Sunday, September 11, 2011

My 9-11 Recollection

There are a million or more stories about 9-11 and today I've heard and reheard many. Most are dramatic, all are sad. I have one too, neither dramatic nor just is what it is and I thought I'd write it here as a matter of record mostly just for myself. As we sit here this evening watching a recounting of the day, I realize how much we lost, how much we've changed and how little we gained. Here then is what happened to my family that day:

In 1990, I went back to work after being a stay-at-home mom for 14 years. A graphic designer by profession, I had worked in Manhattan for several years before having my first child. By 1990, I had three children and had the opportunity to go back to work part time for our local newspaper, The Staten Island Advance. I was to be an art director and would enter the news business for the first time at the age of 40. My hours and responsibilities at the paper increased rapidly and by 2000, I had attained the position of the lead art director for the paper. My children, now that much older, were self sufficient and my thoughts turned to returning to Manhattan to work. I love New York City and missed the energy and excitement that the city provides.

The Word Trade Center concourse prior to September 11.
I started to job search and after about three weeks and several interviews, I was offered an art director position at The Wall Street Journal. The Journal was located downtown at 1 World Financial Center directly across from 2 World Trade Center. I had never worked downtown but for those of us living in Staten Island, the location was ideal. In December of  2000, I found myself getting off the X1 bus from the Island which stopped conveniently in front of the Century 21 Department store on Church Street. An entrance to the Trade Center was directly across from the store and I learned how to navigate the underground maze of stores, eateries and escalators that comprised the shopping concourse. There was an indoor  bridge that crossed over West Street into the beautiful palm-treed Winter Garden located in the heart of the Financial Center. From there it was a short walk to my building. This became my routine.

Because I was the newest art director, when it came time to choose summer vacations, I offered to defer mine until after Labor Day. My week off would start the second week of September and my husband and I made plans to go to Bermuda, departing Newark Airport on on Monday, September 10, 2001 the same day my son started his first real job at a midtown accounting firm. My daughter, the oldest, was also working in midtown. The youngest was still in college and was home.

The weather that week was beautiful in New York and just as nice in Bermuda. We spent the first day at the beach and looked forward to a relaxing couple of days. On September 11, instead of having breakfast in the hotel dining room with my husband, I stayed in bed watching 'Good Morning America'. Near the end of the show, the first report came in about a small plane hitting one of the towers. As the show continued past it's scheduled time and the reports became more dire, I dressed and walked to the restaurant to let my husband know. By that time, the news was spreading around the hotel and we headed, like most everyone else, back to our rooms to watch the broadcasts and to try to make contact with our children. I worried about them even though they didn't work in the area. I thought too about my office. Our desks were on the World Trade Center side but most of us didn't need to be in until 11 a.m. As we watched, we had a sense of the seriousness of what was happening back in New York, but at that early hour things were still sketchy.

The Trade Center concourse after the attack.
Calling home became an odyssey but by early afternoon, our children were accounted for. We were lucky enough not to lose anyone close to us, but discovered as the days went on, the devastating losses that some acquaintances and fellow Staten Islanders experienced. By the following day, we were itching to get out of Bermuda but flights were grounded everywhere. My husband and I became fixtures in the bar at the Elbow Beach Hotel, not to drink, but to spend hours watching their large screen TV. We weren't alone of was standing room only. In all of the news reports, though, the fate of The Wall Street Journal offices was never mentioned. We never went back to the beach.

On Friday, an Air Canada flight opened up. We hastily packed and headed to the airport only to find thousands of would be vacationers trying to do the same thing. But as luck would have it, we we able to get on the flight and by early evening arrived in Toronto. There were no rental cars available, the trains were sold out. By late evening, we had secured a bus heading to New York's Port Authority. The prospect of a 13 hour ride was decidedly unappealing but it was truly the only way home...and that was where we wanted to be.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, September 16, we finally arrived in New York, eerily quiet and devoid of people, not at all like the city I know so well.

Going back to work on Sunday, I was relocated with my fellow journalists to New Jersey for almost a year.  I wanted to work in Manhattan. I was back in the suburbs.... but that was a small inconvenience as it turned out. By now, we all have realized the impact of that day: two wars, shattered families, financial chaos and so much death.

I was proud of my family who collected themselves in our absence and got home safely. I was proud of my paper for getting an impossible job done. I was proud of my city and my country for banding together and bouncing back from pure devastation, pure evil. While in Bermuda, the shop and restaurant owners were terrifically comforting to those of us from New York. My old paper, The Staten Island Advance, did a wonderful job of profiling the 274 Islanders who lost their lives that day.

Ten years later, it's still a moment, one we will never forget, and as I watch the TV coverage of the anniversary, a tear still comes easily to the eye.

Never forget. Never forget.

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