It’s about 8:45 AM. Brooklyn, 15th St. stop on the F train. I buy tokens (or was it a Metro Card by then) at the booth, and the clerk says a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I don’t know why, both he and I assume it is an accident, a small plane. I ask, should I get on the subway? Sure he says, the F train doesn’t go under the World Trade Center, no problem.
So I get on the subway and after only two stops, at Fourth Avenue & Ninth Street,the train goes above ground. I’m wearing ear buds and listening to music, I notice people coming in to my car look disturbed, so I take out the ear buds and listen. What are they saying, a second plane? The doors close, the train moves and the conductor announces, “The World Trade Center has been attacked by two airplanes, if you want to see it look to your left.” The train veers right, we look out the windows to the left and there are the towers, just across the East River, each tower has what looks like, from this distance, a giant black window. Then we can see, there’s smoke.
The train pulls into Smith and Ninth, still above ground. We are all in such shock, no one, not one of us, thinks to get off the train. We don’t understand what we’re going towards. I have a doctor’s appointment, I had a long wait for, I can’t cancel. So I stay on the train. I start talking to the young woman sitting next to me, slowly she and I realize what two airplanes means, that it was deliberate. But neither of us can fully take in what this means, that we should get off this train while the trains are still running back in the direction of home. The train goes underground and for some reason this feels like I have committed to the journey, so I stay on.
The train goes in fits and stops, it takes almost twice as long as it should to get to 34th Street (my doctor is at 31st and Second Ave.). My seatmate gets off, too, and for some reason it’s finally there, on the escalator going up, that we realize that we made a mistake, that we should have gotten off the train and that we might now be in danger. We wish each other luck. I wish I had gotten her name.
Once I get up to the street, I finally hear exactly what has happened. I look around me, and I realize I am standing near Macy’s and the Empire State Building and Penn Station, all potential targets. So I start running, and run all the way to the doctor’s office. Of course, she’s not there. She’s been called to the emergency room, to await the mass casualties that never were.
Thinking the subway will still be running, but afraid to go back to mid-town, I decide to walk to the 23rd Street stop of the F train. This is not logical but this is what I decide. I walk to Sixth Avenue and then start walking downtown. At every restaurant or bar that is open at this early hour, people are gathered to watch TV, and many are people huddled around cars to listen to the radio. I stop now and again to hear the latest, but mostly I forge on. I have to go home, I have to get back to Brooklyn. The black smoke from the towers, which by then have collapsed, is directly in front of me, in perfect perspective, coming to a point and this point, the horizon, has blown up.
I try to call various people, my sister and friends, but the cell phones aren’t working. People pass me walking in the opposite direction. Many of them are covered in white dust. They look exhausted, but determined. They want to get home, too. I know where they’re coming from but I keep asking them, “Where are you coming from?” Everyone answers me, but they don’t stop walking. “The World Trade Center.”
Finally I get to 23rd Street stop and find out that the trains have stopped. Someone says, you should walk home, everyone is walking on the Brooklyn Bridge. But I’m tired. I don’t think I can make it all the way from 23rd to Park Slope. I think, maybe I’ll just sit here until the trains go on, then I remember I know someone who lives on 13th Street and Sixth. I have the presence of mind to get some cash from an ATM and I walk to Missy’s place. Thank God, she’s home and invites me up and I sit in her room and watch TV and for the first time I see the shots of the plane hitting the tower. Missy still has a landline so I’m able to call people.
Missy and I go out. We want to buy food in case the supplies dry up, and she needs cash. By the time we get to the ATMs they’re out of money, so I lend her $80 (which she never pays back). We walk over to St. Vincent’s to give blood but by then they’ve got all they need so they turn us away. We go back to her house and I stay there until they announce on the news that the trains that don’t go under the WTC are running again. I thank Missy and go and get on the F to go home. The trains are packed but no one is talking or even looking at each other. Many people on the train are covered in dust, they are given seats. There are more than a few women who don’t have shoes, I don’t understand it then, but now I think they must have been wearing heels and kicked them off so they could run from the cloud.
I get home about 3 PM, I’ve only been gone about six hours but it feels like six days. I go up on the roof and find some of my neighbors from the building there. There’s some paper from the World Trade Center on the roof but most of that fell in other parts of Brooklyn. There used to be a great view of the towers from the roof but now there’s just the plume of smoke. One of my neighborhs works in Tower One but had the day off. He is distraught.
I get a call on my landline. Members of my shul are getting together with another congregation, to do what I don’t know, but I go. We all sit together and some people get up to say things. Some of the things they say are stupid, using this as an opportunity for political rants. No one has the energy to tell them to shut up. Still, it’s nice to be with my community now.
Later that week, I will be with them again, and all of Park Slope, as we walk down Seventh Avenue on candlelight vigil to the two firehouses in our neighborhood. They both lost guys and we’re very sad. Some of the fire trucks are parked along the route, men sitting in the trucks, as if to escort or witness us. Almost all of us touch the trucks as we pass in the quiet parade. Some go up to the firemen, survivors of that day. “Thank you, thank you” or “We’re so sorry for your loss” is all most of us can say, and they accept our words and some of them let us touch or shake their hands.