Eight years ago today I was living in Southern California. I was actually awake when the events of the day started, as I had a bit of a commute. I had started a new job on September 10, and was moving into my new apartment (with my roommate) on September 11. I had pretty much all of my non-furniture belongings in my car, and was staying with my roommate’s family that night. After an early shower I went downstairs, where my roommate’s mother was up. She said both of these statements in the same breath:
“A plane flew into the World Trade Center in New York. Would you like a freshly baked blueberry muffin?”
I asked to turn on the TV, and saw the aftermath of the second plane hitting. I had to be at work by 8 and had a long drive ahead of me, so I jumped in my car. I listened to the radio during the entire drive, and remember a few things very distinctly:
Something must have been shown on TV that was very graphic, because Tom Brokaw’s voice got very stern and he said something along the lines of “That is not to happen again.”
I had called my mother to tell her but she went back to bed, since initially it seemed like a small plane had hit. Once she and my sister realized what was going on, they called me again and said I should just drive home. I declined.
The FAA called the planes in pretty quickly, and I was driving by LAX as plane after plane landed. It was surreal for sure – everyone was driving very slowly, not because of traffic, but because of how eerie it was to see plane after plane after plane swoop in low.
I arrived at work for my second day, and actually . . . worked. We didn’t have much of a TV or radio, and the internet was frozen for most of the time, so I got my updates from phone calls with friends. I still feel like I missed out on a lot by not seeing anything after about 6AM pacific time.
I moved into my apartment, which was right across the alley from a new coworker, so she and her boyfriend had me over for dinner, which was really nice.
That night, I was alone in the place, as my roommate wasn’t moving in quite yet. I remember laying on the deflating air mattress, watching the President talk, and crying. It sucked.
At work we did have access to a tiny TV that barely got one channel, and I very vividly remember seeing this:
A year later, for the first anniversary, I was living in NYC. I had moved to New York for graduate school just two weeks prior and had secured an internship with the Mayor’s Office. I volunteered to work at the Ground Zero memorial. My new roommate and another friend took the subway down there with me at five in the morning, which was quite nice. I was assigned to assist the “special needs family” section, which was where family members of the victims were who needed extra assistance due to being in a wheelchair or for other reasons.
After a few hours of that I was asked to help escort families into the pit. Holy crap. I have no training in dealing with emotionally distraught people, and that was very, very difficult. On the one hand I felt completely out of place, as I wasn’t in NYC in 2001, but on the other hand it immediately gave me a connection to the City that will last forever.
It was a very windy day, and I recall a bit of fear as we could hear glass shattering at the 130 Liberty street site.
I worked from about 5:30 until 2 that day. It was exhausting but worth it to get to help out my new home town.
Three years later I took a job working with many people who were involved in the recovery that day and for the years following. It’s pretty remarkable to look at what people are capable of doing to help each other out.