20 years after 9/11. Add your story. Your children will want to know your experiences.
9/11/2001

The bus was late. It was my daughter Glynnis’s first day of 6th grade. She had missed the first few days because of a fever so she was terribly excited to be heading off to school that day. Nathaniel had already spent a few days in 4th grade but 4th grade is about as fun as school can be so he was equally excited to finally see the bus arrive. We had a succession of dreadful bus drivers. They would get lost, leave the kids at the wrong corner in the rain, sometimes they wouldn’t show up at all. This was a new driver so I was concerned that he might go the wrong way and make the children even more late than they already were. I swallowed my worries, waved bye-bye with a big happy smile and hurried home to complete a deadline for work. I had planned to go to the twice weekly Farmers Market at the base of the Trade Center. I loved the market. In what had been before the bombing in 1993, a parking lot at the base of the Towers, the market offered this wonderful fantasy that I could have a little bit of the best of bucolic farmland while living in the epicenter of the financial world. Every Tuesday and Thursday, as long as the weather permitted, farm trucks packed with local produce and baked goods caused 50,000 well-heeled, movers and shakers, masters of the universe, to detour on their way to work at the top of the towers. I found iconoclastic poetry and redemption in that. I loved Battery Park City, the landfilled waterfront jewel immediately to the west of the Towers. There was no more beautiful neighborhood in the City and certainly no place I had ever known that offered so much free, and exquisite entertainment. Summer was like camp for grownups and kids alike. Every day there were wonderful free performances from the New York City Ballet to Pete Seeger, Norah Jones. There were free programs in the parks including soccer, baseball, art and crafts, chess, basketball and kayaking. There were Swedish festivals, ethnic dance nights, Christmas festivals and fireworks. The fireworks were amazing. Our apartment had huge windows looking out over the Hudson River, the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island. So many nights my children would climb into bed and watch fireworks before reading a bed-time story. The World Trade Center was where we shopped, where we ran to catch the subway to go uptown. It was in the Trade Center’s plaza where we enjoyed concerts and picnics and the bustling of thousands of people. For 9 years it was our backyard. But I have digressed. It is easy to digress now, thinking about how wonderful a place this was to live. So, after waving a somewhat worried farewell to my children I went to work in my home office. Very shortly after starting to work I felt it. The building shook. I knew that feeling from the 1993 bombing. On 9/11 I had had my blinds down to block the brilliant sun. I drew the blinds and looked at the street because this is where the commotion could be seen in 1993. I didn’t think to look up at the Towers. Things on the street didn’t seem wrong although people did seem to be in quite a hurry but I thought that they were just rushing off to work. A few minutes later a neighbor called and told me that a plane had hit the Trade Center. This time I looked up and saw the gaping hole, which in comparison to the size of the Tower looked more like a hole a small plane would have made. Next I received a call from friends in Tokyo who saw the news on TV and wanted to know if we were all right. I assured them that everything was fine. Then my sister called and I assured her that we were fine. I don’t know why I did not think of the implications of even a small plane hitting an office building. Even a small plane would mean certain death for hundreds of people, but somehow, none of that sank in. I did not think about leaving my apartment. I did not think about terrorism until another plane came screaming, right towards me. I was engulfed in the sound. I could not see the plane because the blinds on my south facing windows were down. It was just sound, deafening sound, roaring at me. My back was pressed against a wall and in a completely instinctual state of panic, I was trying to climb the wall to escape. Then the building shook again but I had not been hit. I was safe for the moment. I do not remember if I looked at the Trade Center after that. I don't think I took the time to look. I needed to get out. I do know that I decided to call my friend, Nira, who lived on the first floor of our building – I was on the 21st floor and fully expected other planes to attack and I wanted to be in a place from where I could escape. She told me her mother, who had just arrived from Israel the day before, was there with her son and that I could go and stay with them. I may have taken my purse but nothing else but I am not sure I even took that. Once on the first floor, my friend’s mother was not to be found. I went to the lobby which was filled with worried people – people wondering how to get their children, people who were supposed to be in the Trade Center for work wondering if they should go, people in a state of shock trying to make sense of their world when none was possible. I was wondering if the tardy school bus had safely delivered my children to school. I went back to Nira’s hallway and ran into a man emerging from the next apartment. I asked if he had seen anyone from Nira’s apartment and he said no but that he was leaving and advised that I do the same. My new acquaintance, Jack Siler and I headed to the lobby when everything turned black. There was debris flying outside and I assumed that another plane had hit our building. These thoughts happen as normal thoughts. These unthinkable events when you are in them become reality and somehow you continue thinking in somewhat ordinary ways about unthinkable things, even as your adrenaline is surging and you begin to act as though you have stopped thinking. People were scrambling and screaming, trying to get outside. People were running, grabbing their babies, leaving the strollers behind and running from the lobby into the disaster. I don’t know why everyone all of a sudden wanted to get out when it was about as scary and dangerous outside as it could possibly be. We did not know and had no way of knowing that a 110 story building had just collapsed and we were immersed in 110 floors of debris from toilets, computers, body parts, walls, paper, chairs, desks, carpeting, fiberglass, pcb’s, dioxins and asbestos. I remember thinking that this was a situation wherein I might actually die. I decided, made the conscious decision that I was not going to die - which is an extraordinary kind of a decision to make. I was going to stay rational and do what I needed to do to stay alive and calm and take care of my children. Jack and I decided that we would go back to his apartment. We closed all the windows, put down wet towels under the doors and at the sills. Then we turned on the TV and saw that the first tower had collapsed. The windows in this apartment faced away from the Trade Center so the only view we had on the disaster was on the tv. Then, as we watched, the second tower began to go and as the antenna fell from the top so did our power and our news. No more tv, radio and no cell phone. Outside our window a man holding a baby running from what we could not see coming, dodged under a domed piece of playground equipment. They disappeared in a blackout cloud of debris engulfing entire city blocks as well as any daylight and normalcy. We stayed in the building for hours. I didn’t want to leave until I felt that things had calmed down enough so that I could go uptown to get my children. Out the window I had watched as hundreds of people walked downtown, toward the end of the island, where they would surely have to board ferries to leave the city. I wanted to go uptown toward my children’s school. About 2:00pm when it seemed that a few people were walking uptown, we decided that things might be safe enough for me to venture out towards the school. First though, I walked up the 21 flights to my apartment to get a few things. I packed clean underwear and socks for the kids and me, my son's asthma medication, a raincoat and umbrella (to keep off the debris) and I put on shoes instead of sandals. I did not bring our cats or tortoises. Somehow, I thought I would be back in a day or so. Back in the lobby I ran into a young man who had a handful of crumpled dirty papers that he kept shuffling. He was panicked and dazed and kept saying that had to get back to The Market and asked if the stock market would be open tomorrow. I told him I didn’t think so. Then Jack and I went out into the knee deep debris. We still were unaware of the other planes involved, or that the Pentagon had been attacked. We didn’t know if there had been other attacks in the City and I worried that my children’s school, the United Nations International School, might be attacked. Once outside we were able to begin to take in the enormity of the disaster as we passed by the towering pile of smoke and rubble that had been the Trade Center. We walked only one block before being approached by a man from a tugboat who told us that Manhattan was being evacuated. I told him that there was no way that would be happening, that Manhattan is too big to evacuate. He told me they were going to try and that we did not have a choice, we had to get on the boat. I would not be picking up my children. The brave and gracious tugboat Captain, Rosie, who was blessed with a head of long red curly hair, tried her best to get me to another part of Manhattan so that I could get to my children but ultimately she was not allowed to go to port on Manhattan. She allowed me to use the tugboat’s phone to call my children’s school but I was not able to get through. We were being taken to New Jersey. At our first stop, as at all the ports in New Jersey that day, emergency showers had been set up for those caught in the debris - as had Nira’s mother and son after she ran to get him from pre-school. But we did not disembark. A bomb threat was shouted and we were immediately rushed out of port and Rosie rushed the tug back into the middle of the Hudson. She took us farther upriver to Weehawken where, after thanking Rosie, we climbed off the boat and stood, part of a huge crowd, like other masses of refugees, expelled from their homes, their work, their vessels, staring dumbly, wondering where we would go from here. —Jean McGavin, 2009 Links to more stories of 9/11/2001