September 11, 2001….. A day I will never forget!
As you may already know, my son was in a diving accident on May 10, 2001. A tragic accident that changed my whole family forever. He was away at college in Maryland at the time, and was airlifted to a hospital in Baltimore. This time in my life is a blur….a completely shattered existence from what my life was just the day before. Lots of ups and downs and denial of what our future may possibly hold. My son fought really hard to survive through it all and I do not know where he found the strength. He does have a spinal cord injury and to this day is in a wheelchair.
After a month-long stay in Baltimore, my son was airlifted to Mt. Sinai Hospital in NYC for rehab. We spent the summer there while my son learned how to cope with his new body. He fought so hard during this time and every day was a challenge.
Finally he was to be discharged on 09/12/01 under one condition, I had to come in to NYC early the day before to spend 24 hours caring for my son under a nurses supervision to be sure we could handle everything once we returned home.
So off I went with my suitcase, and boarded the Jitney bus on that beautiful morning of 09/11/01. Before I arrived in Queens, my husband called and asked if I could see smoke ahead because a plane had just hit the twin towers. I thought I could see something and told the passenger sitting next to me what was going on. Before I knew it, my husband called again and said a second plane hit the other tower…that is when I started to panic. My son was lying in a hospital bed in NY without the ability to get up and run… this can’t be happening!
I told the passenger next to me what was happening and he told me that he knew the person who designed the twin towers and that there was no way they could fall.
At this point my husband told me I had to get off the bus in Queens which was the last stop before the Midtown Tunnel. He did not want me to go under the Hudson River in a tunnel at this time. The passenger sitting near me said his driver was going to be picking him up at the Queens stop and he could give me a ride to the nearest subway station which would get me into Manhattan. I had to find a way in. I wouldn’t even let myself think that my son would be left alone. I needed to get to him asap!!
His driver picked us up and we listened to the live radio reports while looking at the twin towers burning from across the Hudson River. There was sheer panic everywhere. Just as we took a corner and lost sight of the towers, the report came over that a tower fell… we were silent in the car and when the towers came back into our view, there was only one….
We arrived at the subway station and my bus passenger friend jumped out of the car, retrieved my suitcase from the back, threw it on the sidewalk, looked me in the face and said “you are never getting into the city now!” and off he went.
So there I am stranded in the middle of blaring sirens and absolute mayhem and I begin to realize that my only option is to take my first subway ride ever. I managed to gather myself knowing that now was not the time to lose it.
I went down to the subway, got on a train that was waiting on the tracks and found a seat. Then we waited and waited…. finally an announcement came over saying there will be no more trains running into Manhattan. Oh no! This could not be happening!
I had no choice but to make my way back up to the street again. As I came up the stairs I could see a perfectly blue sky and the further I went up the more sirens I heard. I thought, this can’t be real. It felt like I was either daydreaming or I had just managed to stumble on to a movie set. I wanted to scream to everyone “don’t you understand that my son is in a hospital right now without the ability to walk or run? Can’t anyone help me?”
But as I looked at the other faces moving around me, I realized that I was not the only one in a dire situation. Those people had family and friends in and around those towers. Everyone had a blank confused look on their face wondering, just like me, what to do next.
I remember at this point just sitting down on a grassy area and looking up and trying to ignore what was going on around me in order to try to get a clear plan of action. My family could not reach me. Not a single phone circuit was available. Someone near me mentioned that there was a bus running on the street I was on that would take us to a train station. I realized that I was not getting into Manhattan and I could only pray that someone at the hospital would look after my son.( I found out later that my son’s doctor spent almost the entire day with him watching everything unfold on the TV.)
I did manage to get on that bus to the train station and again was lucky enough to find a seat. Then the train once again just sat and sat. A police officer with a bomb sniffing dog kept going up and down the aisle. I started wondering where I was and why it suddenly felt so much like a war zone.
Eventually passengers started literally stumbling in covered with white dust. I will never forget the look on their faces. I found out that these were the people who walked over the Brooklyn bridge to escape ground zero. Most of them had not been able to reach their families either to let them know they were alright. We all were shocked and confused but had only one thing on our minds….we needed to get home.
And I did manage to find my way back to Southampton. It normally takes just less than 2 hours to get from my house to NYC and it took me 7 hours to get back.
My son did eventually get home, but not on that day. My sister’s husband, a NYC police detective, scooped my son up and brought him home to us. The hospital staff was very helpful with gathering all his belongings and getting him into my sisters car.
I don’t know who was more relieved when my son arrived home, him or me!
The images in my mind will never go away from that horrible day. My story is one of many that occurred during that tragic event. And my outcome was very lucky. It took a long while for me to want to return to Manhattan after 9/11. I swore that I never wanted to go back there again. But now that I have moved to South Carolina, I miss my city terribly.