marco polo bridge Up Close And Personal
on a beautiful cloudless day and I was commuting as usual, by this time on the Brooklyn Bridge in my car, waiting in traffic. The first plane hit and I looked up to see the devastation. My first reaction was to cry. not quietly. I bawled as I sat alone in my car. All I could think about was those poor people and how hurt and frightened they must be now, and how much I wanted to take away their hurt and comfort them.
My job in the courts is just two blocks north of the bridge so I got to my job as fast as I could, parked, and immediately went up to administration to ask if I could lend a hand. I was told to stay put until more was known, so I went back down and got my usual two large cups of coffee (coffee and cigarettes the breakfast of champions). By the time I arrived back at my office the second plane had hit. I was no sooner at my desk than the fire alarm sounded. I the supervisor in an office with over twenty people and am responsible for them so I just told them your stuff and get out NOW! I stayed until they all had gone, and followed them then outside. Turns out the alarm was the building way of evacuation. No one knew what to do once we got outside. Most started walking uptown. I went to my car, stowed my cigs inside (a thing which still amazes me) and I, in my blue summer dress and white pump shoes, sunglasses and shield went to the Twin Towers.
My route brought me to right in front of St. Paul Church on the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street, just one block from the north tower of the World Trade Center. I rounded the corner and began the short walk down the street and halfway there the most amazing thing happened. I felt a hand push me back on my left shoulder, but there was no one there. I spun around and took a few steps towards the direction I had come from, then thought am I doing? and spun around again, heading back for the site. Again I felt like I was pushed back and again, I circled. It was the weirdest thing. I remembered then passing a NYPD mobile command center that had been hastily set up on the corner of Broadway and Park Row, a short distance from where I was. I doubled back, figuring the best thing to do was go there and ask where I was needed. It made sense at the time. With no one to tell me where to go or what to do it was up to me. A thing which could work either for, or against me, and I knew it.
Once at the NYPD command center I showed my identification and stated that I had come from the courts looking to help. I was then positioned back in front of St. Paul and told to aid in the evacuation of persons from the Trade Center site and that was where I went, and stayed.
On my corner was an FBI officer, two NYPD officers and me, a NY State officer by virtue of being a Senior Court Clerk in Manhattan Family Court. I took up position on the northwest corner, keeping people from walking directly in front of the church, and instead having them go across Broadway to a building which happened to have a substantial overhang over the sidewalk, supported by a series of large columns. The first floor inside the overhang had the croissant shop Au Bon Pain and a bank. I don recall if any other store was there.
As people were being shown the way by our mixed group of officers one of New York Finest leaned to me and said just got the Pentagon Inside I shivered, but outside I just nodded my head, sure that this now was total war, and in my head I simply prepared for the worst. I hadn a clue with whom we were at war with. I thought of prophecies of Armageddon from the Bible and of the predictions of psychics, who predicted New York would fall into the sea from some cataclysmic event, and I figured this was it.
Then I heard the loudest silence I ever heard. I looked down Broadway and coming rolling up toward me was the biggest blackest cloud of death I had ever seen in my life. Things were swirling in it, around it, through it. I thought to myself comes death and this is what it looks like I looked down Fulton, and death was rolling up it as well, like a demonic wave of doom, focused on two approaching sides upon our corner. The cloud was several stories high. I started to yell to the civilians on the street, but couldn hear my own voice. That surprised me, for my yells can be very loud, and here it was as if nothing. I began to jump up and down, pointing with two flailing arms, motioning to the hundreds of people coming up Fulton and down Broadway to run. I was yelling for them to run under the building overhang. it honestly didn occur to me to send them INTO the building. Over and over I screamed under the building!! I decided I would stay on my doomed corner until either wave of death hit, and then I would duck behind a police van which happened to be parked on the northeast corner nearby. I remember screaming so loud I was hurting my throat, pointing, jumping, terrified folks running past me as fast as they could. I remember a cameraman there and I seen his footage on the news. You never do hear my voice, or see me, except when the cloud hit you can see a pair of white pumps under a police van bumper.
(Recently, a second video from that corner surfaced and I could hear myself screaming, but it just sounded like a crazy person, and you couldn’t tell I was actually speaking words.)
The swirling black cloud descended lethally upon us with a monsoon of debris and the blackest black I ever seen. Even a moonless night offered no comparison, nor did an unlit room at night. The total darkness was impenetrable. I put my hand in front of my face and I could see nothing. I figured then a nuclear weapon had been detonated on the south end of Manhattan. No one ever said or suggested the towers might fall and it wasn even a consideration. Everyone was thinking we were nuked.
Sharing that police van bumper with me was one of the few civilians left outside, and the cops were still on the corner as well. I don know what happened to the FBI officer. One of the cops was yelling direction to all who were still outside. through your clothes, BREATHE THROUGH YOUR CLOTHES he would say over and over again. I tried it both ways and breathing either way pretty much sucked. My lungs were so incredibly filled with crap it seemed impossible to breathe normally and it was all I could do to set up a rhythm. Fight for air and breathe, breathe, spit debris out. breathe, breathe, spit. on and on, over and over, and I had to fight for each and every one. I was still wearing my sunglasses and because of that my eyes were spared from most of the debris kicking around. I kept opening them to check out the intensity of the darkness. but it stayed black and absolute for quite a while, the only sound the cop coaching our breathing. and how he managed to breathe and still yell to us I never know.
Then there was a new sound, in the back ground, beeps repeating over and over again. I learned later on from a news show that those beeps were from the firemen rendered immobile. The beeps were a personal alarm system each man wore to notify others of his location and the fact that he was immobile for period of time as immobility triggers the alarm. The rest of it sounded like it does on a winters night after a huge snow, where there so much silence.
Again and again I opened my eyes to test and finally. FINALLY. I could begin to see. just a little bit. I think I hooted, and told the man next to me in between spits that it just couldn be nuclear. One we still had skin and two. we could see. and nuclear night is supposed to last for six months.
Thinking back on it that seems kinda silly, but it an honest accounting of my thought processes at that time.
Slowly, very slowly, daytime returned and ashen figures began their rise up from the blizzard of dust and debris. I stood and asked the man next to me if he was alright. I think I surprised him and he looked at me, a fellow ash figure. He said he was okay, then asked how I was. I answered that I was okay. That I always okay. There was wreckage and parts of things everywhere, and we were smothered in it. Somehow of the ten or so people left outside on my corner no one had died. I made my way into the Au Bon Pain where the clerks were tossing bottles of water to me and the others there.
One man was sitting, having quite the nervous breakdown, and seeing that just ripped at my heart. He was crying sobs of despair and I crouched down, trying to comfort him, but it was like talking to a deaf zombie. I tried to reassure him, and kept repeating, okay, you alive. you alive I hugged him then, sure of the work to do elsewhere, and went outside with my water. I was so angry as I emerged back onto the street that I remember looking up to the sky and yelling that the best you got!!!!
Again, it makes no sense now, but I being honest. I came across a lady staggering around and gave her my water, sending her into the store for more. Cops and firemen were making their way up Fulton Street, stumbling, dragging themselves looking like they all just gotten beat up in some giant ashtray. I directed them too into that Au Bon Pain for water to both drink, and clean out their nose, mouths and eyes of that damnable ash.
It was then I took a moment to look around, taking in the devastation of MY CITY. I couldn believe that someone would have the balls and the utter audacity to try and hurt MY PEOPLE. Were there a terrorist around near me then, I surely would have snapped his neck with my own bare hands. I was completely in a sense of fury, a fury which surely saved me from the fright and hopelessness others around me seemed to be succumbing to. I, however, was in full red face rage, and that rage continued for days. I don know why that was, it just was.
Shortly after, I came across a cop and a woman stumbling their way up the street. At that point I was on the next corner, still spinning circles, looking for folks to help. The woman was bent over when I went over to her, and the cop left her to me and then he himself, weakly staggered away. I asked her if she was okay and she said she didn know. she lost her pocketbook and her boss. Later I learned her boss had recently been undergoing chemo treatments and was very weak.
They had stopped to rest on the plaza of the north tower to rest, as the woman with chemo was tired and couldn go on. It was then that the south tower had fallen on them. She was bleeding but not too terribly. She looked shocky and was definitely hysterical, incapable of making rational decision. She was limping too, but because of nature survival instinct we all have, wasn succumbing to her injuries just yet. I remember wanting to go into the surviving tower then to help more people get out but I didn know what to do with this injured person, who was clearly incapable of caring for herself. She wasn injured enough to be spared a long wait at the nearby hospital where certainly worse injuries would rule the day.
Little did I know at the time that for the most part there weren many. you were either slightly injured or you were dead. I couldn send her home alone as she had lost her pocketbook and her money, and I didn have any money on me to give her. I didn know what to do with her. I kept looking back at the one still standing tower and realized I could not go there and leave this woman to fend for herself. Reluctantly I began to walk with her north to my own building, and silently cursed her numerous times for making me have to go. I knew that back at the World Trade Center, there was a lot of rescuing to do.
It couldn have been more than two minutes later that we passed to City Hall on the far east. the beginning of Centre Street. and I heard the second tower fall, the one we had been so very near only moments ago. Had we stayed another minute, we would have been fully caught and covered in that collapse too. Diane, my victim, asked what that noise was, and not wanting to alarm her further (as she was very hysterical) I told her it was nothing. We returned to my courthouse and I saw my deputy chief clerk outside on the steps, and I walked to her, covered in ash and smiled, adding made it One of my friends, Sergeant Doreen Walsh took Diane into the bathroom and tried to clean her wounds best she could. Doreen a nurse and it seemed a logical thing to do. During this I just paced back and forth, like a tiger in a cage, still furious. I wouldn let anyone touch me or help me.
Once Diane had cleaned up some I took her to my car and we began to make our way up Manhattan. I had to comfort her the entire way. The streets looked weird, with cars pulled over in droves, their trunks up so the radio could better be heard by the throngs of people that surrounded each one.
At some point an old man in a suit banged on my window begging for a ride uptown. I just couldn tell him no, and so gave Joe a ride to 79th Street. Traffic was absolutely hideous and it took hours. I remember stopping at one point to use a bathroom, and Diane and I, still loaded in ash, walked into a restaurant/bar to use the bathroom. After staring at us like we were aliens they offered us drinks and we used the bathroom, drank some water and then continued on our way.
Diane lived in New Jersey and the George Washington Bridge and the tunnels, the normal way of getting there, were closed. Fighter jets were flying close to ground as we slowly made our way up the west side of the Bronx. I was hoping the Tappan Zee Bridge was open, and I figured if I kept heading north, I find some way of crossing the Hudson River so I could get to Jersey. On the way we stopped at my aunt house in Riverdale, the Bronx, to again use the bathrooms. I felt rather like Snake Plimpkin in From New York All the while I took precautions as if enemy soldiers might drop down upon us from the sky at any moment.
After 8 hours or so of traveling I delivered Diane to her hysterical family and they clawed at me, hugging and thanking me. I sort of rushed the goodbye and I was uncomfortable with the gushing sentiment. I was glad to deliver Diane finally, and I figured she would get good and immediate care at the local Fort Lee hospital, being one of the few, if not only, World Trade Center victim there.
I left her and her family and drove south through Jersey. I tried to cross to Staten Island over the Goethals Bridge, showing my shield, but they wouldn let me through. I then drove further south to the Outerbridge Crossing, convincing a cop with my shield and my ash to let me go home, the only thing I wanted to do at the time. Of course being a horse person I first stopped at my barn to check on my horse, and my buddy Megan, the barn manager, convinced me to shower in her house so that my father wouldn have to see me looking like who was run over After 8:30 that night, I was finally home.
At the time of 9/11 I was working half time in the courts, one week on and one week off. I had been full time for years, but then took a year off for a medical leave of absence. I had been through an abusive marriage and a worse divorce and had been stalked by my exhusband. Among other things he would break into my house when I go to work and steal my things or destroy them. He play my answering machine and call and harass those who left messages. It came to be that whenever I have to leave to go to work, I suffer panic attacks, knowing I be leaving my home vulnerable. It led to a depression where I secluded myself from the world for one year, not working, choosing instead to guard my home. I wasn scared of him physically, he couldn hurt me as I fight back way too much for any coward of a man to deal with. Afterwards, I returned to work half time working one week on and one week off. I did that for a year and a half. I decided to go back full time when I got my new horse. I wanted to show Knight and that just wasn possible without working full time. New truck, equipment, fixing the trailer and whatever else was needed costs a lot of money as you all know. My final week off would have been the week after September 11, 2001. After that it was back to full time, beginning with September 24th.
Manhattan was basically shut down after the attacks. Bridges, tunnels, many buildings were closed to the public. For those in law enforcement and emergency services one could, with proper identification, get around quite nicely.
As I mentioned earlier I am a state officer and as such have a gold shield. It is identical to the shields of detectives, just like court officer shields are identical to those issued to police.
When I finally got home the night of the 11th, I, along with the rest of the world watched the images shown on TV. Like all of us, I was profoundly upset by what happened and wanted to do something more. I remembered watching news footage of the California earthquake and how very badly I wanted to go out there then to help. This time,
the disaster was at my front door and this time, I had by virtue of a shield, the means to get there. As such, there was no force on earth that would have kept me from going back. The night of the 11th I slept as much as I could knowing the next day, I was going back.