On 9/11/01 I had been living in Manhattan all of 3 months after 10 years of open sky in Boulder, Colorado. I had taken a job transfer with SUN Microsystems and returned to the city believing it was time to go back to my friends and family on the East Coast. My new job was on the 25th floor of WTC2 and I was, in fact, on time for work that day…
I left my apartment that I shared with Police Officer S. Doherty on 28th & 2nd with the album “No Kill No Beep Beep” by the band “Q and not U” blaring through my headphones.
The music kept my pace quick on my way to the subway and I made my transfer at Union Square after a dodge and weave on the platform. Jeans, T-shirt & sneakers was my clothing choice for the day. When I arrived in the basement of 2WTC I couldn’t hear anything with my headphones in, and visually everything appeared like a typical commute inside the building when I came up from the subway into the lobby. There was a smell I dismissed as coming from one of the businesses in the mall and I continued my New York City stride through the turnstiles and onto the elevators - express to the 25th floor.
The night before, I convinced my co-worker not to come in to Manhattan as he had a wake to attend to in NJ. He stayed late and installed our new sunblade desktops in our newly assigned work area, a windowless room with a ceiling speaker. Not really knowing anyone well I cruised into our workroom for the first time and didn’t even put my bag down before logging in to see if the install was successful. As my desktop started to display my buddy Avel, who worked the mail room and showed me the office layout in the building, announced that WTC was evacuating over the loud speaker. My mind started moving fast: 110 stories evacuating? Better to get on the front end of that. I pivoted and walked across the hall and entered the stairwell. No elevators. Coming down the stairs was steady and only backed up briefly. I started sending pages from my 2-way Skytel text pager, reporting what I overheard others repeating as they were able to get information from calling out on their cell phones. I sent the first text to my manager in Toronto and my co-worker in NJ: Explosion in 1 WTC.
Someone said a plane had hit Tower One and I thought about how a small plane once hit the Empire State Building but concentrated on the steady progress of individuals working their way down the stairs. As I walked out of the stairwell I was facing the plaza, simultaneously I heard an announcement which included the approximate phrase “2 WTC is secure, please find the nearest re-entry point and return to your office”. This contradicted the visual information I took in which was a huge piece of landing gear square in the middle of the plaza. As I squinted and leaned into the scene I realized that I might be looking at parts of people that had been on the plane and I turned away immediately, scanning the lobby for the safest exit. I honestly thought to myself, “the structural integrity of that building is compromised” while my memory swept through all the geeky conversations I had been privy to over the past 8 years working in IT. Why would I listen to a security guard making an “announcement”? I realize now it was easy for me to make that decision because I only had made a couple of new friends so I wasn’t looking for anyone to make sure they were safe.
No revolving doors in case of a crush. I picked the door on the East side of the building and it seemed like I was one of a few who made that decision because my path was clear. Burning debris falling from the sky. The smell - jet fuel. I put my bag over my head, verbally chastised someone to run and crossed Church St. I decided to page my manager, what was my responsibility? I barely understood my new job description. I texted him that I thought I should leave and I picked a spot on the subway steps in front of Century 21. Half way down the stairs, in case I needed to go underground quick, but still above ground so I could receive the return page from Toronto. I stood there and waited for the reply and watched the building burn, I didn’t see anyone jump.
The next moment was all about the sound of a “jet”, an accelerating scream tunneling through the corridors of concrete. A sound tunnel. And as I looked up, straight overhead, I saw the 2nd plane absorb into the tower and for one surreal beat of my heart the plane was “sitting’ inside the building - then it exploded. So strange. The plane didn’t seem to pass through, it appeared to embed then explode. I felt it that day - but I didn’t consider a reason why until years later. The sky exploded into a fireball of fuel as I must have leaped down the steps…
Underground - not thinking now. I absorbed the the explosion physically. I was vibrating. I landed on the subway platform of the N/R line. Only a couple of people, one lady ran up to me grabbed me by the shoulders and started screaming into my face, “OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!” I actually turned around and kind of shrugged at the MTA employee in the booth as I asked, “Are the trains running?” No time for a response I’m not getting on mass transit anything. But then I was stuck because I didn’t know the tunnels at all under WTC yet. I started down one and moved up on a lady cop who was walking like a zombie. “What do we do?” I pleaded and she just kept walking, no response. That was it. I turned back to the platform and the entrance I had just come down was now gated. I froze. Then a regular commuter train pulled into the station and hundreds of unaware New Yorkers poured out of the car. I considered that I might start screaming an announcement but cancelled that because how can you correct chaos with more chaos. Stay calm get out.
I said out loud in the midst of the crowd, “I don’t know how to get out of here.” And with typical NYC aplomb some guy said, “Oh I know how to get out of here, just follow me”, and I did. As we walked together in the smooth commuter bustle through the underground tunnel I let him know that there were two planes that had hit the buildings and I honestly thought a 3rd could be a possibility. He asked me what kind of planes they were and I told him it was an airliner jet. He called bullshit, and I said I saw it with my own eyes as we turned a corner and I saw daylight. Street level. As I started running he said, ‘that means they’re doing it on purpose’. I kept running. Outside. As it seemed everyone was moving toward the complex I was running uptown as fast as I could. I passed one woman hysterical that her brother was in the building and I let her know that I had been too and not to think the worst.
The lines at the pay phones seemed to be 12 deep but I found one and I tried to call my parents house in CT. Busy. I tried to call my high school friend on 31st & 3rd next and I got through. “I’m on my way to your place now”, I told him and just as I should have asked him to start calling my family I got so emotional that I slammed down the receiver and kept moving. I‘m dehydrated, I need to drink water. The guy at the food cart asked me if I was ok, and I told him I was. My body needed water - “I’m rational, can’t you tell?” I thought to myself. I weaved my way uptown. I was on Bowery at some point and I remember passing the Puck building. By the time I got to 31st St I had sweated through my long sleeve T and the short sleeve Knicks shirt I wore over it.
I entered my friends apartment where I was informed that both towers were down and the Pentagon had been hit. I have phone calls to make. I tried my parents house repeatedly until I got my brother on the phone. When he heard my voice - again screaming, “OH MY GOOOOOOOooooooooooD OH MY GOOOOdddddd”. It was visceral, especially since my brother and I were emotionally disconnected. I thought, this is what his reaction would be if I were really gone. My brother took over notifications as everyone I left behind in Colorado had that number to contact and obviously every phone was ringing, as they used to say “off the hook”. My parents are in Florida, I didn’t know that.
My friend and I decided to go to my apartment and waited for another friend to join us for our next move. It was then I saw the first TV images. Our third high school graduate joined us and she brought flowers. So beautifully kind. I started to cry but wanted to keep it together. As the 2 of them conferred I went into the bathroom. I stared into the mirror just as a fighter jet tore downtown and the sound triggered my first flash back. The sound. I doubled over and dry heaved.
My Mom made it through on the phone there and she just kept talking. My Father on the extension interrupted her so he could ask me what had happened and I started to just relay information. Soon I was cut off, they knew I was safe and that’s all they wanted to know. My Mom called my boss in Toronto.
By 4 in the afternoon, Grand Central was open and the trains were free. As we crossed over the river I could see the whole south end of Manhattan smoldering. In the 18 minutes between plane strikes I went in - up - down and out. Every step a miracle. That night my brother, 3 friends and 2 dogs slept over. The last call I took was from my Uncle from out of state. I let him know everything was fine - I didn’t even mention I had been in the building. I was too exhausted.
After I hung up the phone I went down stairs and the cocktails were being mixed. I don’t really drink, so I passed - but I did pick up a cigarette for the first time in 2 years.