It has been a long time. For some, it may seem like it was yesterday, last week, last month or last year. Others, however, wake up and relive it day after day after day as another anniversary quickly approaches.
There are three types of people who know what I’m talking about. Those who were onlookers, those who were responders and those who became victims.
September 11, 2001. The day NYC, briefly, stood still in disbelief and then erupted in fear and tragedy. The day the Twin Towers were brought down and, for a moment, the day we were all the same.
There was no black or white, male or female, rich or poor. There was only people in need of help and people who did. There were faces full of dust and tears and the shoulders and arms they rested in.
I was an onlooker. From the safety of the television, I saw terror unfold and the fear I had was almost debilitating. Yet, it would never compare to the experience of the responders and victims who had lived through it or perished because of it.
We share the same blood line. We’ve shared family meals and moments and have supported each other in many ways.
Our commonalities end at the beginning of the terror we experienced that day. Like most people, I couldn’t imagine being in that situation. Minnie didn’t have to imagine. She was there.
Today, I’ve decided to share her answers to my questions about her experience on that day.
Originally, I considered shortening her responses for the sake of this post being too lengthy but decided that if I can’t erase her experience, why would I trim her account of it.
On 9/11, you were fortunate enough to wake up and get ready for work. Unfortunately, you would be heading towards the world trade center that would be attacked no more than one hour after your shift begun. What do you remember about that day?
Yes I was. I can remember how beautiful the day was and how blue the skies were. My physical and mental being was very good and in a very happy place. I always felt some kind of way about working so far downtown; however this day of 9/11, I felt wonderful not thinking about the train ride or how far I had to go in order to get to work.
I lived in the Bronx on Gates Place, where my travel to work was not complicated by having to change trains. I would take the #4 train all the way to my stop which was Bowling Green. I always got a seat, too.
On the day of 9/11, the beginning of my day was peaceful and I was really looking forward to getting into work with a little time to spare in order to pick up a bite to eat and coffee and to support the early morning street vendors that were out.
I can remember being on the train one stop before bowling green and all of a sudden hearing some type of noise or thump and then feeling the train move a little from side-to-side.
All of the passengers were a little confused as we all just looked at each other, as the train closed its doors and move on to my stop at Bowling Green.
I remember there being more crowding than usual and, when I finally got outside, people were gathered in groups looking up. Some were still walking but really fast and there was debris falling down.
As I walked I noticed more people were looking up and pointing and when I looked up I saw a plane in the first tower of the world trade center. That’s when sadness kicked in.
In my mind, I thought it was a terrible accident, but then as soon as that thought surfaced, another plane zoomed into the second tower and I knew that was no accident. That’s when fear took over. Panic broke out and my heart began to beat faster than I thought possible.
Did you work in one of the towers or were you working in the surrounding area?
I worked in the surrounding area. I ran to my job which was just adjacent to the world trade center.
I remember people screaming, running and yelling. When I got to my job, I was already in tears and everyone else was screaming, crying, making phone calls and running around trying to figure out what was going on.
I called my daughter and told her we were being attacked-she was home that day and was asleep. I told her to turn the TV on and watch the news.
Then the phones and everything else all shut down and there was no more contact-seemingly with the outside world.
A very short time afterwards, we received word that there was an attack taking place and the pentagon was also attacked by another plane.
We were told to form groups that we could leave with. I was in a group with five of my co-workers. As we left, we made a pact to stay together, however, that did not happen once we got outside.
We heard something like an explosion that set fire to our fear and we got separated. I found myself alone trying to find my way out of all the chaos but couldn’t.
I had a blue pin-stripped skirt suit and heals, which I removed so I could run and, even then, it seemed no matter where I ran, I got nowhere.
The crowds were overwhelming and my feet were pounding with pain and began to swell and then later bleed.
The debris and dust were so thick and dark/foggy, making it very hard to see and even breathe.
I can remember trying to run across a street and got struck by a yellow cab. I kept running but it still seemed like I was going in circles. All of those short and narrow streets seemed more like a death trap.
I kept running and thinking about my daughter, my life was flashing before me and I kept thinking how was she going to feel loosing her mother. What would she do, and does my family even know that I’m in this mess?
I cried out very loud, I was weak and I began to pray asking God to forgive me for my sins and save my life because people were dying. Seeing people jumping from the building and knowing others were burning to death was too much for me.
There was one point where I had no more energy to even carry my purse so I threw it away.
The screams were so severe and seeing people with blood and dust all over them was extremely frightening. It felt like a horror movie but it was a reality!
I ran until I couldn’t anymore. I needed to rest, but felt if I did, I would die. My energy was gone. I could not run anymore, so I continued to pray really hard while sitting/squatting down by a van or some sort of vehicle.
I prayed and prayed. I literally heard the voice of God. He said I was saved and then literally out of nowhere, a co-worker called out my name! I will just call her (G) She was just standing there!
It was like God just placed me in her sight and She said “Minnie”-and she reached out her hand and I looked up and took her hand and she pulled me up and we hugged and she then looked at me and she said “You Know We Are Going To Be Friends For Life, Right”?
At that time I was also still feeling pain from being struck by the yellow cab along with everything else, but when she pulled me up I didn’t care about the pain anymore.
We both started to run. I, distinctly, remember that she didn’t show any tears, she was just focused on getting out! I was happy to see her but still afraid of getting trapped. The pain in my feet was excruciating. I had to block it out and think about living.
The buildings of both towers were continuously burning as people were diving out of the windows and the bodies hitting the ground was devastating.
I could not stop crying and screaming, still thinking about my daughter and wondering if she was ok. There was no further contact via phone. The subways were shut down and nothing, vehicle wise, could make in it or even out of that area.
Police and fire trucks were everywhere! People were being directed to go on the Brooklyn bridge, but my co-worker said no-way because all we could think about at that point was if we go on the bridge and there is another attack that would be the next place.
When the first tower began to fall, we weren’t out of the area yet and the noise of the falling buildings sounded like my brain was being cracked-it was extremely loud like it was in my head and was capable of mentally crippling me.
Then the second one started falling down. I saw them both just crumble down. It was unbelievable that there was so many people still in those building as they slowly fell down.
Seeing this made me feel like I was going to lose my mind. It was one of the most horrific feelings of knowing so many people were dying all at once. I knew people who worked in those buildings.
One of my best friends worked there and I could not stop thinking of her. I had other friends that worked in the towers. Some of them died. However, we had to keep running.
My co-worker would sometimes make stops because I was in so much pain with my feet and we both were suffering from exhaustion, and needing to have a drink of water.
She was my guardian angel that day and she stuck by my side the entire time even when I felt I couldn’t do it anymore.
I was crying and screaming and she helped me through the grace of God. I truly believe that and I’m grateful to her. She and God kept me going. She was such a warrior through it all.
We continued to run and made a brief stop to catch our breaths and, finally, was able to get some water.
My co-worker and I finally found our way out of the debris and the chaos. We ran from lower Manhattan to Midtown and stopped at the Omni Hotel on 41st Street and 5th Avenue.
That’s where we stayed. My co-worker actually lived in New Jersey and I lived in the Bronx and subways were still shut down and other transportation was not available.
I can remember being at work in Yonkers, New York on that day and being told the office was closing. Transportation was nearly at a standstill. How did you get home?
I was, eventually, able to take a taxi. We stayed at the hotel until the next morning. When we got up we prayed together. I had no money on me or anything. My co-worker paid for me a taxi to get home which was around 10:30 the next morning.
I was still crying in the cab and when I finally got to my neighborhood, I felt a little more relaxed and so happy and relieved to see my daughter as she was to see me. We hugged so tight and we both cried all over again.
I got a little rest but then the pain from being struck by the car was resurfacing and I decided I need to see a doctor. Honestly, I was still in shock and panic mode. When I got to the doctor I explained what happened and they were very attentive to me.
My tests came back as me being ok except for a large bruise on my thigh area however, it was treatable with over the counter medications.
Since then, many people have had to deal with the mental and physical stress caused by the traumatic events of that day. How were you affected?
My state of mind was, definitely, concerning to the doctors. They immediately directed me to get counseling and I accepted it. Depression, on-going nightmares, fear of any type of noise, especially planes and fear of taking trains was a real issue for me. Physically, my feet were badly damaged. Years later, I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocyte Leukemia…too emotional to talk about but I am still being treated.
**(there was so much I left out but I gave the best that I can.
My emotions are still fresh from this devastation, especially with this new diagnosis – Minnie)**
What type, if any resources were made available to you to help you cope?
I am certified with the WTC health program as a 911 survivor, where ongoing counseling is offered, and payments for medically necessary treatment which is located at Bellevue Hospital where they also provide on-going monitoring for any present/future healthcare issues.
I am grateful to Minnie for sharing her story with me and allowing me to share it with you.
We will never know the outcome of our today until tomorrow. Some people, unfortunately, won’t know it even then. No one expected the events that changed the lives of so many that day. No one thought they wouldn’t make it home that night.
Do you still take life for granted?