I was sleeping in on September 11, 2001, and was awakened at around 9:15am by the sound of fire engine sirens- lots of them. I looked out of the apartment window, out into the gorgeous Indian summer day, and saw a stream of firetrucks racing downtown. A big plume of thick smoke was visible in the sky as I looked south from 24th street. Judging by its size, I figured it must have been in a nearby neighborhood.
I left the apartment without listening to the news, figured I’d catch it in the car on my way to work. More fire engines pass as I headed down the highway towards the Financial District. Finally I turn on the news- and it was hard to make sense of what I was hearing about planes slamming into the Twin Towers, “The city was under attack?” I drove onward on confusion.
As I approached downtown, near the Brooklyn Bridge exit, I saw the World Trade Center towers. The sight was appalling- wreathed in flames and surrounded by hellish black smoke against the clear blue sky. I stopped. Sitting in my car barely half a mile from ground zero, I saw the South Tower fall. The opaque wall of dust spewed from the collapse and came nearer and nearer, block by block.
I was terrified that the North Tower might fall in my direction. As the smoke and dust cleared, I saw that it was still standing. Everything and everybody outside on the street was coated with dust and debris. I instinctively knew that the most useful thing to do was to pick up my wife and kids and make sure they were safe. I turned around, headed back uptown, and got off the highway near their school at 23rd Street just in time to see the North Tower collapse. Watching it all unfold over an hour and 45 minutes was horrendous–but I also knew how profoundly lucky I was to not have been there.
Weeks later I thought about the firetrucks on the highway–and understood most of those brave individuals hadn’t made it back home. It was a relief when the fires were finally extinguished after burning for weeks. The pall of smoke over downtown finally faded as well. I still think about the bright summer sunlight in the Plaza. Sometimes I dream about wandering through the mall that used to be under the WTC Towers. It’s been a while since I’ve scanned the horizon looking for their familiar shape and been startled that they’re not there though—and that’s also a relief. I look forward to having all the new buildings look as familiar.