Somewhere, tucked away in a file drawer, are my photos of the World Trade Center towers, on fire, and smoke covering the tip of Manhattan from the Battery all the way to the Empire State Building. I also have photos of the smoke after the towers fell. I was home that day, watching tv, when I got a phone call from my husband who was attending an economics conference at the Marriott Hotel right in the middle of the World Trade Center complex.
“Something has happened,” he said. Can you please let me know if it’s on the news”
I turned on the TV, and there it was…a sight I couldn’t quite process. The first tower had been hit and was on fire.
I don’t know how I knew it, but some say I’m psychic (or maybe it was just common sense), but I knew the tower would not stand for long.
“Get out of there,” I literally yelled into the phone. “That tower is going to come down.”
“No, it is fine,” my husband said. ” I’m waiting for a colleague to come downstairs from his Marriott Hotel room, and he’s late, so I have to wait.”
“No, GET OUT!” I screamed into the phone.
As I argued with my husband, and was watching the unbelievable scene on television, the second plane showed up. At first, stupidly, I thought it was a press plane taking photos, but as it got closer, it was obvious that it too, was aiming right for the other tower. And, as it entered the tower with a roar, I could hear it through the windows of my apartment.
Then my husband’s phone went dead.
I knew he was right there, and I was dumbfounded about what had just happened. It was just hard to process. My fingers shook as I dialed my mother in law, still sleeping a time zone away. I didn’t want her to get up and see the news and think her son was dead (although at this point I wasn’t sure he was alive). I left some sort of incomprehensible message which she said she kept on her answering machine for over a year. Then, I dialed my dad and my sister. She lived near Washington DC and my brother in law worked near the Capitol. I didn’t know if they were ok. I couldn’t stop crying and I didn’t know what to do.
I don’t know why I did this, but maybe it’s the inherent photographer in me. I left my apartment and went up to the roofdeck and I took my camera, as if I couldn’t quite believe I’d seen this with my own eyes. I also uncharacteristically left my television on, downstairs. I watched the towers burn, and as the first one came down it sounded like a freight train. Frightened beyond belief for the people in the tower, and for my husband who might still be there, I ran downstairs and watched the second tower come down too.
All I could think of to do was close my windows so my cats wouldn’t inhale the thick smoke already enveloping my apartment in Brooklyn Heights.
As the hours unfolded, I sat transfixed in front of the television. I watched people running in terror, and wondered how many were dead or dying. I wondered if they had any idea when they went to work that day, that they might not survive another hours. I wondered where my husband was and if I would ever see him again. I tried reaching his office, but the phones didn’t work.
Finally, after one of the longest days I have ever spent, my husband got to a working phone and told me that when the second plane hit the World Trade Center Tower, he and a colleague (both trained by the US Army) ran west to the World Financial Center and then North, and didn’t stop running until they hit 14th street. The memories of body and airplane parts flying towards him, the THUD! of people holding hands and jumping to their death to avoid being roasted to death, those things will haunt him forever. September 11th is not a good day for him, even now, and he chooses to acknowledge that life goes on, but the memories do, too.
I was so relieved that my husband was alive, I thought I’d pass out. I really thought after about 8 hours that I might as well acknowledge that I was now a widow. And, I had no idea how many of my friends and neighbors might be dead. But he had survived, and finally, at the very end of the day, we were reunited.
Only then, did I realize that many men and women weren’t so lucky, and their loved ones were lost forever.
My husband and I took in two people who had no place else to go. Luckily, as a beauty editor, I always have extra supplies of basic things someone might need. We ate a silent dinner. We placed candles on the Brooklyn Heights promenade. For the first time in my entire life, New York didn’t make a sound. It was like watching a silent movie. No one talked. No one laughed. Babies didn’t even seem to cry. New York had the life sucked out of it. I volunteered for the Red Cross, answering phones. I really wanted to go to the site and be part of the volunteer crew, but they’d had too many people asking, sO for days I just worked in the office, answering questions. If I’d been part of the cleanup crew, who knows what would have happened to me, health-wise? I think I still would have taken the risk, and gone to help if they’d let me.
It remained that way for weeks.
We have moved forward, and now there are new towers being built. It doesn’t matter how sturdy they are, they can also be compromised.
The only thing that can’t be destroyed is hope. My hope is that some day we will finally have peace in our world and that hate will be abolished, because it doesn’t accomplish anything…..
Alison Blackman Dunham