It was a beautiful, clear Tuesday morning in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. On September 11, 2001, I met a friend at the Country Squire Diner on West Chester Pike for breakfast. We were celebrating some good news: his mom was victorious in her battle with cancer, something that had consumed my friend’s life for most of the year. It looked like things were starting to get back to normal.
|I took this picture of the Twin Towers from Ellis Island about a year before September 11, 2001.|
After breakfast, while I was driving home, I heard on my car radio that a plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. In the early moments of the event, the speculation was that it was a small private plane that crashed into the building, a horrible accident. Seemingly moments later, the reporter announced that another plane had crash into the south tower. It was now obvious that neither crash was an accident. During that short drive, my thoughts were focused on my older brother who worked on Broad St.in Manhattan, two blocks from the World Trade Center. As soon as I got home, I turned on the TV and called my brother’s office. He didn’t answer the phone, but I got his voice mail and I left a message. I don’t remember what exactly I said, but I do remember my voice breaking. I called a friend who worked in Jersey City, as I simultaneously watched the unfolding events on TV. I left him a voice mail message too, my voice breaking once again.
I tried making calls to New York and New Jersey moments later, but the phones went completely dead. After I dialed the numbers, there was no sound; it was the most devastatingly eerie silence I had ever experienced. My anxiety about the fate of my brother, my friend, and the others I knew who worked in and around New York City rose. I tried to occupy myself with ordinary tasks at home in my apartment to channel my nervous energy, but the images I was watching were hard to comprehend, let alone interpret. When the first tower collapsed, I remember feeling my knees buckle a bit, and a whole new wave of anxiety washed over me. I don’t remember when I learned about the Pentagon being attacked or the plane crash in Shanksville, PA; it was all so incomprehensible. I tried calling my family on Long Island. Silence. The news reports said that more attacks could be imminent. Shopping malls and businesses, fearing the worst, closed their doors, sending employees and staff home.
It wasn’t until around 5 p.m. Eastern Time that I found out my brother was safe. He managed to call my sister, who then called me from her cell phone. It was days later that I learned that my brother saw the first tower collapse from about two blocks away. He told me that after the tower fell, he headed uptown and never looked back. With literally thousands of others, my brother marched from lower Manhattan to the 59th Street Bridge, walked across, and wandered into Queens where a bus picked him up and took him to a train station so he could get back home to Long Island.
I was fortunate. My brother was safe and so were my friends, but this was not the case for everyone. When the lists of the lost and presumed dead were released days later—how I remember the images of people walking around Manhattan with pictures of their loved ones—I discovered people from my hometown were on it, so were the names of people from North Jersey, where I had lived for over six years and where I had many friends and relatives. The attacks touched so many lives…forever. I often think about the people who woke up that day, went to work, and never came back. I think about the window washers, the janitors, the businessmen and businesswomen, the school children, the tourists. It was my generation’s Pearl Harbor, an event “which will live in infamy” for the rest of our lives.
For the rest of my life.
Stephen Reginald, creator and writer of South Loop Connection, was born and raised on Long Island, NY. His New York roots run deep. Reginald’s mother grew up in the Bronx. His father was born in Northern New Jersey. He and his older siblings all worked in New York City at one time; his older brother, a witness to the horrors of that day, still works in lower Manhattan.