My 9/11 Story
I believe I have truly one of the most amazing stories of that day. It had begun as a normal, cool Autumn day and I had arrived to work about one hour early, getting out underneath at the old stop, "Cortland" now closed for years. Do you remember getting out there? Who knew? My workplace, or job, was at One Liberty Plaza, directly across the street and connected underground by a tunnel, also closed for years. It was actually a whole world underneath the Twin Towers, which brought together NYC and New Jersey, via the Path Trains. I must have gotten out and waited around for a few minutes, finally deciding on sitting directly in front of the globe, just about centered in the complex, beneath both North and South Tower. I was new to my job and having some problems learning all the new data and programs for a huge law firm. Filing wasn't new to me, but any unfamiliar system usually takes me longer than most. Having a lot on my mind, I was enjoying the view of the Twin Towers, in my little world, the concrete bench and the cool, crisp air blowing across the plaza. I was watching many people scurrying and hurrying into the buildings, headed for work. I thought nothing of it, because I had witnessed this scene many times before. Unaware of the impending disaster about to happen, I was oblivious to the eminent danger and world-changing events I was to witness very shortly.
Now, Joey and I had been planning to head over to Ireland and I had seen a book on Northern Ireland a couple of days prior to 9/11, but wasn't completely sold on the idea of buying it. So there I was, in my own mind, enjoying the beautiful morning and my perfect surroundings. I thought it was a wonderful and peaceful setting. Then something inside me, like a "small voice", began prompting me to head on into Borders, which was on the first floor and basement level of the North Tower at that time. I didn't want to leave, or even get up. I was comfortable, happy and determined to stay right there on that bench, enjoying the morning. Then the second "prompting" began, but I ignored it. My resolve was to not be dictated to by something internal, which was beginning to annoy me. Finally, the third and final time, I was yelling to me, "Get up off your a** and go to Borders - NOW !!" I swear, that's exactly how it happened. I couldn't make it up. You see, this was not the first time something like this had happened, nor the last. Call it whatever you like, but me, it's part of my life and it works. So, reluctantly, I went into Borders, down the escalator and to the travel section, looking for that book on Northern Ireland. I was there about three minutes when a loud crash blasted my ears, along with everyone else there in the store. There was a guy who looked directly at me and me at him and we knew - time to get out and fast! No more that a few seconds later, the Path Train was emptying out and a stampede was in full progress, running through the lower lobby, up the escalator and out, shouting, "It's a bomb!" I followed suit and hurried up and out the building. Then I saw it. There was the North Tower, burning in a blaze of red-orange color, smoke billowing up and people running, screaming, panic-stricken, not knowing where to go or what to do. The level of confusion and noise, smell of fire and smoke, terror and fear was overwhelming and frightening beyond words.
My first instinct was to run over to the Broadway entrance of One Liberty and take the elevator up to the 44th floor, where I would call Joey to let him know I'm okay. That was my immediate plan and that's exactly what I did without the slightest hesitation. He must know I'm alright. So I took the elevator up to the 44th floor, exited and as soon as my co-workers spotted me, they all yelled, "Call Joey, Call Joey!" So I called Joey. While I was telling him what had happened, the second plane crashed into the South Tower and One Liberty shook! My supervisor, Lindsay, yelled out, "That's no accident, that's a terrorist! Let's get out of here - now!!" We all grabbed our belongings, I told Joey "good-bye' and we were headed to the stairwell, no elevator. We had been ordered down the stairs by a voice on the intercom system and it was crowded, even though it was still early. That voice reiterated what Lindsay had said about getting out now and we were all for that. It took about thirty minutes, because those at the front, or beginning of the stairs were taking their sweet time. It was an evacuation to safety I will never forget. When I finally got to the first, or main floor lobby, we were ordered outside immediately and quite verbally. Nobody was kidding about the seriousness of the moment. Then, for the first time, I was shocked, amazed, terrified, afraid, mortified and horrified beyond my wildest nightmare. There were both towers, engulfed in that horrible red-orange blaze, burning out of control, gray-black smoke billowing up far into the sky, ashes and debris falling down - until I heard those words I shall never forget, "Oh my God, they're jumping!" In that instant, my stomach flipped over, my mind went blank and my knees buckled. It was the worst sight I have ever seen in my entire life. All the sounds, sights and smells had been multiplied, amplified and taken to a whole new level of extreme horror. The level of all that had escalated to peak and the whole world seemed doomed and deadly.
You know the rest of the story. It took me four hours to get home and Joey was in tears, ready to pass out when he saw me. The love of my life and my family were so very relieved. Why I was spared, I'll never know. If I had not gone into Borders, the jet fuel, which showered and splattered down upon impact would have cooked me on the spot. I found that out a year or so later.
One very emotional note. On 9/11/02, Joey and I were in Aix-en-Provence and long story short, I was honored at a solidarity church service at St. Savior, the largest cathedral in that part of France, as being an American survivor of 9/11. The service was dedicated to me and I was asked to stand up and be recognized in front of a packed huge service. The tears rolled down my cheeks like a fountain. People came up to me and said, "God bless you!" and all I could think was that He already had and that others were not as fortunate. I was presented a little carved statue of a French fireman, which I still have and hold as a constant reminder of that day when that "Voice" spoke to me and saved me from a horrible, untimely death.
© 2010 James M.
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