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Tuesday and After

When I got my wake-up call at 6:00am, I was tired. We’d planned to go to the Red Sox-Yankees game the night before, which would have been perfect for us visiting Bostonians and our New Yorker hosts. But the game had been rained out and we had gone for drinks instead. Feeling sleepy, I reset my alarm for 7:00am and kept hitting snooze until 8:00am.

At 8:00am I took a quick shower, packed my bag and checked out of the Holiday Inn, Wall Street. I stopped by the deli and got my bagel and coffee and then rushed to work at 33 Maiden Lane, fourth floor, two blocks from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. I was five minutes late and worried about it, but no one seemed to notice.

I logged onto my computer and joined the regular morning banter with my boss Dina and my co-worker Sally. Dina was feeling miserable because her allergies were bugging her and she slept in a “smoking” room. Sally was her cheery self. We were talking about what shuttle we were going to catch home that afternoon because it was Dina’s daughter’s second birthday. Julie was working with the Cash Processing Group and Cindy hadn’t arrived yet.

As I checked my e-mails there was a big “boom” and the building shook. I thought it must have been a really big car accident — maybe a work truck because of the construction outside, or maybe a garbage truck because there was paper flying everywhere. I joked with Sally and Dina about New York City drivers. I was also wondering where Cindy was because she sits right next to me and is always early.

Then someone ran over to us and said a bomb or a plane had exploded in the World Trade Center. I jumped out of my seat and went to the offices facing the WTC. The top of the building was a ball of flame. People were running down Maiden Lane.

It was about 9:00am and I called my dad (at home in Nantucket) from my desk and told him what had happened and that he should turn on the TV. Cindy arrived about that time too — she hadn’t received her wake up call and said things were crazy outside. I looked out the window in disbelief: This enormous tower was up in smoke, with flames everywhere and people running for their lives. I watched the fire and couldn’t really comprehend what was going on. None of us was sure if there had been a bomb or an airplane as the reports had said. People hung out of the windows, falling. I was so thankful that I couldn’t hear their screaming. Then there was an explosion in the second tower. I honestly thought it was a bomb and not a second aircraft, but soon after, the radio confirmed that a second plane had hit the tower. I never once thought it could have been an act of terrorism until people started yelling that the White House had been evacuated and the Capitol was evacuated and a third suicide plane was still in the air.

I decided to leave the windows and run back to my desk and call my dad again. I asked him what was being reported on TV and put him on speakerphone, but then there was a strange noise like how I would imagine a bomb would sound, and I told him I’d call back as soon as I could and hung up.

The office seemed under siege with people crying, near hysteria. I stuffed my wallet in my pocket and ran to the bathroom. I really wanted to cry but instead just paused to catch my breath and get focused. Crying was not going to help the situation, I had to stay calm and keep it together. I had never felt so helpless. I told myself there was absolutely nothing anyone could do. We were at the mercy of the terrorists and whatever happened, I needed to remain calm and focused — basically to “deal.”

As I came out of the bathroom, Dina ran over, and Julie too, and said, “Two girls just came in, they’re covered in ashes, they need clothes and help.” Julie and I grabbed our suitcases and took them into the bathroom. We helped clean up the girls and gave them our clothes. They were so scared — they had almost been smothered by the implosion of the first tower.

It was also at that time that the security loudspeaker told us we needed to evacuate. But the stairwells were filled with smoke and shortly after the announcement they instructed us to close the doors to the stairwell. At that point I thought our building was on fire and I was truly scared that we might die there. But I called my dad and said, “I am OK and I will get through this. I love you and Mom. I will call in a few hours. We are trying to get out of the building and it will be hard to call.” We all huddled in the floor lobby. People cried and some ran around looking for another way out — they too thought the building was on fire.

After a few minutes the loudspeaker again said we needed to evacuate. Marty, Dina, and Frank got napkins, paper towels, and cups of water for everyone so we could cover our faces — ash and debris fell from the sky like a sick type of ticker tape parade. Dina also grabbed the first aid kit — we were kind of joking about it but it gave us some sense of security that we were in control of the situation. It was weird because earlier all I had wanted was to get out of the building, but now I wasn’t so sure because I didn’t know what to expect outside.

As we assembled to go down the stairs a woman from the NY Office stood next to me, very upset and crying. She was in control of herself but just afraid and unsteady on her feet. I assured her I wouldn’t leave her and she was going to be OK. I remember helping her down the stairs and making sure she connected with her manager.

Once we arrived in the lobby of the building we could see outside. Everything was gray-white, covered in ash, debris falling from the sky, and smoky. It was in some ways comparable to the first snow, where everything is quiet. But in this case, it was an eerie quiet, very disconcerting.

We stepped outside. Where to go? We thought about the Federal Reserve next door but decided that might not be so safe since it was a Federal building, and besides the street was torn up and we worried about open gas mains. All I knew was that I needed to stay with a group and not get lost. Rather than go to the Fed, we decided to walk away from the World Trade Center, towards the water (South Street Seaport) and uptown.

We had walked maybe two blocks when we heard the second building begin to implode. It sounded like a bomb or like a volcano exploding. There were also airplanes flying overhead — you felt so exposed and uncertain of what was happening. As the building fell we ran to an underpass and stopped a moment, and we noticed around the corner a man letting people into a restaurant/bar. By then there were five of us — our big group had splintered when we started running — and we ran to the door and asked him to let us in, which of course he did.

In the bar were 25 to 35 people sitting around, some drinking, a lot of them smoking. Everyone was nervous, anxious. In the bar we were greeted, asked if we were OK, given water and table napkins to use as bandanas. I was psyched that there were TVs so we could see and hear what was going on. I used the pay phone to call home and tell my dad I was OK — it was hard to get an open phone line, but I kept dialing until I could get through. A lot of people had ashes on their clothes. They were in shock, just watching the TV. But people really banded together, provided support and watched the TV in disbelief as reports came in about the Pentagon, the plane crash in Pennsylvania, and the evacuation of the White House and the Capitol. We met a man who had escaped the 26th floor of Tower 1. A woman in the ladies room told us her daughter-in-law had escaped from the 70th floor of Tower 1.

Around 11:30am the bartender turned off the TV and led everyone in a prayer. (Unfortunately I was in the ladies room and missed it.) No matter what people may say, the people of New York were incredibly gracious, caring, and supportive.

Around 12:30pm, we were getting anxious to find our colleagues and get out of Manhattan. We went back to the hotel. On the walk over we saw empty shoes on the street — people had just run out of their high heels and sandals — and pieces of paper and ash still fell out of the sky, and a layer of ash covered everything. People walked like zombies, in shock.

When we got back to the hotel we reunited with Cindy, Sally, and Ivette. The Marketing Director at the hotel let us use his computer to search the web for updated transportation information. Unfortunately, that wasn’t helpful — most sites weren’t updated or were too clogged with traffic from other people logging on. I returned to the bar and talked with Ivette, who is from the NY Office. We decided the best course would be to go across the Brooklyn Bridge and then take the Long Island Railroad to Port Jefferson, where we could catch the ferry to Bridgeport, CT. From there we would rent a car and drive home to Boston.

It was about 2:00pm. We started walking to the Brooklyn Bridge, and we were lucky because by then there were buses running across the bridge. How weird it was: As we walked up the ramp to the bridge we could see the World Trade Towers burning, with F-15s flying around and a mass exodus of people leaving the city on foot. All of the bridges were filled with people, just walking away from downtown.

In Brooklyn we walked towards Flatbush Avenue and stopped to talk to some police officers about our travel strategy. They agreed it was a good plan and said they thought the ferry was running, so we walked about a mile to the Long Island Railroad. In Brooklyn we found water stations and medical personnel for those who needed assistance. When we got to the train station, the police had us just get in line and fill up the train, and then we left for Jamaica Station in Queens. There we changed trains and went to Huntington Station, and then we changed to our last train, which got us to Port Jefferson. While on the train we found out that we couldn’t rent a car because they were all being reserved for “emergencies.” However, Dina’s sister Lynn was able to find a limo service called All Star Limo that would take us to Boston.

Along the way, we talked to people on the train about their stories or those of people they knew. One gentleman offered to give us a lift, and in Port Jefferson he drove us all in his minivan to the ferry.

Now it was around 5:30pm. At the ferry dock we finally felt some semblance of calmness and hunger. No one had eaten all day. We stopped at McDonald’s and got everything to go, and hopped onto the 6:15 boat. On board the boat, everyone ate and talked and then went to sit in front of the TV to hear the President speak. At this point, people started to process what had happened that day, and there were tears shed.

In Bridgeport we found our stretch limo and were relieved to be on this last leg of our journey. It was ironic that when we got into the limo, the driver acted surprised that we had no luggage.

I arrived home around 10:30pm. I had about eight messages on my answering machine from friends and family. People who didn’t know I was in New York that day but knew I had been traveling there during the summer. Some were crying as they left their messages, others were just calling to check in. I called my parents and some friends. I watched the news until 2:00am, and then I fell into bed exhausted and went immediately to sleep.

I decided to take the next day off (Wednesday) although two of my colleagues reported to work. I thought it would be helpful to take a day to reflect. I was pretty tense all day Wednesday and found that re-telling my story to my friends and family who called didn’t help relax me — but I realized how important it was for them to hear it. My mother called me two or three times, anxious about how I was doing — I told her she could call as much as she needed to. I tried really hard to keep the TV turned off but it was difficult. Like everyone, I found the story too unbelievable, too surreal, too distressing. I made sure to contact anyone who I had e-mailed Tuesday morning to let them know I was OK. I called the travel agent who booked our tickets to let him know we were all safe.

I called Dina later in the day and was happy to hear that everyone in the New York office was fine and all of the Boston employees had made it home safely.

I freaked out a little bit around 1:00pm when there were reports on Boston TV that the Westin Copley had been evacuated and three guests were being arrested: potential suspects. The Westin Copley hotel borders our Boston Office in the John Hancock Tower. I called my friends in the Hancock Tower and said if they had the option to go home, they should. I am not normally so reactive but after what I had seen and the fragility of the situation I was incredibly concerned. I was so nervous I was sweating. I called Dina again and joked with her about having symptoms of post-traumatic stress, but I also said that I really needed to go to work on Thursday because I was getting too anxious pacing at home.

On Thursday I went in to work around 10:30 am and felt all right. I was still tense about what had happened, but I felt secure when I saw the police officers outside of the Tower and the extra security inside. When I got to my desk, co-workers hugged me and expressed their worries, and said I should have called on Wednesday. I explained that I had been on the phone basically all day Wednesday with family and that I was OK — that no news is good news.

What hit me the hardest on Thursday was reading the news on-line, the stories. I definitely had some teary moments and was glad no one could see me at my desk.

Friday was easier and I felt much more myself. The biggest change I have noticed is that I am exhausted, fatigued, and no matter how much sleep I get I just get tired more easily.

I am definitely going to take advantage of the counseling services that the Company will provide. I will donate blood, and I will volunteer to help our New York employees. My current plan is to stay busy, keep a regular schedule, visit with friends and family and try to get back to a normal routine — as much as possible. I am not angry. I am sad that this has happened and that so many people — loved ones — have died and that so many children have lost parents.

In a weird way I feel fortunate that I experienced what I did first-hand, because when you watch the news it doesn’t seem real. I know that it was real, that innocent people’s lives were in jeopardy and that many brave people risked their lives to ensure the public’s safety.

The New York Office will reopen again for business in the near future, the company is concerned about the air quality. We are bringing some of the New York employees to Boston to work out of our offices during the interim. It will be good to see them, to share their stories, feelings, and concerns. I am thankful that we all survived. There will be repercussions for many weeks to come — people are having problems sleeping, concentrating, functioning at work — but I am confident that the support from our families and our colleagues is helping us to move forward.

This experience has forced all of the world to pause and reflect on this attack, and what it means: extremists lashing out against democracy. Personally, I keep trying to put “what happened” into perspective, but the enormity of it doesn’t allow for perspective. There are moments when I no longer feel safe and secure, and I worry about the future. But I believe that we can’t dwell on what we can’t control, and we need to move ahead, to be positive, and to remember that together we can make a difference.

Copyright © 2001 Meg Miller.

Meg Miller is a Project Supervisor in Institutional Custody at Investors Bank & Trust (IFIN), which is headquartered in Boston, MA. She has worked at IBT for a year and half, and previously was Director of Admissions at Emmanuel College.