9/11 by
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I’ll never forget the date my husband’s college roommate Joel came from Newton, Mass to spend a few days with us in New York – it was Monday,  September 10, 2001.

On that Monday Joel drove down from Newton to JFK.  His cousin and her three kids were arriving from Israel and Joel picked them up at the airport and took them to their Times Square hotel.

He waited until they had settled in and arranged to come back to meet them the next morning.  Originally a Brooklyn boy,  Joel knew New York well and  planned to show his cousins the city over the next few days.  He had even booked a table at Windows on the World,  the upscale restaurant with the spectacular view atop the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Then Joel left the hotel and drove uptown to our apartment where he would stay with us while his cousins were in town.   But the next morning,  knowing the previous travel day had been tiring for his cousin and the kids,  Joel called them to suggest they have a leisurely breakfast at their hotel,  relax , and wait for him to come a bit later.

Then Joel,  Danny,  and I sat down for our own leisurely breakfast.  Danny would go in late to his midtown office,  and I luckily was on a late time schedule at the Bronx high school where I worked.

But as we chatted over coffee,   two planes flew into the twin towers and our leisurely morning was not to be.

Joel called his cousins again and told them not to leave the hotel,  and throughout that horrific day thousands and thousands of other calls were made by New Yorkers frantically trying to reach loved ones.

Thinking I could be helpful in comforting the students,  against Danny’s protests I drove up to the Bronx.  Of course I found the school in turmoil,  many students had parents who worked downtown and they were desperately trying to reach them,  and many teachers had family or friends who worked or lived downtown as well.  A  colleague of mine had neighbors – a husband  and wife – who both worked in the WTC.  He learned later they both perished,  their young children instantly orphaned.

That day we did what we could to console and calm our students and each other,  those with cause were allowed to leave the building,  and then as I remember,  the principal dismissed us early.

And then I realized I was stuck – all the bridges and tunnels in and out of Manhattan had been closed,  the buses and subways weren’t running,  and there was no way I could get from the Bronx back home.  But my friend and colleague Vivian lived in the Bronx and offered to put me up.   I left my car in the faculty parking lot and went home with Vivian.

That night she and I walked a few blocks from her apartment to a restaurant for dinner.  We found the streets eerily empty,  the other diners silent,  and of course the mood somber.

When we got back to the apartment and were watching those haunting images of the attacks on TV,  Vivian’s brother called.  He worked downtown near the WTC but Vivian had reached him earlier and knew he was safe.  Now he was calling to ask if we were watching news clips of the jumpers – the men and women who held hands and jumped from windows to escape the inferno,  surely knowing they were jumping to their death.

“Yes,  we’re watching it on TV.”,   Vivian told him..

“I was on the street,“   he said,  “I saw them jumping with my own eyes.”

The next morning Vivian drove us back to school. Some of the bridges had reopened and I got my own car and drove home.  Although I live on 90th Street,  almost ten miles from Ground Zero,  there was a burning smell in the air that lasted for days.

Had Joel’s cousins’ flight been a day later,  or had he taken them for breakfast at Windows on the World instead of lingering at our place,  or had Vivian’s brother worked a few blocks nearer the WTC  …   who knows what their fates may have been.

They were among the lucky,  but on that sunny September morning in New York so many others were not.

Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!
www.WorldThruBrownEyes.com

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Tags: 9/11, New York City, Terrorism
Characterizations: been there, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Laurie Levy says:

    Dana, this is a poignant retelling of 9/11 and the arbitrary nature of who lived and who died. It was the ultimate close call for so many. Thanks for sharing it from your perspective.

  2. Marian says:

    This is still so raw, Dana, and it’s hard to imagine the number of people impacted by 9/11 directly. At least, this was the case before the pandemic. You had a front-row seat, alas, and it was very brave of you to help your students.

    • Yes in New York it was raw for a long while.
      It was baseball season and of course the games were suspended for a while, but when they resumed, we went to the first game at Yankee Stadium.

      President Bush threw out the first ball and 55,000 of us sang the national anthem like we never had before.

  3. Suzy says:

    Dana, I remember that day so well! But of course I was watching it all from 3,000 miles away. Thank you for this very moving story of the close call for Joel and his Israeli relatives. And thank you for going to your school to help the students, even though it meant you were stranded in the Bronx overnight!

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Yes, a chilling day for all of us, but for New Yorkers, a day that will never be forgotten. I remember that you mentioned this in your snail mail story, Dana. Now you’ve given us some context. Your friends were among the lucky ones that day.

  5. Dana, your story is a reminder that, once again, we’re all in this together, if not directly, then certainly indirectly. There is some comfort to be had by remembering that. I like to think of all the heroes out there, some of whom will be recognized, many others who will not be but who are among us nevertheless. Thank you for the remembrance.

  6. After talking with so many friends and relations who witnessed and survived that clear day in September, I began to understand that New Yorkers carry a unique experience in their hearts and minds and bodies that no one else can completely comprehend. Maybe it was similar to the experience of witnessing and surviving a war. And, in fact, that experience did open the door to another war. And here we are, in yet another monumental event.

    • Yes Charles, it was an unforgettable time in New York.

      The theatres were dark for a few days but we had tix for City Opera when it reopened the following weekend. The manager came out before the curtain went up and asked the audience to stand and sing the Star Spangled Banner with the cast.
      The curtain rose, the costumed cast was lined up at the front of the stage, and we all sang with few dry eyes in the house.

      And as I told Marian, when baseball resumed we were at Yankee Stadium when Bush threw out the first ball, and we sang along with thousands of other New Yorkers once again.

  7. Recalls my own memories of “close calls”. on 9/11, when a few friends and family told of how close they came to the inferno. it’s a time I will never forget. As a guidance counselor I had panicky students crowding my office, and Lenny was, like you, stuck in the Bronx, with no way to drive back . to Manhattan (We had just bought the house in Lakeridge, so it sure came in handy) It’s a memory, , like the assassination of Kennedy, or the Challenger disaster that our generation will never forget. You describe is all too well!

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