Like many, I can remember exactly where I was when the first plane flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. When I think back, all the feelings of shock, horror, and sadness return, and I am also reminded of a haunting premonition my husband, John, had.
On Thursday, August 28, 2001, he took an early train to Grand Central for a meeting at the World Trade Center, as he often did. He planned on having lunch with his daughter, Laura, who was finishing up an internship there, afterwards. Two of his friends stood waiting for him as he reached the stairs to go up to the Trade Center. But as he reached the first step, John became physically sick as a vision of smoke, death, and the Towers crashing down suffocated him and brought him to his knees. When he stood up, visibly shaken, he refused to enter the building, saying that the Towers were going to fall. Instead, he called for his daughter and the others to come down and meet him at a nearby restaurant, to which they agreed despite their shock over John’s words.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was about two weeks after my husband had refused to enter the lobby of the World Trade Center. I had just gotten the twins off to school and left the house to take our Bullmastiff, Max, for a walk. At the time, our home was located in the air corridor close to the Westchester Airport. We had been living there for almost five years and knew the flight patterns well. As I walked Max, a jet roared overhead, lower than I had ever seen from our street and from a direction that was inconsistent with normal flight patterns in our area. I would later learn I was not the only one in my neighborhood to see that plane that day.
Back at the house, John was on a conference call with several traders, one of which was in the South Tower, when a loud alarm interrupted the call. John asked what was going on, and the trader said something had happened in the North Tower, to which John replied, “Get out of the building.” The trader said, “It’s not our building, it’s the North Tower,” to which John repeated his warning, “I don’t care, just get out.” Then, he hung up the phone and went to the family room to turn on the TV.
At the same time I returned home anxious to tell John about the plane I saw, he was yelling to me that something terrible had happened. I turned the corner into the family room and witnessed the television coverage of a plane crashing into the South Tower. We were both momentarily speechless, trying to make sense of what we had just seen. All of the people in the office from John’s conference call got out safely that day, but 2,996 others did not.
John and I left for Tod’s Point, a beachfront in our town where you can see the Manhattan skyline on a clear day, but two smokestacks spewing out of the WTC towers marred the normally beautiful view. John put his head down wiping away his tears as we joined a group of people who had gathered in silence. The only sounds were seagulls calling and choked sobs as we watched the Towers burn.
School got out early that day, and the tone during dismissal was one of shock and grief. Thirty-two moms, dads, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles either residing in our town or with ties to our town died in the tragedy. A number of children from our school lost a mom or dad, aunt or uncle. It was just the beginning of the tears and mourning for our community. Over the next week, almost daily there was a funeral procession somewhere in town, marking a life cut short and the sorrow of a final farewell. The sadness in our town was particularly palpable for me as I relived the pain of my own grief journey along with the mourners. My heart broke all over again for this tragic loss of life, and it still does.
Please pause with me to remember those who died in the attack on 9/11 and to pray for the families who mourn them. Their pain is not forgotten.