Betrayal, City Life, Civil Unrest, Control, Corporate America, Freedom, Greed, Hatred, Injustice, Inner Strength, New York City, Politics, Prayer, September 11, Terrorism, War, World Trade Center


The Numbing of September 11  Part 1


© PJ Hayward.  New York 2008

First Published by Hold On Publishing Co. New York 2009

For the past many years I have been unable to write or even think about these events.  Now, before they are lost to time and age, I want to put to paper my memories of this painful, terrible time.

The morning of September 11, 2001 was gorgeous, clear and bright.  The sky was that intense shade of blue that only comes when the wind or rain has cleared the air of soot and debris.  Here and there a few wispy puffs of clouds floated above my beautiful city.   I wanted to go to the park and sit under a tree – but thoughts of my family forced me to go to work.

My train, the #7 line, is an elevated train while in Queens and it burrows underground once it reaches the East River. Riding the train this particular morning, eyes closed and listening to the wailing of Buddy Guy through my headphones, I was suddenly conscious of a commotion around me.  Everywhere people were pointing out the windows and craning their necks – eyes wide and jaws dropped.  It was about 8:45am or so.

The # 7 train affords you a magnificent view of the city skyline.  Clearly in the bright September morning, the beautiful towers of the World Trade Center sparkled like two giant crystals.  Today though, a huge plume of black smoke poured from the north tower.  People were murmuring in disbelief to themselves and to each other, “a plane” “yeah a plane just hit the building”.  I remember thinking – “What idiot is so stupid he flies his plane into a 1,400 foot tall building??”   Did I have a thought or care for anyone who might be suffering inside the building?  No.  Only after first trashing the superlatively blind idiot who couldn’t fly, did I comprehend the magnitude of the tragedy darkening that pristine September morning sky.  Only then did I utter a mournful prayer for the tortured souls who were perishing in flames before my very eyes.

When I finally emerged from my train at 42nd Street, the air was literally seething with sounds of screaming sirens.  Fire engines, police cars, bomb squad vans and black official city cars raced in every conceivable direction.  You had to assume the plane crash had something to do with it but this was something different.  This was hysteria.  No one on the streets seemed to know what was happening and none of us could get a signal on our cell phones to get information.

I nearly ran the 10 blocks to my job, where by then everyone knew what had happened. I learned this wasn’t the catastrophic accident of some student flier or the work of some crazed nut.  Not only had the north tower been deliberately hit but the south tower had been struck by a second plane sometime while my train was travelling under the East River.  Both towers were now engulfed in flames and spewing out mountainous clouds of billowing black smoke.   Several of my office friends had loved ones working in the Trade Center and were frantically trying to reach them by phone.

One of my office mates called out to us that the north tower had collapsed.   I said “That’s ridiculous, how could the World Trade Center fall down???”  But I was wrong…..

On our conference room’s huge display, someone started screening CNN’s coverage of the events unfolding before us.  Many of us sat there in numb silence and watched in horror and shock as people jumped or fell out of the buildings, while confusion and panic reigned.  We watched images of terrified people pouring through the streets, covered in a white substance, crying and clutching their chests as they ran, while our brave New York City firefighters and police officers ran INTO the fray.

The south tower fell right before our eyes.  It was too much to even comprehend.  A young girl sitting next to me started crying quietly.  Her fiancé, a police officer, was scheduled to work at the Trade Center that day and she had not been able to reach him.  All I could do was hold her tightly and cry with her – crying for her, her friend, for myself and my loved ones, and for the world that seemed to be losing its mind right in front of us.

Before the day was over, Mayor Guiliani had declared a state of emergency in the city.  He ordered all bridges and tunnels closed, all entrances and exits to the city closed and all means of public transportation halted.  Those with the foresight to leave early enough were able to WALK from Manhattan all the way to their homes in Brooklyn, Queens and the other outer boroughs.  Everyone else was trapped wherever they happened to be at that moment.

My company closed early but the position I held there required me to stay.  Throughout the long, long day sirens screamed all around us and we could see – looking downtown from Fifth Avenue – the billowing black smoke pouring from what was now an unimaginable mountain of steel, concrete, rubble and human remains.  It filled the once promising, beautiful blue sky with a dark, horrible stench – a stench that wouldn’t begin to subside till well into November.

I was still at work when the daughter of one of my colleagues stumbled into the office – covered in that thick white coating we had seen on CNN’s reports.  An escapee from the insanity we had just witnessed, she was a young girl of 23.  After fleeing the trade center running, she had leapt over and through countless disembodied arms, legs, heads and other human debris that had not been instantly vaporized.  Somehow this girl just starting out in life, drew from somewhere deep down inside her primal self, the strength to first run, then walk the more than 4 miles from downtown to 52nd Street into the anxiously waiting arms of her father, who had been half crazed with panic and fear for her.  Her eyes were blank, her arms hung lifeless from her side.  She had no purse, no shoes….no expression, no emotion….until her father’s loving arms surrounded her like a protective cocoon to shield her from the nightmare she had somehow escaped.  Only then did she collapse on the floor in hysterical, inconsolable shrieking and crying.

What followed this day I will write about in part 2.  My city – the noisy, boisterous, hustling and electrified city I knew – was about to become a silent, shell-shocked ghost land.



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