My story of missing the last train to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I know that I’m only one of MANY stories – but I also know that I was blessed to be here to have my daughter Theresa. It took me until 2013 – 12 years for me to be able to write this. It wasn’t as cathartic as I thought it would be — in fact it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
My personal story about September 11, 2001 starts a couple weeks earlier. I was working in Manhattan for Universal Motown Records and commuting each day from Jersey City, NJ. My apartment was 1 ½ blocks from the Hudson River – and directly across from the World Trade Center. To get to work I would take the PATH Train from Exchange Place in Jersey City, NJ to the World Trade Center. I would then stop for breakfast at the WTC before continuing on to the subway to get to one of the two offices I had (Worldwide Plaza and the other at 54th & Broadway). Every night after arriving at the WTC, I’d have dinner, shop, pick up items at the pharmacy – and then catch the PATH train home across the water.
About two weeks before 9/11 I fell down the stairs in the subway station. I must have miss-stepped. I fell and slid down the metal tipped concrete steps along my right ribcage, hip and leg. I was black and blue for the next 2 weeks. I’m sure it’s no surprise to many of you that I fell – I’m a huge klutz. My camera had broken earlier that month so I picked up a disposable camera to take photos to show my mom my view of the towers from my apartment. I took pictures on Saturday, September 8, 2001. I was so excited to get them developed. That evening I was out to dinner with friends. I was asked if I had ever been to the “Top of the World” Restaurant at the World Trade Center. I hadn’t – and we all agreed to make plans to go to dinner during the upcoming week. I was really looking forward to it. I had heard so many wonderful things about the view. Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was just like any other day. I got ready for work and played with my dog Bo before leaving for the day. I lived just down the street from the PATH Train Station, but I would drive and park nearby to be safe when I got home after dark. It was a beautiful morning – I still remember that vividly. The weather was still very summer-like and I was dressed for nice weather – and a cute pair of backless tennis shoes (they were in fashion at that time).
It was about 8:40am: As I rounded the corner to go into the Pavonia / Newport PATH station – I suddenly thought of my father Jack who had passed away in September 1994 and how much I missed him. Here I was in NYC – alone – and wishing I could share all my life experiences I had had to that point with him. Once I got past the rush of people at the entrance to the station – I noticed that the escalators were pretty full – so I decided to take the stairs. It’s a pretty steep staircase and I was walking down the stairs at a fast pace (everyone walks fast to get to make it on the next train.). As I’m going faster down the stairs – another thought popped in my head – but it was more like someone scolding me. I remember that thought being “Remember what happened two weeks ago in the subway station? You were running down the stairs and fell down and bruised your entire right side of your body? You’re going to fall – STOP RUNNING and SLOW DOWN!”I listened. I didn’t want to fall again. I instantly slowed down and held on to the railing. People were passing me so they didn’t miss the next train that was about to depart to the World Trade Center. When I got to the bottom of the stairs I saw the train still had its doors open – YEA! I made it in time and I didn’t fall! As I approached the train – the doors closed. I missed it by about 20 feet. If I had kept running down the stairs I would have made it on the train.
About 8:47am: The next PATH train arrives and I was happy to get a seat and wait for the train to depart. Over the loudspeaker – the conductor said “Ladies & Gentlemen, this train will now be going to Penn Station because there is a little fire at the World Trade Center. The station has been closed.”It was shocking to hear, but the conductors voice was so calm that it didn’t seem to really alarm anyone on the train. Since I was going to be late to work, I tried to text one of my coworkers on my Blackberry, but there was no service on the PATH Train underground. Once we arrived at Penn Station, I made my way to the subway train to get me to my office at 54th & Broadway. Everyone was behaving as they usually do in the subway. There was no indication of anything happening above ground. I got on my train and got to my Broadway exit. Once I got off the train, there was a strange look on the faces of the other people around me. I remembering climbing the stairs to get to the street level and hearing someone say “Manhattan has been shut down – there will be no more trains going in or out.”. It didn’t make any sense to me. I had a short walk around the corner to my office building. One of our recording artists was outside of our building on his cellphone and I heard part of his conversation. He said “Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center! They said terrorists did it. We can’t leave Manhattan it’s on lock down.”.All of a sudden my Blackberry started beeping at me that multiple messages were received. As I got to the elevator to rush upstairs and find out what was going on – the first message said “STAY HOME! Do not come in! The World Trade Center has been attacked! Get to a safe place!”.
My heart sank.
I was thankful to be with my co-workers at our Broadway offices because my office at World Wide Plaza was on the 31st floor. I was terrified at the thought of being in that office – what if another plane was still out there and heading our way. I tried to call my mother, but the phone lines were jammed. I had to communicate with friends via Instant Messenger online – and I had some friends call my mother and family to tell them I was ok. We crowded around the largest TV in our office to watch the news coverage. It just didn’t feel real, but it was. As the fires escalated – I kept asking “How are they going to get everyone out?”. Then the first tower collapsed. I remember saying over and over and over again: “They couldn’t have gotten everyone out – could they?” I was numb and panicked at the same time. I still remember that as one of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced. Then the second tower collapsed. Watching the towers as they fell – through the news cameras on TV – it looked like we were watching a movie – not real life. I suddenly remembered: I almost made the last PATH train to the World Trade Center. I know I would have gone outside to see what was going on. I would have been there after the first plane crashed into the WTC. My mind suddenly went to the fact that I could have been outside when the second plane hit and jet fuel and debris killed some people outside around the bottom of the towers. I had crazy scenarios flashing through my mind. Then the biggest question I asked – and continue to ask to this day: “Why wasn’t I there? Why weren’t the people who died that day spared? “ There are so many stories of people that were going to be there that morning – and something happened. The stories are amazing, but I still can’t help but ask “Why me? Why not them?”.I was alone in NYC. My only loved one was my dog Bo – back in my apartment in Jersey City. I just wanted to get to my doggie – get in my car and drive all the way home to New Mexico to be with my family.
Then the story came in about a plane crashing into the Pentagon….and later the plane that came down in Pennsylvania. Were there more planes out there heading for more targets? United States Airspace was shut down. We waited for hours – watching the updates. Once they knew all planes across the country were grounded and accounted for – we started to hear that we’d be able to leave Manhattan in the next few hours. We then heard from local news officials that we could finally leave Manhattan – the only option to New Jersey was to take the George Washington Bridge – all the tunnels were shut down. One of my co-workers offered to drive as many of us as possible. The drive home was surreal. It looked like we were witnessing the filming of a huge movie special effect – like “Independence Day” – you couldn’t grasp that what you were seeing was real. It took us almost 5 hours to get from Manhattan across the George Washington Bridge and to my car in Jersey City. I immediately drove home and hugged and kissed my dog. I then knew I had to walk down to the water. There was a small dock where rescue boats were bringing across supplies – while other boats were bringing across bodies covered in tarps. What could I do? How could I help? There was nothing at that point – except to stay out of the way. Those like me, who wanted to help – stood silent, some crying, some expressionless. Shock was the common factor for every person around me.
I walked home – and grabbed my disposable camera. The same camera that just 3 days earlier I had taken photos of the WTC standing tall and proud. I walked back to the same spot where I took those photos. With the same camera – I took new pictures in the direction of where the WTC towers stood. I now had photos with the World Trade Center towers and photos without the World Trade Center towers on the same roll of film. It was impossible to sleep that night. I could hear helicopters and sirens all night. I couldn’t stop watching the news – hoping and praying that they’d find survivors. For the next few weeks – every person on the street you passed in NYC was quiet. Everyone had a non-expressive face. Not one person showed emotion. It’s as if everyone had cried so much that they had nothing left they could do. I dropped off my disposable camera for development the next week. By the end of that same week, the store had closed their business. I was devastated! There was a giant Business Closed sign. I looked in and happened to notice a woman inside. She saw me and came to the door. I desperately asked about my photos – hoping they hadn’t been thrown away. They weren’t. I was able to pay her and take them home with me. It took some time before I could look at them that evening. It was unbelievable to see the towers standing in the first several photos – and then replaced with a giant plume of smoke and jagged rubble in the remaining photos.
When I reflect back to the two weeks prior to September 11, 2001 – I feel that God or his Angels tripped me – causing my fall down the subway stairs. That voice I heard that morning to “STOP RUNNING and SLOW DOWN” – that was my saving grace. I thank God now for my clumsiness. It saved my life. My already deep faith became even deeper that day. It all seemed like a horrible nightmare – and that I couldn’t have possibly experienced it… …but it wasn’t…it was real – and we ALL went through that nightmare together. I will always pray for the victims, rescuers, families and our nation.
With heartfelt blessings,
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