Oh, what a day. I can remember it like it was yesterday. One of the worst days in my life....
I was working at Pitney Bowes Office Systems, a fax machine company in downtown Manhattan in a building that was pretty close to the Empire State Building. As a Branch Administrator (glorified Administrative Assistant), I was required to be at my desk at 8:30AM, but as per usual, I woke up slightly late. I sat in a little cubicle, which was in front of another cubicle that belonged to the woman I worked most directly with, a sales representative named Rosa. I got into the office at 8:45, I remember exactly because I looked at the clock to see how pissed she’d be about it. Rosa tended to have quite the temper, but when I got there, she was on a phone call and just waved hello with no apparent ill feelings towards my tardiness. I sat down and turned on my computer when she got off the phone. Our cubicles were literally feet away from each other so I could always hear Rosa when she was either on the phone or talking to the sales rep that sat next to her, Jill. She was telling Jill that her friend Pilar was going to the World Trade Center for an interview at 9:00AM. Rosa knew a lot of people in the WTC, because what the company did was sell fax and copier machines to large corporations, such as Morgan Stanley, Cantor Fitzgerald, etc. and she was giving her friend some details on how to get into the building. Then, the phone rang...
“WHAT!?” Rosa screamed out. Jill asked her what was wrong and Rosa said that a bomb had just gone off at the top of the World Trade Center.
I immediately leapt out of my seat and ran down the hall towards the windows. Our office was on the 38th floor, the tallest building in the immediate area and I just couldn’t believe what I saw. Tower One had a huge gaping whole near the top and I could see fire from inside. I ran back and started shouting at my bosses to come take a look. Everyone came to the window and just stared...and then a lot of the sales reps started freaking out, realizing that a lot of people that they worked with were there. Rosa was freaking out over the phone, trying to get in contact with Pilar. Everyone who wasn’t a sales rep, including myself just kept staring.....wondering what had just happened.
Someone turned on the radio which is when we first heard reports of a plane hitting the Tower. We all then started to speculate how in the world a plane could hit the Tower. We all thought it was an accident. We were even trying to speculate the size of the plane because we just couldn’t fathom it being a 747 or something like that. I then ran down the other hall to let everyone else know what was going on and soon we had about 50-60 people staring out the window.
All of a sudden, as I’m staring out the window, we all see another plane coming by. Someone near me said that it was probably trying to survey the damage. All of a sudden....it seemed like everything just came to a halt and the plane slammed into the second tower. EVERYONE was screaming at this point. One of the most collected co-workers there started running down the halls screaming “We’re being attacked!”. I watched as the fireball went up the side of the Tower as the announcers on the radio were saying how “this was NO accident”. I didn’t know what to do. I felt almost paralyzed watching this. All of a sudden I realized, “SHIT! My girlfriend’s mother works in Tower One!” and I ran to my phone. My line was dead. I tried another line....nothing. I started freaking out...
Some of my co-workers started crying and no phones were working. No cell phones, nothing. I couldn’t do anything about it, so I just went back....staring at the window, not knowing if there would be any more planes coming. The sales reps went to their desk, trying to call all of their clients and get in contact with them, just to see if they were ok, but no one had any luck. We were just staring out the window, listening to the radio. All of a sudden, a co-worker comes out and says “The Pentagon has been hit!” and all I could think to myself is....”Whoever did this has balls”. I honestly thought it was another country attacking us at this point. I kept trying to call with no luck.
A few of our co-workers were leaving and my boss told everyone that they could go if we wanted. I don’t know how much time had passed by at this point, but all I could think about is that my mom works downtown and my girlfriends mom workes IN THE BUILDING, but I wasn’t sure where. Then a rumor started about MORE planes, one heading towards the White House and everyone got even worse. I looked over to the left and remembered that we were RIGHT NEXT TO THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING. If any planes hit it....we were dead. I gathered my stuff and I was trying to persuade one of my co-workers to leave with me. He was just staring out the window, crying, not knowing what to do. All of a sudden...it looked like something was falling out of the side of Tower Two...almost like salt out of a salt shaker in slow-motion for me. I couldn’t contain myself and I just yelled out “NOOOO!!!!!” and watched as the first Tower collapsed. “How many people just fucking died!” I yelled out....
I grabbed my friend and I said “Let’s get the fuck out of here man”. I waited for him to get his stuff and then we left the building.
We hopped into the nearest train station and got on the first train we saw, regardless of where it was going. All I knew was that I didn’t want to be anywhere near The Empire State Building. We were sitting on the F train, headed towards Queens (which is in the opposite direction of where I do live, The Bronx) when the PA started. “There will be NO train service in any direction at this time. Please leave the station immediately”. We ran out and went back to the street. It was pandemonium. People were running all over the place, traffic was a mess....and there were people covered in dirt. We saw a bus filling up to capacity and we ran to it. No one was paying, they were just getting on, not knowing where they were going. As soon as the driver couldn’t fit anymore people, he closed the doors and started driving up Manhattan. “We are making NO stops. This bus is headed towards 109th street!” No one complained....
I was in the back of the bus, which was eerily silent. One of our co-workers happened to be on the bus and let me use his cell phone. At this time, there was service finally. I called my girlfriend to see how she was doing, because I’m sure she was panicking. As she picked up, I could tell she was crying and I asked about her mom. She told me that her mom was ok, she got out and was able to call her. I felt such relief right there. She was VERY upset and had to go for about an hour without the knowledge of her mom’s whereabouts. I got off the phone quickly as it wasn’t my phone and she told me that she needed to make more phone calls. I tried to call my mom, but I still couldn’t reach her. Then I realized that my sister worked in Manhattan, but I didn’t know where. Everyone in the back of the bus started talking again. This one woman said that both towers were down, but my coworker and I kept telling her that when we left, there was still one left. Eventually, it was confirmed that they were both gone. I couldn’t believe it.
Eventually, we got off the bus, but not before hearing that all schools were closing and that all children were being sent home. My niece lives in the same building as I do and I realized that I’d probably be the closest to her school at this point, not knowing if my sister was even alive.
Walking up Harlem, I finally felt safe, as funny as that may sound. I was even able to crack a joke to try and lighten my mood, telling my co-worker that if they hit Yankee Stadium, I’m joining the Army. My co-worker, who had come here from England was having serious thoughts about going back there if a war was brewing. We walked for about two hours before we reached the top of Manhattan, about 181st street or so. All I could think about at this point is if my family was safe, and getting to my niece. We passed Yeshiva University on the way up there, which is a Jewish college, and they were already starting the blood drives. The people in charge were also warning their students about possible race riots. I wasn’t sure why. When we got to the 181st bridge to cross into the Bronx, we were stopped by some cops who told us that we had to walk across the bridge because no cars were being allowed through. So, we were walking....along side hundreds of others to get into the Bronx. At a certain point....we were able to see downtown Manhattan from the bridge, and all that was left downtown was smoke and the towers were missing. I just couldn’t believe it.
We crossed the bridge and took cabs home. I ran to my niece’s school, but she had already been picked up by my landlord, her occasional babysitter. Drenched with sweat in my work clothes (shirt, tie, slacks), I went downstairs to pick her up. When I saw her, I hugged her and broke down. I didn’t know if her mom was alive and I was so afraid for her. Her babysitter told me that my sister was able to call and I felt better. I took my niece upstairs and she asked me what was happening. I didn’t know what to tell her.
I was nervous for hours, eating nothing, doing nothing but watching TV, waiting for a phone call from my mom. Out of all of the messages on my answering machine, none where from her.
Finally, at night, my mom called. My mom works at a homeless shelter downtown, providing food and shelter for the needy. That night, it was transformed into a triage of sorts....and next door was the temporary morgue. She told me about all of the gruesome things she saw, from severed limbs, mangled heads and body parts. My mom didn’t sound very stable on the phone. She told me that because all the trains were down, she wasn’t going to come home because she had no one to relieve her or any of her co-workers. I felt so proud of my mom because she really helped a lot of people that night.
I just watched TV like the rest....haunted by the images that I saw with my own eyes.
I didn’t go to work the next day. It was too much of a blur to me to be honest. I did come back eventually though, helping tons of our clients relocate to other areas. A lot of the sales reps attended funerals, one in particular who handled Cantor Fitzgerald. They lost 700 people in the attack and he went to about 30 funerals. Business was definitely down and the workplace just wasn’t a fun place to be. We got constant bomb threats, so did the Empire State....
My girlfriend’s mom after a few days of just shock, finally was able to talk about what happened. She worked on the 19th floor of Tower One and when the first plane hit, she said that the building shook. There was an announcement over the PA telling her to stay in the office and that everything was OK. She didn’t believe it and started to make her descent down the stairs. She was stuck in the building for a while before some firefighters helped everyone down the stairs. She said that they all died in the collapse. Had she not started to leave when she did, she would have been caught in the collapse. Her company relocated to Long Island about a month after.
As for me....business got so bad because all of our clients were wiped out that they started eliminating people. I was one of the last to be let go...I’m still collecting unemployment from it.
I’ll never forget that day for as long as I live.