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Sep 11, 2008

September 11 - Tragic Memories, Strong Reminder

(Photo by :Robert McMahan

Seven years ago, the day was September 11, 2001. The wound has healed, but a slight bruise in place of it still stirs up tragic memories. I remember that day as if it just happened; and I remember the few days leading up to that grim event that would change everyone and everything.

At the time I was still employed by a global accounting firm, headquartered in Two World Financial Center. The lovely Winter Garden sat, nestled perfectly between the Two Towers and the buildings of the Financial Center. It was always pleasant to stroll through the bridge connecting my building to One World Trade Center; especially when the Winter Garden would empty, signaling the end of the work day for most, but just the middle of the work day for myself and others.

The week of September 3rd was a quiet one… foreboding, but quiet. It was one of the first weeks when I actually had some downtime and would often contemplate my life amidst the palm trees of the Winter Garden. After finishing up some big projects, I had decided to take advantage of my free time by exploring the job market and pursuing a new opportunity. It was September 5th, when my first job interview led me to 85th floor of Two World Trade Center.

The position was with a Japanese broker dealer and I had performed well with the various managers and peers that I met throughout the day, including Max, the light-hearted hiring manager who would be my potential boss. I felt good walking the halls of the firm – the people were friendly, the environment was laid back, and the company seemed to value family life, as there was artwork made by children, pasted along the walls of the office. The artwork made me smile and gave me hope that there was a company out there that valued life above work. Max’s own son had drawn his portrait rather accurately, a bit rotund, with a huge smile on his face.

So, we’ll see you next week for the final interview?” Max seemed pretty certain that I was interested, which of course, I was.

Yes”, I smiled enthusiastically, “please give me a call and let me know what day to come in!”

Little did I know, I would never come back into that office… and I still have the temporary ID from that day as a reminder.

Every morning from September 5th on, would be the same. I lived in a pretty convenient spot on 42nd Street and had only a few steps to take from my apartment building to the subway platform on the corner of my block. My alarm clock would ring at 7am, and because I had a shoebox for a room, I would bang my right elbow on the wall and my left elbow on the bookcase, while trying to hit the snooze button. My roommate would still be sleeping off the late night he had, working on his start-up business and tune out the noise I made stumbling around my room and the bathroom, while getting ready for work..

Fifteen minutes… that’s all it took for me to get from Hell’s Kitchen to the World Trade Center; another 5 minutes is all it took to emerge from the bowels of the subway at 6 World Trade Center and walk through the army of suited drones in a mechanical fashion.

I would make my first stop at Timothy’s World of Coffee after stepping off the escalator for a quick caffeine fix. Afterwards, a quick browse of the Banana Republic store window and quick walk through Borders, and I would blast through the revolving glass doors that served as the portal to the vast lobby of 1 World Trade Center. Dodging the usual tourists, I would make my way to the bridge connecting the World Trade Center to the World Financial Center. It was an invigorating walk, and a walk I miss.

Fast forward 5:30pm – Monday, September 10th, my friend Bob and I were standing in the middle of the bridge to the Winter Garden, staring out into the rain as traffic raced past underneath us.

What a lousy day,” I grumbled, “but better on a Tuesday than over the weekend.” Bob nodded his head in agreement and stared blankly down at West Street. He had also come off some pretty grueling projects and was in shock that he actually had time to breathe.

Tomorrow’s my birthday,” Bob muttered indifferently. “Man, I’m getting old… I’m only 26 and I already have a bald spot.

I held myself back from laughing; the comment was true after all. I patted Bob on the back to cheer him up. “Hey man, a few drinks tomorrow night will cheer you up! Oh wait… I forgot that you don’t drink, so you’re screwed.

Ass!” Bob replied with a half smile, to let me know that he knew I was kidding.

Hey… maybe we can catch Cirque Du Soleil when they get here in two weeks,” I suggested, “now, that would be cool!” All week there had been giant banners advertising the coming of the mysterious circus troupe… all of my co-workers were eager to see them in action in the Winter Garden.

Well, 6pm… time to go home,” Bob stated matter-of-factly, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 – I woke up rather disoriented. My alarm clock didn’t sound and I squinted in the darkness to see the time. “Shit! It’s 8:20am!” I jumped out of bed and dashed for the bathroom. I quickly showered, brushed my teeth, and jumped into my suit, trying to button my dress shirt furiously.

RIIIIIIIIING… the telephone rang at 8:47am. It was my girlfriend who asked how I was and if I saw the news.

Did you see the tower?” she asked sounding concerned. I turned on my 13” television and saw smoke from 1 World Trade Center being broadcast on NY1. I dismissed the sight as some accident, stating… “Eh… they’ll put that fire out… hey, I gotta get going now.” Much to my girlfriend’s disappointment, I reassured her that everything would be okay and made a dash down the stairs… to the subway… and in the subway.

The time was 8:55am – the E train creaked its way to 34th Street, then 14th Street. Then at 9:10am it stopped. The conductor announced that service to the World Trade Center would be suspended due to a fire in the towers.

What did that mean? Towers? I thought only one tower was on fire?” I looked as a stream of people boarded the train to head back uptown. As I got back to my apartment, I found my roommate surprisingly awake and watching TV.

Did you see what happened?” he asked.

No… are they putting out the fire now?” I replied.

It’s a terrorist attack… a second plane just hit the tower when you were gone”.

I stared at the TV in shock as a replay of the second plane looped on NY1. It was unbelievable… surreal… unbelievable.

The time was 10:05am – My roommate and I felt the pangs of disbelief and denial. The first tower went down. 23 minutes later, the second tower fell.

My phone didn’t work… then I got through to my girlfriend… to my family… but I couldn’t get through to my co-workers or my other friends downtown. The day was damned… but I was alive and questioned why I wasn’t there. Later I would find out that hundreds of others would have this same question, “How did I manage to wake up late for work?”

The following weeks were rough on everyone. Upper-management from my firm called and confirmed that I was alive. Everywhere, there was a bogus bomb scare, from Port Authority to Grand Central to Empire State. Some sick people actually thought it would be funny to capitalize on the aftermath.

I was scared and still in denial… a bunch of my co-workers got together to cope with the events over lunch, over dinner, over drinks and more drinks… but nothing seemed to fill the void we all felt.

The second week following the attack, I went to visit my parents in Jersey City to give them comfort that I in fact still existed. They didn’t want me to go back… but I felt that I had to… My roommate, who was an overly ambitious photographer, would keep me updated on the happenings around town. He would then go on to capture one of the most touching photographs of firefighters in the midst of disaster, “Walk of Courage” (

Feeling like I had to fill a void, I drove to downtown Jersey City to volunteer with the groups unloading trucks to supply the fire fighters and law enforcement with much needed supplies. Volunteering helped my soul feel better… just a little, but it was never enough.

I look back now… it’s September 11, 2008. I’m grateful that I woke up late that morning and that it was my destiny to live to be a husband, to be a father, and to be a friend. I’ve embraced the chance I was given and lived positively for the next few years – but we all know that over time positive spirit can fade. But, every year on September 11, I’m reminded of my pact with hope, and my positive feelings through grim reminders are always renewed.

God bless everyone who was affected on this day… you are not alone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing such touching, personal thoughts and memories. Your writing really gave me a different perspective for that day. I'm sure it must be difficult for you as well as many others, whenever September 11 comes around. The world trade center will always live on in pictures and memories.