Tuesday, September 10, 2002

As September 11 is tomorrow and I have no plans to do an entry on that day beyond my own silent tribute, I thought I would take a moment to pass along my September 11 story.

I was consulting at Bear Stearns at the time at their former office on Park Avenue. Normally, I would have gone to the gym that morning and gotten in a great workout but on this day I opted against the gym for another few minutes of sleep. Don't ask me why I just did. The group I was consulting with was located on the fifth floor in a former computer server room that had been converted into office space and the room was bitterly cold all the time because of all of the air conditioning units that were in the room dedicated to keeping the computer infrastructure cool. At that time, I believe everyone was in the office already. There were thirteen of us all at our desks getting prepped for meetings and such when our project manager, Alison, came out of her office to tell us that her fiance had reported that a plan had just struck the World Trade Center.

Of course, our thoughts immediately turned to the incident with the Empire State Building and we all assumed it was a bi-plane that had hit the building. I called a few friends in Florida as well as my mother and told them about this but they had already heard reports that it was an airliner -- not a biplane. At this point, a few coworkers and I decided to head down to the trading floor to watch the news coverage on any of the many television monitors down there. In vivid color was the smoldering trade center tower. It was unreal. It was surreal. Sure enough, our worst nightmares were realized when we all watched the second plane smash into the other tower adn large fireball plume that erupted from the building. Soon word about a plan crashing into the Pentagon and a plan off course in Pennsylvania was running through our office. Something was definitely not right this day. Things were spinning out of control and just when you had acclimated yourself to one news item another one was being reported.

Back on the fifth floor, one of the technical guys had converted one of his computer monitors into a TV and we were watching the coverage live from our own office instead of the now crammed and packed trading floors. I put in a few more phone calls this time to other family members to let them know that I was okay and not downtown. My maternal grandmother didn't know what had happened as she did not have on the TV set at the time. Therefore, my telling her that I was okay and not downtown at the time was pretty much a cryptic message for her. As for my paternal grandmother, she was crying not only because of what had happened but because she didn't know if I was safe or where I was. My phone call to her helped to alleviate some of her fears but we knew that the end result of this day was not going to be good.

At this point, I remembered my friend Fran who worked downtown in the World Trade Center. I knew that I couldn't call her for obvious reasons and I took the chance that she might be home. Thank God she was and had opted that morning to go into work late. However, while on the phone with her, I heard one of my workers call out that the first tower had collapsed. It was unthinkable. Totally unthinkable. Fran and I immediately got off the phone and we watched in horror as they replayed the towers collapse. Alison was frantic with her fiance her wanted her to come home immediately while she was trying to figure out what to do with all of us still at the office because we couldn't really leave. At this point all of the bridges and subways were shut down and the only way out of Manhattan was on a ferry. Three of the New Jersey employees left to grab a ferry to get home while the rest of us were at the office. The fourth NJer had gone down to Ground Zero to meet up with her husband and go from there. The four Manhattan employees were dismissed to walk home as well -- all but one was within a relatively close walking distance. The one employee who lived in Brooklyn left to meet up with his girlfriend while the employee from the Bronx left to meet up with some Manhattan based friends as well. As the only Queens employee, my boss, Alison, said to pack up my bags because I was heading home with her until we could get it all figured out.

Now during this entire time I was emailing friends on our mailing list and letting them know I'm okay and asking them to send my father, who was in Canada at the time an email to let him know I was okay. Leaving the computer, which was the only link I had to so many people, was hard. Even though I could talk to them over the phone, I could always email out if they couldn't get in.

My boss, who was prone to wearing heels not suitable for the amount of walking that we were about to do, had to buy shoes at the Sports Authority across the street so we could do the horribly long hike to her apartment. We're talking across town and up thirty blocks or more. The entire hike took about ninety minutes or so as we had to traverse Central Park and stop along the way to listen to the occasional newscast as people with radios were sitting out in Central Park with people just standing around listening. It was a helpless feeling.

At her apartment we did nothing more than drinking wine and watch the news. If we weren't already numb, we were rapidly getting there. Alison and I, prior to this day, had a wonderful working relationship. I was a "go to" guy in the team, the person she gave the special assignments to because she knew they would get done and get done right the first time (not to mention pretty fast as well). I was, generally, the first person in the office each day. Alison and I would talk about books and politics or television or movies but never work. But during this walk back to her apartment and ensuing conversations afterwards, she and I forged a tight bond that, I believe, made many people in the office envious. We discussed our backgrounds, our personal history, our lives and totally understood each other. This was no longer a boss-employee relationship as much as it was two people who were caught in the worst moment in American history trying to make some sense out of it for themselves if not for each other.

That night after dinner, I wanted to go home. It was nothing against Alison or her fiance, Mike, but I wanted the comforts of home. I was pretty much told it would be an impossibility due to the bridge restrictions and such. My only choice was to spend the night on the daybed in their apartment and see what the status is the next day. I barely slept that night. When I did sleep, I don't think it was from the actual need or desire to sleep as much as it was from simple emotional, mental, and physical fatigue. Part of me to this day thinks that Alison and I needed each other just a little bit longer to make it through that first day together. I had already spoken to my family to let them know I wasn't home just yet and that I would call them when I got home the next day.

I finally got home around noon the next day and turned on the Cartoon Network just so I could watch something other than the news. I stopped off at Fairway (the best supermarket in NYC) and got some comfort food in pistachios, trail mix, oriental mix, etc. so I could sit at home and at least have something food wise that would give me comfort. I would later learn I was one of the lucky ones who did not know anyone who passed away in the tragedies of that day. However, in hindsight, I learned at lot more. I learned how much I love my family and friends and, in turn, how much they love me. I gained a wonderful new friend in Alison (although that didn't seem to go over well with the coworkers as if I care at this point). I gained a new insight on life itself and how fragile it really is. I learned that people can open their hearts and their homes to total strangers who had no place to turn in their time of need. People who couldn't get home being adopted for the evening by someone they shared an elevator with on occasion or just someone on the street who was there to comfort them.

I've moved on since that day. I am beyond that moment in history and choose not to let the actions of a small group dictate how I live. I freely fly home on vacations with no trepidation. I live my life remembering what happened, but not letting it dictate my actions. It's my small, public act of defiance that lets everyone know that they may have thought they won but all they did was awaken the angry beast of patriotism that had been dormant for so long.

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