New York 9-11
A rambling by Beth Derochea

It's more than a month since New York lost the World Trade Center, with the accompanying lives and symbolism. It hasn't been easy living here, commuting and trying to go about my daily business. I still feel numb -- some might call it shock -- about the whole business.

I remember that day -- I was at work early and it began with panicked telephone calls from my mother (who did not realize that I worked uptown) and from a dear friend in California, who was up far too early that morning and called before e-mail was disrupted. My main concern was for my fiancˇ, who worked a mere block from the towers. I could not watch the television for fear of seeing his battered body under fallen debris. My co-workers watched as I worried and tried to reassure his mother and mine that everything would be all right.

I went to the bathroom and cried, praying, asking the goddess to keep him safe and bring him back to me. Selfish, I know, to be concerned about one single person when so many others were dead or in danger. This one person, however, was my lifeline, my sanity and my partner. Without him, I would be the empty girl once again.

He called -- oh the relief and thankfulness when he called! He was on the train under the World Trade Center when the first plane hit, and was told that "there was a fire at World Trade, we are letting people on and not letting anyone off." He thought his train was the last one to go through that station. His stop was the next one, and when he got off, he saw the fire and smoke coming from the first tower. Stunned, he watched as the second plane hit, and was then hustled uptown by burly FBI agents. He was somewhat amused and irritated to be pushed uptown, to an area filled with federal buildings -- all likely targets.

He began his long walk uptown, trying to call at each pay phone that he came to. People with cell phones were staring blankly at their phones. The cell phones didn't work or weren't working well because of the damage done to the main antenna. Chris managed to call and get through to me around Chinatown, and told me that he was walking uptown to get to me at work. I work on East 55th Street, more than 55 blocks away.

Once he called, I was able to calm down. When the towers fell, the horror and magnitude of the whole ordeal hit me and the numbness began. All I wanted was to get home and hold my loved ones. I called both mothers and told them that Chris was all right, and we would have more information when he got here. When he did, at around 11:30, my hands were full with calming him down enough to call people. He heard people screaming when he got to the 20s, turned around, and saw the towers falling. All he could think of were his friends at work -- did they all get out? Did the towers crush the store where he worked? He was in shock, and I was worried enough to suggest a hospital. He turned it down, just wanted to relax and get some water. He was crying, and it was all I could do not to cry as well.

Chris got in touch with one of his co-workers who had been waiting on Staten Island for his bus. He saw the whole thing happen from there. When the second plane hit, he turned around and walked home. He was unable to get in touch with others or even to get through to the store on the phone.

Chris also made me laugh for a moment that morning. As he was getting ready for work, the cat kept winding around his legs, meowing piteously. Now, looking back, it was as if the cat was warning him not to go.

We contacted his mom, Charlene, who worked nearby, and arranged to meet and try to get to New Jersey. We live in Staten Island, and from all we heard there was no ferry running and no transportation to the ferry. At least if we got to his mom's house, we would have a safe place to stay and be with family. Getting to New Jersey proved to be an adventure in itself.

The line for the ferries to Hoboken stretched for blocks, and several lines merged into one that snaked back and forth by the ferry terminal. The sun beat down upon us, and the whiff of acrid smoke occasionally swept uptown. Police were everywhere, attempting to keep the crowds calm and orderly. We held hands as we waited, in fear of being separated in the crowds. We waited nearly three hours to get on the ferry.

As the ferry chugged down the East River, silence overtook the boat as all the passengers stared at the billowing smoke where the World Trace Center used to be. From the distance, we could still hear the sirens. It was a solemn and frightening moment.

An unpleasant surprise awaited us in Hoboken: decontamination. Never mind that most of us were nowhere near the clouds of ash and asbestos -- everyone on the boat had to put their electronic equipment and purses in garbage bags and take a cold shower with clothes on. From there, we moved to an icily air-conditioned train that would take us to a bus, that would take us to another bus, that would finally take us to where Charlene had parked the car. From there we stopped for McDonalds -- hot junk food -- and went home. I called my parents to let them know that we were safe. It was an exhausting and emotionally draining journey. Even watching rescue efforts on television that night seemed unreal, as if it was another movie set. I only wish that were true.

In the past month, I've tried to get my mind around the magnitude of what has happened, and I still have trouble with the concept. Despite looking at the forever-changed skyline every day, it is still not wholly real for me. Eventually, this numbness will pass, and reality will come crashing down. Now panic comes in fear of anthrax and smallpox.

I've decided not to panic. I refuse to allow terrorists to frighten me into hiding. Yes, I'm more aware of my surroundings, and taking reasonable precautions, but this transplanted New Yorker is not giving up the city that I have grown to love. It will take time to heal, but we will heal and be stronger for the process.

[ by Beth Derochea ]
Rambles: 27 October 2001