Thanks for the encouragement from this morning’s post to choke out my rambling September 11th story guys. As hard as it is to tell, I feel like it’s something I’ll want to look back on – especially when Clara’s older and I’m trying to explain the enormity of that day. It was a terrible day, but such a life-changing one too, and it definitely shaped who I am. And as much as I love having thousands of DIY posts in our archives, sometimes it’s those rare personal posts (like this one or this one or this one) that make me the happiest that I dumped all the jumbled words out of my head and onto the keyboard.
I’ve debated whether or not to write this for six years now, every time this anniversary rolls around. I was a college sophomore living in New York City on September 11th, but the experience of being there and watching everything happen right in front of my eyes is still something I haven’t quite wrapped my head around. So I’ve stayed mum on the topic for all of the years we’ve been blogging. I don’t know what makes this year any different, but I felt like I was ready this time. It’s crazy how something that happened 12 years ago can feel so distant, but when I start talking/typing about it, I remember every sound and smell and sight and it floods back like it was yesterday. Early that morning I had been in Grand Central working on a show house for Country Home magazine (my best friend and I interned there during the morning we didn’t have classes, just lending a hand to unwrap accessories so the rooms could be styled).
I remember hearing from our boss right when we got there that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, but it sounded like it was minor (like some small plane with the wrong coordinates made a mistake). Nothing like “terrorism” or “act of war” was mentioned, so we shrugged and kept unpacking boxes while a few people called relatives who worked in the tower, just to check on them. It sounded like only a few floors were affected, which had us worried for those people but no one was really freaking out. Then a little while later we heard the second tower was hit. The only way I can describe it was immediate panic. Grand Central was evacuated within minutes.
There were guards with guns and people rushing us out and they just sort of explained that this was another “landmark” in NYC, so it wasn’t safe to be here because there were fears that other places in the city were going to be targeted. Thank God my best friend was there with me. I completely panicked and had no idea where to go or what to do. At this point the entire subway system had been shut down (again, because it was a “target” so the city wanted to evacuate any place they thought could be hit next) so we all spilled out into the street in front of Grand Central and my best friend and I just walked towards Penn Station, which is where the train we took to our apartment in Bayside, Queens would be (assuming those were still running).
When we got there we learned it wasn’t. So we just walked around aimlessly and found ourselves sitting on the steps of the New York Public Library. We were terrified that it was another target (should we sit here? should we keep walking around?). I think we were in a state of shock, so we just sat down on the steps anyway. People were rushing by and there were crazy things just laying in the street and on the sidewalk, as if someone abandoned them half-way through running. A man’s shoe. Just one of them. An open briefcase with papers splayed out all around it. Nobody’s cell phones were working, which was especially scary for those trying to reach us (like our parents). I remember saying “we should just conserve our battery and our energy and sit here.” Then people started pointing at the smoldering towers, which we had a clear view of from the library steps (we could see them smoking in the distance since they were such a huge part of the NYC skyline). A large cloud of dust flew up from the first tower and someone shouted “It was hit again!” and someone else said “They’re bombing it!” and the tower fell right in front of us. It just imploded on itself with a giant cloud of dust flying up into the air.
Of course we didn’t know at the time that the heat and damage sustained by the initial impact of the plane had caused the tower to fall, so it felt like a very real possibility that the tower had been hit again, causing it to collapse. I remember someone screaming “we’re at war!” and someone else just closing their eyes and raising their hands and saying the Lord’s prayer over and over again.
At that point we ran. Just sort of scattered like ants and everyone was crying and there was dust billowing up the streets, even though the tower had fallen over three miles away from us. There were police officers and firemen just covered in ash. They were entirely gray with white eyes and white teeth. There were people bleeding who had been close enough to be hurt by debris who were clearly running on foot from downtown since no public transportation was available anymore.
We eventually ended up in the first floor of a hotel in midtown, just hiding in the foyer. There was a TV on with people gathered around and that’s when we saw the second tower fall. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Nobody wanted to talk or move. I think total shock is the perfect description. And fear. We were literally frozen in fear. At some point the hotel offered to let people up into some vacant rooms but we didn’t want to go upstairs even if it was just a level or two up. We had just seen two skyscrapers collapse. Nobody wanted to be anywhere but on the ground floor. So we could run.
Somehow late that night we got back to our apartment in Bayside, Queens. Some of the trains had started running and we got some spotty cell service to reassure family we were okay. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves, and kept finding ourselves drawn to the now completely changed skyline outside, so we went out on the tiny old balcony of our apartment and that’s when the smell hit us. Like something burning, but also rancid. I don’t know if I was stupid or in denial or what, but I asked my best friend “do you think that smell is the burned metal from the building?” and then we looked at each other and realized that the building wasn’t the only thing burning. And we cried.
What haunts me the most were the thousands of missing person posters that were plastered everywhere in the days and weeks afterwards. Fences and scaffolding and subway walls were covered in faces of everyone who was lost – photos of dads smiling with their children. Women hugging their dogs. Christmas cards with the missing person’s face circled with an arrow. It was gut-wrenching. I remember telling my friend Lindsay that I had a dream about a man in a suit and the whole time I was thinking “how do I know him?!” and in the morning I realized he was one of the faces on the fence near my apartment.
A friend of mine’s dad actually got out of the first tower and was safe on the ground when his boss told him they were cleared to go back in for their wallets and belongings, so he went back in and the tower fell, killing him. I just remember crying with her and saying how unfair it was over and over again. It felt even more cruel that he had been outside and then ended up back in there just as it fell. Stories like that seem all too familiar now, especially those of the policemen and fireflighters who ran in just as the towers crumbled. At the time I think we were half devastated and half numb. It felt like too much to process all at one time.
But one amazing thing about being in New York during that time was the love and support. It sounds crazy, but we were all family in that moment of grief. We all wanted everyone to be okay, and we wanted to rebuild and come back stronger. For the weeks following September 11th we’d thank the dusty firemen that we saw on the subway with tears in our eyes and buy drinks for the workers who were downtown digging through the rubble for survivors. It sort of was like a war that we all had lived through together, and we were all on the same side. It was us against the bad guys, and we were stubborn New Yorkers – there’s no way we were going to just lie down and let them win.
My sophomore year of college had only recently started when it happened and classes resumed about a week later, once the subways were up and running again. A lot of my classes were emptier though. That year I’d say about 30% of my friends left the city. September 11th changed everything and some just couldn’t stomach the idea of being there any longer. I completely understood, but nothing in me ever even whispered “leave.” New York City was my home, and I was staying. I think for the people who stayed, it felt like we grew stronger. More bonded. We looked at each other on the subway and on the streets and we all sort of silently encouraged each other. We’d never forget that day, but we weren’t going anywhere.
I lived there for four more years. I finished school. I got a job at an advertising agency right in midtown, less than a block away from Grand Central – the place where my world got turned upside down a few years earlier. It was at that agency that I met John and we started dating. In fact he took this picture of me and my best friend about a month before he and I moved to Virginia to start a life together.
So while I’m a Richmond gal now, I’ll always be a New Yorker at heart. NYC forever, baby.
Mary Beth says
Beautiful…. Still so sad, so many years later.
There are no words except to say thatthis is lovely. And thank you. Here in DC, we experience similar though not on the same scale, sentiments.
Thanks for sharing, Sherry.
This made me cry. At my desk. We’re in the process of moving to New York in a few weeks (hopefully) and this is a sobering, yet somehow deeply bold and encouraging post.
Thank you for this. Definitely brought me to tears. I have no other words, except thank you for your vulnerability.
Didn’t realize you were also in NYC. Thanks for sharing your story. NYC forever!!!
Thank you for sharing your heart. None of us will ever forget that day. <3
Sherry, I don’t even have words. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
Katrina @ 'Sota is Sexy says
Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing your story, as difficult as it may have been. Your words are so powerful, and hopefully sharing them will prove to be cathartic. xoxo
I really admire you for being able to share this story. I knew that you lived in NYC, but I never considered that 9/11 would have affected you. Your story gave me goosebumps. I respect you a lot for having the courage to share it with the world.
Kelsey W says
I am sending you the biggest hug right now :) Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
Rene @thedomesticlady says
What a great (but sad) post. Thanks for writing this.
Thanks for sharing your story Sherry! It is hard to put to words sometimes events like these and how we felt and what all was happening to us and around us. Thanks for sharing, and I hope it helps heal you even more like when you have shared other stories.
We will never forget.
Wow… thanks for sharing.
Sarah @ An Inviting Home says
I too was a sophomore in college doing an internship in NYC. We had just gotten off of the subway into Times Square when we heard about the first plane. I pictured a little two seater plane that went a little off course. I’ll never forget that day or how still Central Park was even with so many people walking around or the handwritten paper signs on shops saying, “closed” or the stores filled with new clothes covered with ash. Tears flowing here as I remember. NYC forever!
Thank you for sharing this Sherry.
I don’t have any words. Thank you for sharing your memories. Hugs.
Thank you so much for taking a deep breath and sharing with us.
Thank you for sharing your story about 9/11. I wasn’t actually sure if I would read your post because thinking about that day weighs heavy on my heart. My family and friends had two near misses that morning. My brother-in-law had an 11 am interview in one of the Towers, so he hadn’t yet arrived in NYC from New Jersey, and my friend was running late for the train (also from New Jersey), thank goodness, and also hadn’t reached the city. My brother and cousin were living and working in the city at the that time, but in mid-town, so even though we couldn’t reach them by cell phone for a while, we were optimistic they were ok. My mom, however, living in Monmouth County, NJ, knows so many people who lost someone. May they all be remembered!
Beautiful words. I’m glad you took the time to share them with us.
Thank for you this. It’s cathartic to read other people’s experience of that day.
Hugs. Great story.
I’m glad you shared your story, I think it’s part of the healing process. I was only in 7th grade when it happened, and most of my memories from that year have faded, but I still clearly remember the 11th.
Gabby Bladdick says
Awe thanks for sharing (just typed “Sherry” instead of “sharing” – oh boy!), Sherry! I was in 7th grade in my English class in St. Louis. Our History teacher knocked on the door and it looked like he just saw a ghost. When they told us about the first tower, they began to explain what they were (many of us didn’t even know). That’s when we saw the 2nd plane hit live, and moments later they sent us home from school. I remember standing in my backyard with my dad looking up at the sky, watching the empty, empty sky because there were no planes (and we live close to the airport – so that was very eerie for us). It’s truly a day we’ll all never forget.
Michelle M. says
I was in seventh grade as well, and was called in from running the mile. They told us that they had attacked the world trade center, but being from Chicago and having never been to New York, I thought they had attacked the stock exchange. Thats really all they told us, and they didnt show us anything on TV or anything. The way they handled it made me realize that it’s so much better not to shelter children. We could sense that everyone around us was terrified, which made it worse for us, because we didnt understand/didn’t know.
I was in 8th grade, and I remember being in Human Growth & Development class. I’d never even heard of the WTC, but I remember my whole class just being still and quiet – so in shock about what was happening to our country. I live in Omaha, where the president flew for safety, so they sent us home from school as well. I’ll never forget watching CNN and hearing them announce that President Bush was leaving for DC later that afternoon – I walked out onto our porch and saw the only planes in the sky that day – one white one surrounded by black military jets. Hard to believe that was 12 years ago.
Wow. That’s all I can say. Thank you for sharing. I live in Toronto, Canada and I, along with everyone, remember the enormity of that day and how it was felt all the way here. I remember where I was, how I felt, how confusing it was. And still is. I can’t imagine what it was like to be there.
same thoughts as paula. thanks for your story sherry. r.i.p.
Brittany Marrione says
Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s so hard to put into words what reading your post means to me, to all of us.
We will never forget…
All I can say is wow. Thank you for sharing your story. That was one of the most powerful personal descriptions of that day I have read. That day changed all of us in America, but nothing like people who witnessed it and were personally affected by it.
9/11 stories get me every time — I’ll never forget where I was or how I felt either. Thank you so much for sharing!
Tracie @cleverlyinspired says
So nice for you to document this for Clara…and for all of us who love your blog and your family. I cannot listen to Elmo’s World tune and not think of that morning. I was home with my 1 year old twins…grabbing them some cherrios and planning a day at the zoo. My husband came home from work…and told me what had happened…we turned the news on. And I cried…I was so thankful he had come home and told me in person and was there to hug me. It is a day that I think about so often…whenever something isn’t going my way…I find myself stopped in mid-thought…and think at least I am here to experience this..with my husband and my kids..and all of it. Thanks Sherri..xo
This literally made me cry. Thanks for sharing Sherry! <3
That was beautifully written.
This completely brought me to tears.
Thank you so much for sharing. I was a 7th grader attending history (how fitting) in a podunk down in North Carolina. That day I didnt know that I would marry a man who would fight in 2 wars defending these actions, but I will never forget.
I will never forget you sharing this story. Thank you!
I saw the second plane hit the south tower from my roof deck (I was living in Brooklyn at the time) and what you describe–all of it–is 100% what I remember, too. Thank you for having the courage to write it, all of it, even the smell (how well I remember that, too). I published my own 9/11 tribute to NYC from our new home today–Vermont–but yours, Sherry, says it all. I’ll be linking to this truly resonant post for my Friday roundup.
I, too, will always be a New Yorker–and you deserve to be a New Yorker, always. Thank you.
Aw, thanks Judi. It’s so comforting to know a lot of others are remembering too.
Megan @ Rappsody in Rooms says
Wow, Sherry. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I cried the whole way through. It takes courage to talk about an event like that, especially the people who were there. I know it all affected us but I know that the NYCers were the most affected. Thank you for your courage and your heart.
Thank you so much, Sherry! It is people like you who tell their stories that will keep this day a rememberance and not let it turn into something the does not honor those who were lost or directly impacted.
I read this post with tears streaming down my face. I have no personal connection to the events that happened on that fateful day. I was in my freshman year at FSU when it happened, so there was minimal fear that the president’s brother would be targeted in Tallahassee, but that’s as “close” as I got. It has never really been as “real” for me as it was for others. But for some reason, it is more real this year than ever. Thank you for sharing this.
Thank you so much for writing this post, I know it must have been difficult to conjure up these emotions again. I’m sitting at work eating my lunch on what has been an extremely busy work-day and I haven’t given any thought to the anniversary of 9/11. I needed this reminder. A reminder to continue to pray for our nation and those whose lives were forever changed on that day. I too was a college sophomore, it’s incredible how many years have flown by and yet how very real the memories are still. Thank you again. :)
Very well said, Amber.
It still hurts after all these years. I remember begging my mom to come home, because she worked right next to the Sears Tower in Chicago with the panic of “What will be hit next?”
Ever year on September 11, it feels like we are all New Yorkers.
We live in Canada, and even though it’s been 12 years I don’t think anyone I know has forgotten where they were that day when it happened or when they heard about it. I don’t think it’s something you can ever forget. All of our fire stations held memorials this morning at 9am for the victims, too.
Thanks for sharing.
I just watched a program about how wonderful the Canadians were to the hundreds (thousands??) of stranded airline passengers whose planes were forced to land in your country. It is not a story that many have heard about (My opinion). Thanks to your citizens for being such great hosts.
Thank you for sharing that, Sherry.
This is how I felt about my city on April 15, 2013. in Big Papi’s completely unprintable words, this is our freaking city..and no one can take that away from us. Being here in my adopted Boston the day two kids tried to blow up our marathon only made me love this town more.
Thank you for sharing it.
Thank you for sharing this, Sherry.
goose bumps and tears sitting at my desk. thank you for sharing.
Beautifully written. I’m speechless yet again.
The Other Julie says
Oh, Sherry, my heart hurts reading this. I can’t even imagine the fear and confusion you felt that day. I didn’t live there, but I had some friends who worked in Manhattan, and I remember being online with them, trying to get news to them about what the hell was going on, and being so terrified for them. Thank you for sharing your story, and for staying strong and not letting this defeat you or your beautiful spirit.
Thank you for sharing you story. It is a huge life changing experience to live though, so it’s no wonder it took time to deal with before you could write about it.
Emily | Sparkle Meets Pop says
Oh Sherry! I’m sending virtual hugs and high fives your way. I’m so sorry that you had to experience that, but am glad that it has shaped you in a positive way. Your story was so real – I can almost smell what you described and I felt just a shred of what I’m sure it was like.
Even in a time of crisis and tragedy, it’s a testament to the human spirit to band together. As each year passes, I hope that the camaraderie among us can continue and that each person affected can find peace and hope. What an incredible story, thank you for sharing. Lots of love to you today!
Emily @ LaForce Be With You says
I cannot even imagine how hard this was to write. As most do, I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the towers. Thanks for sharing your first hand story with us.
Inspirational story in a day full of such sadness. It is so important to remind ourselves of the positivity that can come from such horrible siituations. Thank you so much for sharing
thank you for sharing, sherry! I wasn’t there, but I had friends in the city at the time. it has all affected me more deeply than I admit on a daily basis. I wrote something today, too. I put a link to my story in the website field, if anyone would like to read it.
I can’t imagine what it would have been like to experience it in the way you did, or in the way that my friend did (her dad was supposed to be in the tower that day, and didn’t go in to work… she was a young student and remembers seeing the plane overhead before it hit), or in the way of people who lost someone they loved. my heart goes out to everyone… it really did change so much.