I have been trying to sort of just go about my business without getting too caught up in the heavy spirit of this day, but its everywhere I look and almost all I hear on the radio, TV. I find the only way I can really do any justice to the profound loss that resulted from this unspeakable tragedy is to just recount where I was that day, and how my family and friends and I dealt with the horrible news. Thank G-d, no one in our immediate family was lost, nor were any of our close friends. I can only pray for those who were less fortunate, and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of their loss.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was getting ready to go to a doctor’s appointment in Manhattan. We were living in student housing at Einstein in the Bronx. My husband called me into the living room, where he was watching the news on TV. There was one of the World Trade Center towers, burning. A plane had just flown right into it. I immediately started crying, saying “Its a mistake!, it’s a mistake!” My mind could not absorb it. I was already running late for my doctor’s appointment and really did not want to miss it. I went down to the garage, got into my car and set out for the city.
As I was driving south on the Bronx River Parkway, I saw both towers burning in the distance. I was listening to the radio and heard about the second tower, then the pentagon, and another plane that crashed somewhere in Pennsylvania, that was supposed to have crashed into the White House. It had become very clear that this was a terrorist attack, not just a tragic accident, which was my initial reaction to the news on the TV. Despite hearing all this on the radio, my brain simply could not process what was really happening. Some part of me kept telling myself that they will get everything under control and it will be all right. I got on the Cross Bronx Expressway. When I reached the long underpass that led to the exit for the George Washington Bridge, the electronic signs that normally state traffic conditions read STATE EMERGENCY. The police brought all traffic to a halt. I was stuck under the underpass with many other motorists. Everyone was trying to call their loved ones on their cell phones, but the lines were so jammed that it was impossible to get through. We all got out of our cars and were lending our cell phones to eachother to try and reach our families. I was unable to get through to my husband.
After about an hour, the police directed all traffic on to the Henry Hudson Parkway North, and I proceeded back to Einstein. I went immediately over to my husbands lab, where he was waiting for me. He pulled me on to his lap and held me and said “You’re so stupid! I can’t believe you went! Thank G-d you’re back!” I just sat there in shock and we held eachother.
After a little while I went downstairs to my lab, where everyone was trying to go about their work, but in a sort of daze. I remember saying to a post doc who was a friend of mine “I can’t think”. I really couldn’t. A bit later on, my husband and I and a bunch of our friends tried to find a place to give blood, because it was the only thing we could think of doing that made any sense. Einstein/Weiler Hospital, which is right next to the research building we were in, had way too many volunteers, as did Jacoby Hospital. We found this out from people who were walking away from the hospitals as we walked toward them. So we walked over to Bronx Psych, which is also close by. I sat next to an Ex-Con with tattoos covering his arms, who was also waiting to give blood. That day, there were no differences between any of us.
We wound up not giving blood after all – the hospital staff informed us that there was no point – the staff of the hospitals downtown who were preparing to receive the wounded had waited in vain, since most people caught in the attack were already dead or presumed dead after being buried under tons of debris.
These memories will stay with me forever, and I will be reminded of them every September 11. But, as with many things in life, we can turn a tragedy, even one as monumental as this, into an occasion to do good. Even if it’s just smiling at someone. NEVER FORGET.