World Trade Center

A few days ago, I saw a preview for the Oliver Stone movie “World Trade Center”, and all I could think of was, “Oh dear God, no.” There was no way in hell you can compel me to watch that movie.

But over the Memorial Day weekend, I finished Jeffrey Archer’s new book, “False Impression,” and part of the story takes place inside the North Tower as it was hit by the first plane on 9/11. I read through the main character’s “escape,” if you will, from the crashing tower and the character remarked on how courageous the firefighters were for running up the building while hundreds were running away from it.

I then felt a change of heart. True, that some wounds have gone so deep that they may never be healed, but I feel that there are some stories about 9/11 that need to be told. I’m sure this movie is aiming to honor the brave men and women who didn’t survive and those who risked their lives that day and everyday. Well, at least I hope that’s what they’re aiming for cause if not, you can bet the backlash will be quick and fatal.

Funny how the brain works. There are so many little things I remember vividly but certain details of that week are sketchy at best.

September 9th, Sunday – Mike, Meg, Sam, Mom and I got up early on a gorgeous Sunday morning to go into WTC via the PATH train from Jersey City. We were scheduled to board a yacht that morning to attend my Mom’s office party. But we had arrived early and was in need of some food, so we stopped by Sbarro, inside the North Tower if I recall correctly. The manager of the store chatted with us for a while because he recognized us as Filipinos. Apparently his wife was Filipino and I imagine they were happy together because the manager, who looked Italian, was very happy to be chatting with us. I remember wondering if he came into work on 9/11 eager to start the day much like he did on Sunday, and wondering if he got out okay.

The office party on the yacht was a lot of fun. There was dancing, prizes, great food and wine, all of which were free. The yacht started from the piers at WTC and went up the Hudson River. Then it turned around and headed towards the Statue of Liberty. I remember I had the video camera with me most of the time, and I took a great shot of us floating behind the Statue of Liberty with the Twin Towers moving into my shot.

The yacht then headed up the East River, underneath the bridges that bring you to Brooklyn (sorry, I forget what the bridges are called, apart from the Brooklyn Bridge), and all the way up to the UN buildings. I had done my best to capture on video the entire trip up and down lower Manhattan, after all, you don’t get very many chances to see the famous New York skyline from a yacht.

I remember there were boat races that day. Fast boat races, like the ones you see in Miami Vice. And I remember there were a lot of helicopters flying above us, probably covering the boat races.

It was a fun day. That was the last time my Mom’s office held a party on a yacht, till 2 years ago. I suppose they felt it was unlucky.

September 10th, Monday
– after a rough day at work, I rushed home and found a very pleasant surprise waiting for me at our door.

My boyfriend had sent me two dozen beautiful red roses to celebrate our anniversary. Jason, at the time, was living in Baltimore so we couldn’t be together that day, but sweetheart that he is, he didn’t want to let me think he forgot. I, on the other hand, did. But don’t tell him.

September 11th, Tuesday
– it was the rare occasion that I made it to work early, and by early, I mean 8:50am. Even before I had gotten settled with my coffee, I got a call from my Mom. “A plane just hit the Twin Towers!”

“What do you mean, a plane hit the Twin Towers???”

“Just turn on your television, okay?”

“Okay, call you later.”

I ran around the office telling everyone the news and we went to our conference room to turn on our tv. But of course, this was the day it decided it didn’t want to work for us, so we listened to the radio.

By the time we even knew what was going on, the second plane hit the South Tower. At that point, I rushed to the phone to call my family. But by then, all communications into the city were down. Frantic, I called everyone I knew to check on them. My little sister Sam was, thankfully, still in school in Jersey City. I called Joanne, who, fortunately enough, called in sick that day. She worked in lower Manhattan at the time. I called Nina and tried to find out how her Dad, who worked around Wall Street, was doing. Nina reported that he was already leaving the city.

Next person I called was Jason. He was the one who told me that a plane had hit the Pentagon. He was sent home and he wanted to know about my family. I suppose he could sense that I was freaked out that I had no clue where my family was, apart from Sam. My sister Meg works at the UN. Her husband, or I should say, fiancée, at the time, works at Madison Square Garden. And my Mom works a couple of blocks away from the Empire State Building. All these buildings, in my mind, could very well be their next target. So freaked was I, my boss finally said I can leave work. It was already lunchtime by then.

I was in constant contact with Jason. He told me about how his company went into high alert when they found out about the attacks. I forget what kind of company Jason worked for, but I do remember that he was an engineer dealing with nuclear waste, and that his company was only an hour away from the Pentagon, so you can imagine their concerns.

I drove out of our parking lot and even as far as Wayne (about 40 miles west of NYC), you could see the smoke. I started heading in the direction of home, towards the smoke, making sure to avoid all major highways. But even the backroads were packed. By the time I got within 7 miles to my house, the roads had become a huge parking lot.

Just for those not familiar with New Jersey, there are two bridges and two tunnels connecting New Jersey to New York. One of which, the Holland tunnel, will bring you straight into lower Manhattan. I live within 2 miles of the Holland Tunnel. All routes heading into New York, regardless of which direction you were coming from, were shut down and packed for several miles. So with a huge parking lot standing between me and my home, I turned around and tried another route. If you know me well, then you’d know that I would rather drive 30 miles out of my way than sit in my car and wait for traffic to ease up. This was no exception, especially when nobody knew what was going to happen next.

After about an hour of driving, I started to get hungry. All stores and businesses had closed by that time, save for one Wendy’s and the line for the drive-thru was short. I don’t remember what I ordered, but I can remember that I didn’t enjoy it. I turned on the radio to listen to the news but they weren’t telling me anything I could use to get me home. I didn’t want to hear the speculations of who could be responsible for such an atrocity, the stories of people jumping from the towers, the chaos being reported of people searching for their loved ones, I didn’t want to hear any of it, so I turned off the radio.

When I was done eating, I started driving south, thinking that maybe, just maybe, although it was a stretch, the bridge connecting Staten Island to New Jersey was clear and I can get home that way. As I was driving, I encountered dozens of ambulances and various emergency vehicles heading northeast. I don’t remember where these emergency vehicles came from, but I remember some came from a great distance to help out.

My sister’s brother in-law, John, who is an EMT, was part of the first wave of help to come from New Jersey after the towers collapsed. I heard him mention how at one point all they could do was collect body parts. I told him to never tell me stuff like that ever again.

In my solitude, as there were very few to no cars at all on the road heading south, I felt like I was being slowly driven mad. You ever drive with the radio off and all you hear is the sound of your vehicle and the wind rushing past you? You ever notice how quiet it can get and how that quiet can totally fill your mind? I got my map out, trying to chart different routes to get home, but the silence was distracting. No cars, no trucks, no honking, no music, nobody on the road, and no planes up above. I have never felt more alone in my life.

But it wasn’t entirely quiet at all. If there is one thing I can remember with perfect clarity, it’s the sound of the sirens I heard that day. The sound seemed to echo throughout New Jersey because nobody else was making any noise. It was as if the whole world had gone to sleep early, on that bright and sunny fall day. Even when I was 35 miles south of WTC, I could still hear the sirens. I don’t even want to think about how different the noises were in New York City at that moment.

To be continued……


~ by Binibining Beth on May 30, 2006.

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