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11 September 2011

Tell me your 9/11 stories. Here's mine. [More:]
I was off work that day, and had gone to Romford to buy a suitcase for an upcoming trip to the USA. It was early afternoon and I was walking back across the market place when I noticed people crowded in front of one of those old-fashioned TV shops, watching something. I went over to see what it was about, and at that minute the second plane crashed. People gasped or exclaimed "Oh my God!". I said what is it? Is this a trailer for film or something? and someone said no, it's real, this is really happening. I was shocked, stunned, as we all were.

I felt that I needed to get home, and as I bought some fish for my supper, the fishmonger said that the radio was reporting that many planes were missing and unaccounted for - at that point nobody knew what was going on, and there was a sense of fear in the air.

I drove home with the radio on, knowing the world would never be the same again. I spent the evening alternately watching the news and turning it off again, it was just too sad to watch. Instead I followed the MeFi thread as it unfolded.

It turned out that I knew someone who died in the North Tower, although I didn't find that out until several months later.

I visited Ground Zero in 2007. It was a building site. But the little chapel nearby moved me to tears, particularly as that day there was a children's choir singing there.

I can't bear to watch any of the TV memorials today, because it's real, those are actual people dying, it's not some CGI effect for a movie.
My friend Jose worked near the WTC. He was in the throes of the last days of his alcoholism, although he didn't know it then.

When the chaos erupted, his first thought was "I need a drink". It never occurred to him to phone his wife and let her know he was alive.

So, he found a bar, started drinking and, once he had the first drink, all bets were off. He ended up on a five-day bender, came to in Hoboken on 15 September with no money, no idea how he got there and no memory of the last few days other than that first drink.

So, he managed to make his way back to Manhattan, couldn't understand why the doorman at his building almost fainted when he walked into the block, or why his wife actually fainted when he opened the door to his apartment.

Because she hadn't heard from him, he was posted as 'missing presumed dead'. His elderly parents, unable to fly in from the Dominican Republic, were distraught, his wife believed she was a widow, and he just bowled in thinking everyone would be pleased to see him.

The upshot of it was that he was shipped off to rehab, and it was the start of his sober life which has continued to this day.
posted by Senyar 11 September | 03:43
My 9/11 story has not yet ended.
posted by Ardiril 11 September | 06:36
My sister-in-law had just moved to Sao Paulo, and took a post as a visiting professor at the university where my husband taught. I skipped work that morning to watch her give an open lecture on political theory. Her Portuguese was atrocious, and my husband I and giggle (still) at her pronunciation sometimes. After her lecture, she and I caught a bus to go downtown to my office, when I got a call on my cell from my husband (who had stayed behind at the university), who said, get off the bus and find a television! (Not hard, we were in a commercial district) There's been a horrible accident, but it doesn't feel like an accident, it feels like an attack!" Off the bus I hop with my SIL, and we find a television, just after the second plane hit. Absolute sinking horror overcame the both of us. Not long after, I can't remember exactly, I received another phone call from a good friend who was traveling in the northeast, but whose family lives in Triangle, in the DC area. She couldn't keep the panic out of her voice as she told me about the plane that hit the pentagon. She's the first one to say it, "Someone declared war on us". My SIL and I find a cab (everyone in Sao Paulo seems to already be freaking about this), he barely lets her get in before he pulls away from the curb (His 9/11 story undoubtedly involves the two weeping English speaking women he took home that day). We listen to the radio as the first tower comes down. None of us believe it. The taxi driver assures us that it can't be true, god I wish he had been the voice of authority that he thought he was!
As I rushed into my building, I noticed that most of the people who lived there had all left their apartments and were congregated around the tiny television that sat at the front gate entrance. We rushed right past them as people murmured, "It's gonna be okay, you'll see, it's all right".
We spent the rest of the day watching television, and of course, it wasn't all right in the slightest.
posted by msali 11 September | 07:54
Someone at work said, "Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center."

This was from a person who had a habit of passing on any sort of news-like rumour without checking it first. So I thought they were probably just wrong, and tried to find something on any of the usual news web sites (including the one for a local paper). All of which were virtually non-functional due to everyone else doing the same thing at the same time, which seemed like confirmation that something had happened.

More people came by my desk. There was talk of airliners crashing into the buildings. And I thought, well, you know how these things tend to get exaggerated when people can't get real information. It was probably a couple of little Cessnas or something like that. We didn't have any TVs or radios in our section of the office, so we just kept trying to get something to come up on the web.

Then finally we got a page to load with some pictures. It might have been from CNN's site once they simplified their front page greatly, but I can't remember. What I remember was seeing the fires and thinking to myself, those buildings are going to collapse. I was thinking of all the various documentaries and reports I'd seen where large fires get hot enough to soften steel, and thinking, I don't see how the steel holding those buildings up can possibly survive this for long, and I don't see how they can get up there to put water on the flames.

Then one of the towers collapsed, followed soon after by the other.

Our management did not send us home early that day, so we stayed at the office until our normal quitting time and then went home. Very little work got done. On the way to the train station, through the heart of Toronto's financial district, I saw a single police car parked on the vast sidewalk in front of one of the buildings. And I thought, OK, I know they're doing this to make people feel safer, but really, if someone is going to crash a plane into a building here, what's he going to do, arrest them?

I got home and managed to get in touch with people I knew in NYC via the Internet. I had been trying to call them and they had been trying to call me, but couldn't get through. E-mail worked much better than the telephone. Some of my friends had watched the whole thing from their office windows.

I spent that evening just watching CNN on TV, saddened and angered by what I was seeing, even though it hadn't happened in my city or even my country. I eventually concluded that I feel like the USA and Canada are kind of like siblings, where we have our disagreements and even the occasional fistfight, but this was like somebody just walking up and shooting my brother. At that point, all previous arguments are forgotten and I just want to know who did it and where I can find them to go after them. Kind of a silly and useless reaction, I guess, but that's how I felt at the time.
posted by FishBike 11 September | 08:48
I was on my way to work; I'd just parked my car - about 10 blocks away; my evil ex boss didn't hold with paying for employee parking - and was walking when this guy in a red pick up came zooming by way too fast. "They crashed a plane into the World Trade Center!" he yelled out the window in purest Madison county-ese. "New York's done on fire!" And I thought, damn, it's early to be that drunk.

I imagine the rest of my day was pretty much par for the course for non NYC Americans. My brother who lived in the city was away - he has the best 9/11 story: he was actually camping in the desert in Jordan and a Bedouin on a camel told him about it, no, seriously - and while I have a lot of old friends and acquaintances in NYC there wasn't anyone else living that I was really worried about. Most of my friends aren't usually even awake that early in the morning and none of them ever had anything to do with the financial district. That was before we all found out about the long term health effects; one old friend of mine who was working in Soho then has been sick on and off ever since. Anyway. Somebody hauled an old black and white TV into the museum office and we stood around and watched it. I did the weekly bank deposit; the bank was full of TVs and otherwise silent. Then everything started closing and finally evil ex boss let us go as well. I didn't want my son going home to an empty house - he was 9 and a latchkey kid - so I picked him up from school. I think they might have closed schools early; I can't remember.

My friend Jodi and her ex at that time owned the Gray Eagle music hall so we went over there. There were about ten of us sitting around reading the papers and talking. My son said, "But we're safe here, right? Terrorists have never even heard of Asheville!" and I thought, well, he has a point but nobody's ever safe when it comes to that, not walking down the street, not ever. Safety is an illusion, really, at the end of it all.

The whole thing was so - I don't know; it put everyone into a state of shock. The closest thing I can compare it to is a sudden death in the family, where everyone is just walking around glassy eyed and reeling. I remember being so shocked and then so angry and then I started hearing stories about people being assholes. Our local convenience store is run by an Indian family and apparently they got some shit from some ignorant rednecks although less, they said, than people coming in specifically to tell them that they would not give them shit. That's weird right there, I mean it's nice, supportive and all, but on the other hand, why do you have to go out of your way to be so, "Look at me! I am not actually racist or anti Muslim and I am not assuming that this family of Pakistanis has anything to do with Al Qaeda so I will loftily offer my support!" Well. I am cynical with it but it kind of got under my skin a bit.

Anyway that all made me angry but then I remember feeling really proud of America for the first few months at least. I had expected that we'd just go and start bombing wherever, you know, Italy, the Bahamas, whatever, just out of being fuck yeah American and stupid but instead it seemed like there was actual thought and mature discourse going on. Well, it seemed like that for the first few months and then, bang, it was right back to stupidity and naked greed as usual.

A lot of my friends and relatives believe that the US government was at the very least complicit in the attacks and deeply involved at the worst. I don't believe that but it's more because I have never seen any evidence that the government is capable or efficient enough to run a powerful secret conspiracy for more than a couple of hours than that I don't believe the people in the government are morally incapable of it. On the other hand sometimes I think I'm incredibly naive and honestly, if it did ever come out that they knew it was coming and let it happen, well, I'd be sickened but not, sadly, all that surprised.
posted by mygothlaundry 11 September | 10:17
I've really struggled with this 10th anniversary thing. Part of me grieves along with the families of those who aren't here anymore. Part of me resents the political football it still is, & what a slap in the face it is to the families & friends of those gone.

Mostly, I look to the resilience of NYC especially to acknowledge the event but not let it run their lives.

We've heard the words 9/11 at least once every single day since 2001. Yes - it was a big deal & a horrific event. I sat in my car & cried about people I'd never met. & yes - it is deeply woven forever into the hearts of those directly affected, no doubt.

For me, it will always be the baring of how the world rightly sees [our] arrogance, bullying and self centeredness in all its ugliness. That it took us 8 years to try to do something about that attitude, and that the maturity & worldwide support was dismissed & squandered is the least proud thing I feel about 9/11.

I think that if they could, those that perished would tell us not to take our time here for granted.
posted by chewatadistance 11 September | 11:03
The mister and I were in Ontario, Canada visiting his family. His brother woke us up after the first plane hit. We watched the second plane hit and the towers collapse. My brother (Bro#2) was working just across the river from lower Manhattan and watched it all live from the office windows. I was the only one he could contact; all the circuits were busy for the rest of the family. He was, understandably, practically in hysterics telling me over and over again what he had witnessed.

I don't really remember the rest of the week except watching too much TV and feeling numb.

We were due to fly out that Friday and it was so very hard to get on that airplane. We discussed renting a car and driving back, but it just wasn't feasible money and time-wise. So we flew back and we got home only three hours later than originally scheduled.
posted by deborah 11 September | 12:02
I was off from work that day, and I'd just gotten my third grader on the bus. I was home with my youngest (he was 4), and after squaring him away with breakfast and toys, I turned on the news like I always did. They were having primaries in NY, and one of the reporters was 8 blocks from the WTC, interviewing people on their political views. He wasn't on camera when it happened; you saw it when the station suddenly cut back to him and his cameraman - they zeroed in on the hole up on the first tower. At the time, it was thought to possibly be a small commuter plane, and an accident. I called my then-fiance, my mom, and my friends at work who don't have access to the news. I was watching the skyline camera, as the flames and smoke rose from that first tower, when the plane came and hit the second tower. I burst into tears at that point. I called everyone again; the reports were coming in that several planes were unaccounted for; then the Pentagon; then the flight that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

We lived in Keansburg, NJ, at the time, across the bay from NY. You could see the smoke so clearly; and smell it for days. I debated getting my older son from school, but I was afraid I'd scare him to death. I couldn't tear my eyes off the tv. I tried to take my youngest to a park, but for some reason I chose Sea Bright, and the smoke was visible there, and stretched south along the coast for miles. I couldn't turn off the tv for days..I worried that I was exposing my sons to things they couldn't understand, so I mainly watched in my bedroom, and to this day they don't really have any memories of it.

I found out the next day that one of my lifelong friends had lost her brother, her only sibling. He worked for Aon Insurance in the second tower; always businesslike, he'd figured the first hit was an accident, and returned to his office so as not to miss a meeting. I'd known him for nearly 30 years at that point. He left behind his wife (his high school sweetheart) and two teenage sons. And a broken hearted mother and sister. His memorial service was touching and amazing: the throng overflowed the church he and his wife were so involved in (he coached basketball; she was the school nurse) and they had a tv screen set up in the adjoining auditorium. There must have been 400 people there.

It's never far from my mind. I remember the walk/candlelight vigil in Keansburg days later. I remember the crowd singing the National Anthem. I went to the boardwalk overlooking the bay and sang "Amazing Grace", and passersby thanked me for it, and I am NOT a public singer. It just felt right at the time. I remember the mad dash for flags in the days after; Mr. V and I found a couple of flags that had fallen from cars and we rescued them. I felt some pride at how people seemed to pull together during that crisis. I wish people still pulled together like that, nowadays, instead of everyone seeming to be in it for themselves.

And I remember the first time a plane flew over our house, when they allowed flights again. I looked up, and for the first time ever considered just how deadly planes could be.
posted by redvixen 11 September | 13:23
I was at the corner of 173 and Deep Lake road in Antioch, IL - on my way to work - when NPR broke the story of a plane crashing into the WTC. My initial thought was, "Poor, amateur pilot." The idea of it being a commercial plane was so inconceivable. At the time, our office was in a pole barn at the back of my boss's property. When I got to the office, they had heard about the plane too. We went to my boss's house to watch the news.

We sat in his family room watching TV as the second plane hit the south tower and reports came in about a plane also hitting the Pentagon. At one point, my boss went upstairs to get some coffee and that's when the south tower collapsed. All I could do was scream. Then the north tower came down. I just felt numb.

I don't know why, but I went to my German class. I think they let us out early though. There were tons of students crowded around an old rear projection TV in the lounge/commons area, crying and hugging each other. I went back to work, but didn't do anything but watch TV for the rest of the afternoon.

When I went home, I spent the night watching more TV with my father in his den - him in a large leather chair and myself on the floor. I probably called my friend, Jimmy, who was in the army reserves in Washington state. For some reason, I didn't make a journal entry that day. I do remember it being so quiet. Eerily quiet. Except for the sound of the navy fighter jets overhead.

I wish we as a nation had been able to keep the solidarity felt in the weeks and months after the attacks. I wish it had all played out more like that Toby Keith song* instead of the way it actually did - a decisive attack to get OBL immediately instead of one war going on ten years and another that was completely unwarranted. I feel like the people that died as a result of the attacks would think a lot of what's happened in the past ten years was a joke.

I moved to Chicago about six years ago. Sometime in the past three or four years, they changed the flight patters at O'Hare and now there are many more low flying planes in our area. They still freak me the fuck out.

* As polarizing as that song is, I still really like it.
posted by youngergirl44 11 September | 15:03
I was living in Bay Ridge. Long story short:

I was awake and watching on TV, in total disbelief, when the second plane hit. And when the towers collapsed. Then my son, 14 at the time, came over. He had left his school by breaking away from security. His school was only a few blocks away. He was hysterical because he was talking to his mother (my ex-wife) who worked at the Deutsche Bank Building. She told him that there were explosions outside when the phone went dead. We were pretty sure she was dead for a while. Turns out that she walked across the bridge to get home.

I used to work in the WTC so I'm pretty sure some co-workers and friends died there, but it was a while back and we had lost touch.

That night on my terrace I could smell a horrid smell. Burning metal and burnt flesh. Or so it seemed to me. It stuck in the back of the throat. Neighbors smelled it too. I wasn't imagining it.

My cousin was a first responder. He's a cop. Retired now. God bless him. He doesn't talk about it at all.

The next day we found burned scraps of paperwork in Korean and English in the street.

That's all.

posted by Splunge 11 September | 15:43
I had got up and, as was my usual routine at the time, turned on the TV for my two youngest daughters to watch cartoons for while. I was initially surprised that there was, apparently, some movie playing at that hour of the morning, then confused when it seemed that all the channels were playing the same movie (this was between the first and second planes hitting). It was only when I stopped on one channel for a few minutes that I started to realise what was happening. At that stage, the scenario the TV stations were putting up was that Israel was responsible and that this was a declaration of war on the US. I woke my partner up with that news and she was out of bed like a shot.

We spent the next couple of hours glued to the TV as the whole thing unfolded before our eyes and the horrible truth dawned that this was no act of 'normal' war and that the planes were commercial jets - it's hard to believe now, but the whole 'suicide bomber' methodology was then something that was hardly on anyone's radar. Eventually, I dragged myself off to work to find that my boss was totally nonplussed about the whole thing and was annoyed that staff and students had either turned up late or not at all. It was when he started talking about the market advantage this would give us over US competitors because of safety concerns from potential students that I realised just what an arsehole he was (still is, I suspect). I spent most of the day trying to work but really just watching the telecast on the TV in one of the classrooms. I felt numb and knew that the world would never be the same, although I had no idea what would change.

I'm reminded of the events of that day every time I fly (which is fairly often) because of the ridiculous security burden we now all have to bear - requirements that do nothing but ease the minds of stupid people who refuse to understand that these ridiculous measures will do nothing to stop this happening again. It's then I realise that, no matter what else has transpired, terrorists have succeeded in their goal of spreading fear and that, 10 years later, their actions on that day continue to cow us into being scared that they will strike again. Because of these fears, we all face minor or major irritations and inconveniences every day. Because of these fears, we are constantly reminded that we are powerless against fanatics prepared to die for their cause. Because of these fears, we have lost the fight against terrorism.
posted by dg 11 September | 20:29
I was running downstairs in our house on the treadmill, or cooling down, when the first plane hit. I came upstairs to have breakfast with my husband and he told me. We, too, thought it must be an accidental collision. We turned on the TV, and were horrified to see the second plane hit. The TV commentator relayed assessments that this had to be terrorism. And my very smart husband then said, "The towers will fall. They can't survive this." It was horrific to see him proved right. Meanwhile I called an employee we normally drove to work, to tell her to turn on the TV, and once she'd done that, she expressed real fear about going to our workplace (a courthouse.) I told her I completely understood if she didn't want to go to work, but that I was damned if terrorists were going to shut us down.

I later learned that one of my high school classmates was on one of the planes that flew into the towers. She and her family were headed to California for a family vacation -- they thought. And one of my law school classmates was at work in one of the towers. Neither survived, of course.

I used to work at the Bankers Trust building near the WTC towers. It was gutted by the event. I used to go up to Windows on the World for drinks after work -- always a treat. My heart was breaking as I realized that although the attacks (fortunately) hit early in the AM, before many New Yorkers arrive at work, the Windows on the World guys would all be there, and all would have died. I also remember going out at lunchtime from the bank and just staring up at the towers, so proud of their beauty and height.

Flew into NYC about 4 months after 9-11 for a funeral. I want to the site, and to the iron gothic church nearby, to sit in silence and think of the victims.

I frankly feel a little more peace since OBL was found and killed, but am still sick at heart over the damage our response to this attack did to our liberties, our Constitution, and our worldwide standing.

Have to stop. Hard to write about this.
posted by bearwife 12 September | 18:37
I haven't really ever told this.

I lived in Battery Park City while I was in high school; my father's office was in the World Financial Center. The lower west side was my neighborhood until I moved away in 1989 to go to college. When September 11, 2001 rolled around I was working as a programmer for a dotcom in Atlanta. As it happens, I had been in the WTC just three weeks before 9/11 while showing an out-of-town friend around New York.

Being one of those smug people without a television, I heard about the first plane on the radio as I was getting ready for work. They gave no indication that it was a commercial plane, so I pictured an event like when a B-25 hit the Empire State Building. I hopped on my scooter and went to work and as I arrived everyone was clustered around a tiny TV in the lobby. We watched the second plane hit and the two towers fall. Someone said, "I wish there was something we could do."

"Well, we could go donate blood. Surely there will be casualties from this."

My entire office decamped to the Red Cross. As a regular donor, I wasn't eligible to donate but most of the staff knew me. By the time my co-workers were finished donating, the line of donors was out the door and down the hall. We didn't know yet that for the most part, victims would be either Pretty Okay or Dead, with not much need for blood. I lived just around the corner from CNN in Castleberry Hill and local news was reporting that Atlanta's CBD was cordoned off. If I couldn't go home, I might as well stick around to help. The staff was overwhelmed with incoming donors and their paperwork, so I helped with that, organized snacks and meals for the phlebotomists, ran errands and generally tried to make myself useful.

I stayed, if I remember correctly, until ten o'clock at night. And returned the next day at seven in the morning. And the day after. It was the only way I could keep myself from thinking about what was happening in New York, in sort of a fugue state.

At the end of the third day my job started making noises about getting back to work. I returned to work, and largely kept my shit together by avoiding televisions. In time the pain faded, but in the ten years since, I've been back to New York but I still cannot go to Ground Zero.

Through some miracle, only one person I knew was killed that day.
posted by workerant 16 September | 15:18
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