I am doing my best to make some sense of all of this.

Washing the walking wounded

A friend writes: 

My friend Abel, who lives just blocks from WTC, told me quite a story this morning. He and I grew up together in the same small town. Same age. Both husky, piano-playing boys who’d play duets together in church. His family lived on the hill and had dough. I wore his hand-me-downs from age 8 to 15. 

Anyway, he’s been terribly ill for the past six years. At death’s door so often. Felt vacant in the “will to live” department so often. He told me how he went outside just after the first plane hit the WTC, hooked a hose up outside his condo in anticipation of the dusted and weary masses marching north. 

He watered folks. Hugged many. Cried with people. And gave strong love from such a fragile body and weakened spirit. He told me “I gave comfort to so many hurting people. I didn’t know I had anything left to give to anyone.” 

A smiling story in the midst of chaos.

A view from the Newark Airport

Randy Turner, New York, N.Y. 

I work on Wall Street, less than one-half block from the New York Stock Exchange. I commute from New Jersey by commuter train, then by ferry or the PATH Train, and walk through the heart of the World Trade Center each day. However, on Tuesday I was in a plane on a runway at Newark Airport on my way to Boston for the day. We were about number 3 in line for takeoff when the captain announced that the airport was closed because a terrorist had just flown a plane into the World Trade Center, which we could see from the plane windows. That moment and that image are burned into my memory. By the time we returned to the gate, the second plane was flown into the other tower, and by the time I arrived outside, the buildings had collapsed. It took almost two hours to reach my partner by cell phone to let him know I was OK. Hearing each other’s voice was so comforting. In my mind, I have retraced my daily path through the complex over and over. I think of the people on my commuter train and ferry that I walked with side by side every day, not knowing who survived and who did not.

On a boat in the Potomac

Stephanie Spears, Washington, D.C. 

I am an environmental specialist working on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, which crosses the Potomac River, along the beltway and just south of Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, I was alone in a small 20-foot boat in the Potomac River, collecting fish samples. At the time I was in the river, I did not know of the World Trade Center attack. I heard the explosion and looked toward National Airport and the Pentagon. Immediately, I knew it was a plane crash, but from my angle in the river, it appeared to be at the airport. I traveled up the river in an attempt to help if I could. Once I was nearer National Airport, I could see the crash had occurred farther on land and returned to the bridge area. When I returned to our construction staging area, I was told about the morning’s events. Soon after, the contractor called all employees off the project and away from the bridge. 

As we stood around the various construction trailer complexes on shore, we watched, transfixed in front of the television screen, the unbelievable events. Throughout the next several hours, we watched F-15s and Army helicopters fly overhead. At one point a single F-15 escorted a small private aircraft into National Airport. 

On the day after, we all tried to return to our normal work schedules. The Potomac River had been closed off. Large Army troop transport vessels turned all personal watercraft around approximately a mile south of the bridge. Several large sailing vessels and yachts were forced to anchor near the construction staging area on the Maryland shore. 

During the course of my duties, I was stopped by four different patrol boats on the water: the Army troop transport vessel, two different D.C. police department vessels, and a U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender. We were boarded and searched prior to being allowed to continue with our work. 

Today the river is still closed to marine traffic everywhere north of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Military aircraft make frequent and visible flights over the area, and the show of force is both unsettling and comforting. 

As with most of the rest of the country, I’m shocked and stunned and wonder where it will all lead us.

Across the Street from the WTC

Artie Van Why, New York, N.Y. 

My office was right across the street from the WTC. I’m on the 23rd floor, and when the first plane struck we felt the vibration in our building and thought something had exploded in our building. I, with other of my coworkers, ran out of our building and into the street. It was a war zone of debris. There, in front of us, was the first tower--debris still falling from where the plane had crashed, and the flames were enormous. No one could move—the crowds that by now had multiplied could only stand and stare at the fire. Then the images I can’t stop seeing began. One by one people started jumping out of the top floor windows. As each person jumped we, as a crowd, could only scream in utter disbelief, hoping, I’m sure, that our collective screams would save them. 

At that point, I and two other men foolishly started running toward where the people were dropping. I think my mind wanted me to believe there was something I could still do, that they’d be OK. The falling debris of glass and other materials was too severe. We had to turn back. 

I don’t know how long we all still stood watching in horror before we heard the other plane coming. As if watching a disaster movie, we saw the plane heading straight for the second tower. I remember thinking it would pull up in time. Of course, it didn’t. When the plane collided, that was probably the most life-threatening moment for us in the street. In a panic we all started running, screaming, as the wreckage started falling all around us. That was when I fell. At that point, I, like most of the others was in a panic—stepping on others who had fallen, being stepped on when I fell. I remember running and saying out loud, “God save us all.” 

I passed a man lying in the street and stopped, bending down to see if he was OK. His skull had been split open; his brain was protruding. But he was breathing. Another man stopped; we were given a jacket from someone and we applied it and added all the pressure we could muster until help arrived. I see his watch lying there beside him, having come off, and remember taking it and putting it in his pocket. His employee work tag was hanging around his neck, and I keep wishing I had read his name, so I perhaps could have tracked down his family to tell them that at that point in time, he was OK. 

Once he was put in an ambulance, I know I just started pacing back and forth, looking at his blood on my hands, and then just sat on the curb. A medic came over and poured something on my hands to clean the blood off. 

At some point the we were told to start moving north. I must have been 10 to 15 blocks away when the first building collapsed. Everyone thought it was an explosion and started running. I looked behind me and saw a wall of debris and dust and smoke coming toward us. I’m pretty sure I uttered another prayer then too. 

I had the foresight to think of my parents seeing this on TV and worrying. I kept going up to people asking if I could use their cell phone, but none of them were working. The lines at the pay phones were already long. I ran into a restaurant and grabbed that phone and called a friend (whose number was the only one I could remember) who I knew was uptown and told him to try and get my folks (which he was able to do). 

I then just walked home to midtown Manhattan, along with everyone else. 

I was just going to type this as a quick E-mail saying I was OK…but I think I needed to put this all down in words…for myself. To begin to comprehend. 

I don’t know if my office building was damaged. I can’t imagine when we’ll be able to go back there. And to tell you the truth, I don’t know, at this point, if I can go back down there. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if we all will know, or know of, someone who was killed. I can’t even begin to think about that. 

The people of this city have, as only New Yorkers can, banded together in mutual support; people clustered on street corners listening to radios…groups of a few or more standing to just talk…and the unspoken communication, with our eyes, as we pass one another. I can’t imagine how long it will take this city to even begin to mend and heal. But that can be said for our whole country and each of us.

Watching the skies, near Dulles

Kathleen K. Taylor, Washington, D.C. 

I live less than five miles from Dulles International Airport, and I’m one of those rare breeds—a native Washingtonian. Unfortunately there were acts of man’s inhumanity against man, the race riots of 1968 in D.C., the attack on B’nai B’rith in the ’70s, when I was growing up. I had worked on Capitol Hill in the mid ’80s for a congressional committee that dealt with terrorismwhen the TWA flight was hijacked in Lebanon and a Navy diver was killed and his body thrown on the tarmac at the Beirut airport. As it turned out, I had September 11 off from work and was watching the news when the first WTC building was struck, and I saw the second tower hit by the second plane. At that point the realization hit me of what was unfolding. I quickly got dressed, called my partner, and drove to the office. 

During the brief drive, I heard on the radio that the Pentagon was hit. I got to work and everyone was huddled around computers and TVs. We got reports that yet another plane was circling Dulles from Pittsburgh (which is where I went to college and still have friends, and where most of my mom’s family lives). At that point I grabbed my boss, threw her in my vehicle and went to the local middle school and elementary school to get her kids. When we got to one of the schools ( I don’t remember which) the principal was outside, and another parent came up to get her kids, saying that her husband had been killed. It was almost surreal; we were doing our best to try to explain but not to worry the kids as we drove back to the office while simultaneously looking skyward for the next plane to come in. I called my mom, told her we were OK and that I would try to get down to see her as soon as I could. (She lives about 40 minutes south) 

The roads soon became congested, and I couldn’t make the trip but talked to her throughout the day and called a few people all over the country to let them know that my partner and myself were OK. I have not yet heard from one friend who works down at the Pentagon, but he may be OK as he may have been in Russia on business,and it is my understanding that several of my father’s former business associates (he was a stockbroker) may have perished in the WTC. And the plane that went down in western Pennsylvania is on just the other side of the mountain from my mom’s hometown, where most of the family still is. Oh, and my boss—her sister was supposed to be on flight 77 out of Dulles that crashed into the Pentagon but decided to be cheap and decided to fly out of Baltimore Washington airport—about 60-miles away. So, all in all, we are lucky, very lucky. 

A couple of days later as I write this, we have settled into an eerie routine, there are still very, very few planes, which had become so much a part of our daily lives living so close to an airport, and when we hear one, everyone rushes to a window or goes outside as it is now so far out of the norm. On most occasions, it is one of the F-14s or F-16s that continue to patrol the area. I thought that I would be better prepared, given my background. I was wrong. I, unlike others, am not really surprised it could happen here. I, like others, am horrified and shocked beyond words at the magnitude of what did happen here. I, like others, will do whatever I can to offer aid and fly our American flag as Congress has requested for the next 30 days or so. And tomorrow, when I have to drive by the Pentagon, I will say another prayer for the families and friends of those who were lost, those who are trying to save, and for our country. God Bless America.


From my kitchen window

Catharina Torok, Jersey City, N.J.

Mass suffering and atrocities seen on TV in the past have remained just that. Atrocities seen on TV. The mass suffering and atrocities read about in newspapers and seen on photographs have remained safely at a distance. Now, as I walk out of my building, I see that the atrocities seen on TV, the atrocities pictured in newspapers can be witnessed, felt, and experienced live by me. It is a tangibility of a sort that all of us would rather not experience. I write this at home in Jersey City, sitting directly across the Hudson Tiver from the World Trade Center. I used to be able to see the Twin Towers from my kitchen window. I was somehow proud and even took pictures of “my view” when I first moved in. They were such an intrinsic part of “my” view. Eerie not to see them there any more. That is perhaps the most glaring and tangible reminder of a day that we will not ever forget. I now have a minor inkling and a beginning of an understanding of what my parents went through during the war and understand the need to not forget. 

I have received several E-mails and phone calls from all over the planet—from that aspect it has been a heartwarming and comforting experience. Thank you so much for making me feel so loved and cared for. I find myself thwarted in my efforts to put all (some) of this in words, to try and relate some of this to you. I discover with interest and resignation that words seem so inadequate and void of power at this point. It seems almost futile to try to begin to describe what has happened and what is happening as we speak (read). 

Yesterday eve, my partner and I took a walk in the park—a concentrated effort to try to regain some normalcy—and we were overwhelmed by the acrid smell of something in between burnt paint and asbestos. We are about seven miles away from the actual location. An odorous cloud of smoke is shifting to different points of the city depending on the direction of the wind, almost as if to force us all to share the pain. Not that any forcing is needed, because there is a sense among us survivors that dealing with a little acrid smell is nothing compared to the pain that other families are going through. It’s a tangible reminder that, strangely (and masochistically?), one almost welcomes. 

Seems like swift progress is being made in the investigation—one can only hope that some action is taken but that it will not be of the knee-jerk sort and stoop down to the level of the actions taken against the United States on September 11, 2001. 

New Yorkers’ response to offer help has been overwhelming and heartwarming. I tried to donate blood at two distinct locations yesterday and was thanked and sent away as they already had “enough for now.” There are fewer victims than expected. The city carries a sense of camaraderie and politeness and friendliness. One is asked “How are you?” and people wait for your response. There is a sentiment in the air that yes, the world is a different place than it was prior to September 11, 2001. Atrocity has struck inside our home, but as survivors we each have a responsibility to make a difference in our own small daily lives. The idealist in me hopes that if all of us try to take it a day at a time, a person at a time, an effort at a time, we will be able to break apart the pieces of this mass suffering and somehow, miraculously, recreate a tangible peace. 

To those of you whom I have included in this E-mail but haven’t heard from, I hope that you and your loved ones are well and that you are finding solace and peace among each other to overcome these bizarre, surreal, horrifying, trying (and tangible), times. 

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers


Witness to the first attack

David Rosenauer, New York, N.Y. 

I was sitting at my desk on the south side of the 49th Floor of the Met Life building. It was a beautiful, sunny Tuesday morning. At approximately 8:40 a.m., a jet flew directly overhead, so close that the entire building shook. I looked out the window and saw the tail end of a jet flying directly over midtown, heading toward downtown. It’s too low, I thought to myself. A few minutes later I thought, It’s not turning left…it’s not turning left (the direction planes flying over midtown usually turn when heading toward LaGuardia). Instead, the plane veered to the right, heading straight for, and crashing into, the north tower. I jumped from my chair and shouted, to no one in particular, “Did you see that? A plane just flew into the World Trade Center!” 

I tried calling my boyfriend, who was safely out on Fire Island, but got no answer. I ran down one floor to our main conference room, which also had a direct view of the WTC and also had a large-screen TV. I flipped the channels; finally Channel 5 had someone on. Although the traffic helicopter was broadcasting the damage clearly, the newscaster kept on saying “We have no confirmation.” I ran back to my office and quickly called my boyfriend again, this time getting through. I told him what I had seen and how I was convinced that this was no accident. While we were talking the south tower burst into flames. We thought a bomb had gone off since, from my angle, we could not see the plane that hit the south tower. At that point Rex (my boyfriend) said, “Get out of there right now.” I hesitated for a minute, thinking it would be setting a bad example for the staff to see one of the partners fleeing. A few seconds later it was confirmed that a second plane had hit. I told Rex I was leaving, said I loved him, grabbed my computer, and ran to the elevator. I don’t think I ever have been as scared as I was during that long elevator ride down. 

Once on the street, I started walking toward Chelsea. I called Rex (and somehow actually got through) and relayed the street scene to him. Midtown was in total gridlock and panic. People were running in all directions, most simultaneously frantically trying to reach someone, anyone, on their cell phones. After hanging up, I started walking down Madison, eventually making my way to Madison Square Park. I sat down on a bench facing uptown, away from the burning towers, still unable to believe what I had seen. A while later people started screaming. Thinking there had been another attack, I ran to Fifth Avenue and looked downtown. Where the south tower had stood only a cloud of smoke remained. Choking back the tears, I walked/ran/stumbled to a friend’s apartment on Seventh Avenue. Once there, I sent Rex an E-mail telling him where I was, the telephones being useless. We then went up to the roof deck just in time for the collapse of the north tower. 

The next few days were a blur. Rex made it into the city on Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday night, I was walking near Penn Station when several police cars started blocking off all of the side streets. One car was driving down the avenue with someone yelling out of its loudspeaker, “Get off of the streets! Run to the south and west as fast as you can!” I ran home, watched the news, and learned about a purported bomb in the Empire State Building. After that, I went to bed, not wanted to even think about what Thursday would bring.

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