When the first plane hit I just came up to WTC#7 22nd floor. I could have chosen to go for coffee across WTC plaza, in which case the hit would have been over my head, and I could have been injured. Maybe another version of me was, because I recall stopping and making an (unusual) choice to skip coffee in the interest of maintaining this rhythm I felt that day- my earlier than usual arrival, etc.
First hit – my manager running towards me as she lived thru 1993 bombing of WTC twins and her body still recalled the shaking building during the explosion. I call Natasha and my parents to say it’s not my building. Natasha doesn’t know what to make of my brief message, but then sees black burnt pieces of paper on Wall St and knows it’s real.
Our CEO tells us to step away from windows, gather in hallways. He knew almost all 200 people by name, a really good leader. He felt the importance of this, but no one could have imagined the scale.
Second hit – he tells us to leave and assemble at designated place – a few blocks away from WTC. Smart choice of remote location and quick thinking. I am about to take an elevator, but my other manager questions if stairs is a better choice. I agree, and we follow a whole bunch of people down. I am surprised how well we run down – various ages , abilities , fear tolerance – but all ran as one, helping those who had issues.
As soon as we assemble NY folks are let go and NJ cross the river to the second office, to watch in horror how people fall, and then towers fall too.
I know I like to be in a team, so I join a colleague and tell her we are better off walking away, and using a subway line that is not under WTC. She notices people falling from high floors. “Are these…” she asks. I say “yes”.
I urge her to keep walking, as I am concerned the towers may fall sideways. I have visited the top of the towers a few times and I knew they were way taller than any other building around. On top it felt like you are outside of time and space, you see entire island, no car can get far enough to not be visible.
We get to a station and split.
I go uptown so I can take another train down to Brooklyn, but trains stop. I get out. I hear people screaming- one of the towers goes down.
I keep moving on foot, trying to call my wife and my parents. No cell reception. I get to pay phones, use my international card – landlines are dead too.
All the while my parents are not sure what’s up. My mom recalls correctly that I am in WTC7, but my dad thinks I was in twin towers based on my “not my building” comment earlier.
I walk across the Manhattan bridge, my wife – across the Brooklyn bridge. I take a bus, get off a few blocks from my house. I use a payphone to call my parents, they are relieved to hear my voice. My dad opens a bottle of the heaviest liquor he got to finally relax.I hang up. I hear honking – that’s Natasha in our little red car. I know we are fine now.
P.S. At home we keep watching TV and see WTC7 come down. I tend to think WTC7 was a controlled demolition. There was a command center on 23rd, tightly guarded, elevator would not even go there. Who knows what was that about and why we heard loud scratching sounds above our head (we were on 22nd ), as if heavy containers were moved, and why they built it shortly before 9/11, but that’s another topic. I don’t really know what happened.
I also keep seeing photos of hijackers. I keep zeroing in on Mohamed Atta. I see myself in him due to some resemblance. I could swear I seen him before. It was a few weeks earlier. I was coming back from JC office visit, and noticed a group of middle eastern men. One looked like myself (in my estimate), so I was intrigued. They noticed my interest and stared back at me intently. It could have been a planning mission they were on, or it could have been a totally different youth. But to me it was a kind of “preview”, except I could not make anything of it, at least consciously, until after the fact. Everything in life is so incredibly intertwined.