One Street on One Day Twenty Years Ago
- Emily Menges
"And it’s really an amazing journey everybody’s been on. One common thread of course is Tree Street and the relationships and all that kind of stuff.
But it’s a little bit blurry, Emily. One of the things that happened with 9/11 is - I remember that period of time and a couple years later, everything was bullet proof in my head, but over the years it’s all gotten faded and I think that’s just because it was such a painful day, it was such an impactful day, that a lot of the stuff you had in your head you kind of put away and locked it away. It would almost take sitting around in a circle with everyone who was there to bring it back out again.”
– Matthew, 22 Tree Street
A Nine-Year Old’s Perspective
It’s been twenty years since the attacks on the World Trade Center. Since September 11th, 2001, SEAL Team Six killed Osama Bin Laden, a new World Trade Center was erected in New York City, and the families whose lives were ripped open on that day have spent the last 20 years trying to put the pieces back together.
Everyone has their own story of where they were and what they were doing when they heard what happened. That day is burned into many memories as a snapshot in time.
I was nine.
I grew up on a street in the suburbs of Long Island a few blocks from the train station, a street we’ll be calling Tree Street in a town we’ll be calling Greenville, for the sake of everyone’s privacy; all names have been changed as well. Twenty residents of our small town were killed in the attacks. Six fathers on the short block of Tree St. were in Manhattan at 8:46am on September 11th, 2001. Three of those fathers were in the World Trade Center that morning. One never came home.
My fourth-grade class was in Art that morning when I started to realize something might be wrong. One kid, Jeff, who lived 3 houses down on Tree St., was taken out of Art class early to go to church. This was highly unusual. No kid in my memory had ever been pulled out of school for church.
Throughout the rest of the school day, I was vaguely aware of my teacher stepping in and out of the classroom more often than usual to whisper with the other teachers down the hall.
Later, the school bus chugged up Tree Street.
The bus was its own playground back then; barely chaperoned, it was our little commute home from school - a mirror of our dads who sat together on the train. Tree Street was the last stop on the bus route which meant as the seats slowly emptied and our classmates got off at their stops, we were left with each other, our little Tree St. crew. We would have races under the seats, play hide and seek, fly into the air with our hands up as the bus bounced over the train tracks, create secret handshakes, call songs into Z-100, all while ignoring poor Joey, the bus driver, yelling at us to “Sit down in the back!!!”
That bus ride was like every other, until we pulled up to our stop and my Dad was there. This was not protocol. Mom and dad walked with me back to our house. They looked very serious, and mom’s eyes were red. “The Twin Towers collapsed. Mr. John is stuck inside.”
I dropped my backpack and sprinted down the street to my friend Beth’s house at 22 Tree St. I rang the doorbell and stood with my nose inches from the screen door. I learned afterwards that the babysitter had been given strict instructions not to tell Beth what was going on as Beth’s father was still in the city, but as she came into the foyer I blurted, “The Twin Towers collapsed, and Mr. John is stuck inside. We have to go see Kasey.”
We ran back down the block with the sense that we could make this all better.
Jeff, the boy who had been at church while we were in school, was in his driveway. “The Twin Towers collapsed. Mr. John is stuck inside.” He already knew. We three walked across the lawn to Kasey’s house next door.
A group of moms were sitting on the John’s front porch. John’s wife had a small box television on her lap and the phone on the arm of her wicker chair. The rest of the moms were huddled around. We ignored them and they ignored us as we skipped up the porch and let ourselves into the house, through the dining room and into the kitchen where we found Kasey, head down on the table, her homework open underneath her arms.
In 2001, we had about 40 kids on Tree Street, and about ten of them were between the ages of 6 and 11. On a normal day, we would democratically decide on what game to play after school, with consideration of the weather and the number of kids who had finished their homework. If the group decided on a game you didn’t want to play, well, that was too bad because it’s tough to argue with “majority rules”. However, that day we let Kasey choose what game she wanted to play - the best way we knew how to cheer her up. She chose swing baseball - a game we had invented and played often - that was basically kickball but with one of those huge yellow balls, and instead of standing and kicking, you had to make contact with the ball while swinging on a swing. When it got dark, we made our way down to the basement to play a different game and then one by one our moms called down to tell us that it was time to go home.
Mr. John, Kasey’s dad, never came home.
As I write this now, my emotions remain somewhat detached. I know what happened and I know how it ended. But somehow, I am still the 9-year-old who thought we could cheer Kasey up by playing her favorite game. I witnessed this event through a child’s eyes, but just outside, on the porch of the John’s house and in the houses up and down Tree Street, our parents were experiencing something entirely different.
My parents still live on Tree St. as do the John’s and many of the other families who lived there in 2001. Earlier this year, I reached out to every family who lived there back then, who would have been on the block that day. I was hoping to put together some sort of 20-year anniversary tribute. I envisioned something like a memory log from the perspective of the moms at home, the dads in the city, the kids in school, the grandparents watching the day’s events unfold; a conglomeration of stories from anyone on Tree St. who had something to share. I received only 6 responses, and all of them were from the fathers of Tree Street.
Four of the dads submitted written recollections which, except for grammar and spelling, I left entirely untouched. Two dads had a harder time putting words to paper and instead spoke through their stories to me over the phone. I begin and end with one of those conversations and insert the other five in the middle as stand-alone stories. Again, I changed all names to protect privacy.
This piece is for everyone around the world whose lives were changed on September 11, 2001, for all the families on Tree St., for the six fathers who shared their stories, and above all for the one who never came home.
WTC = World Trade Center
North Tower = Tower 1
South Tower = Tower 2
Long Island Rail Road = LIRR
Parallel Lives: September 11th, 2001
Scroll through their words
Part II Continued
Parallel Lives: September 11th, 2001
Read through their stories
“My day began on the train. There were a whole couple of different things going on that day, I had my 7 Penn Plaza world – my work and employees, I had my family Restaurant world - all the people connected there, and of course there’s the Tree St. story with John and all that stuff. But my day began on the train, and it was always weird because - I don’t know if I ever told you this, but I used to work in 1 World Trade Center. I worked for a recruiting firm on the 79th floor for a number of years. I moved away from the Trade Center soon after the first bombing in ‘93, but my friends that worked for that company who I stayed friendly with, they knew a lot of the people who still worked on the 79th floor - it was a big, shared suite. I know those guys were haunted for a few years, because the people said the plane, one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center was basically a direct hit into the 79th or 80th floor. So all the people who had been there early that day got wiped out almost instantaneously which was, in a sense, beneficial as compared to some of the people who, like John were up on the 101st, or the people who were at that conference at the Windows of the World. I don’t know if you know but there was a conference that day - a technology conference, and I had on my desk an invitation to that conference as many, many people did who did stuff around technology. We were a recruiting firm, so I was always receiving invitations to tech conferences. While I had no intention of going, that card haunted me for a long time. But anyway, my day began on the railroad, and I got to 7 Penn Plaza which was diagonally across the street from the entrance to Penn Station on 7th Avenue. Somewhere around 9 or 9:30 in the morning everybody was running around. I had 11 or so employees at the time and everybody was pretty much calling friends and finding out where their relatives and friends were. There was a whole lot of scurrying around of activity in the morning - trying to find a tv. That’s a whole world that you guys really don’t remember. We didn’t have cell phones. You had to physically call somebody from the office. You had to wonder aloud where someone was. It’s not like today where you have instantaneous information. We all started going up to the roof of that building to see what we could see of downtown, which believe it or not, from 7th avenue you can see directly down to the Trade Center. We all went up to the roof that morning to watch those buildings smoke and then everybody started freaking out about who we knew who was downtown - ‘oh I know this guy, I know that guy, I know this one, I know that one.’ One of the guys that worked for me, a guy named Steve, his sister was in the tower on 9/11 and was missing for most of the day and he couldn’t reach her, and she was pregnant. Steve was extremely worried. I remember walking down to around 21st or 23rd street and everyone was saying how the subways aren’t working and you can’t get downtown. We got to around 20-something street and all of a sudden, the police and the fire department were cutting off streets and preventing people from going downtown. They just wanted everybody to stay away. I made my way back up to 7 Penn Plaza and I started running into all the people who were coming up from downtown. Everything stopped in terms of people working, and sometime around maybe 12 o’clock/1 o’clock, we decided we had to get out of the city because we kept hearing that the subways weren’t working and that we had to get on the railroad. I kept running into people I knew in Penn Station, people who had been downtown, and hearing all the events of what had transpired that day. I remember vividly being with a couple of the guys from my family restaurant who either had brothers or friends of theirs who were in the fire department. They were gathered around Penn Station trying to figure out – “Are those guys on trucks? Are they downtown? Are they in the building? Are they ok?” There’s a firehouse on 32nd street or 31st street, so those guys - as most firemen do - made their way to firehouses to just kind of hang out and wait to see what they could do to help, but most of those firehouses were empty because they had all already gone downtown.
Not to get off on another segue but part of that story - I lost my cousin that day. He was a fireman and he had come from a kind of a second honeymoon that morning. He landed at LaGuardia and heard on the radio that there was a huge fire downtown. He wasn’t supposed to go to work until the next day, but he jumped on some kind of truck and got himself into the city while his wife went back home. He, of course, was never seen again. Anyway, that’s when I made my way onto the train and out to Greenville, and I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon on Tree Street. I just remember we were all sitting on John’s porch for a while, in front of Phillip’s house, on the side of your house. Everybody was waiting to see who was coming back off the Long Island Railroad. House by house, we all gathered together. We ended up spending a lot of the afternoon at your house - people brought food, people brought beers, people brought each other and we kind of just hung around. It wasn’t a day of fun by any means, but we all kind of got through the day being together. And at one point I know Phillip made his way down the street. There was one particular point where Phillip actually came walking down the street, and maybe he was with Nathanael, I can’t remember, but we were all celebrating every time we saw somebody coming back from the Long Island Railroad. Because again, the Long Island Railroad connection. We were always on the train, always walking, and always sharing a seat. I’m drawn to the train rides that I shared with all of those guys. Whether it was Peter, or John, or Phillip. Some mornings, on like the 7:36 train, we would sit in those 6 passenger seats or 4s, and we would never even open up the New York Times because all we did was talk. I can remember walking up Tree Street to go up to the train, and I used to walk a lot, but John used to walk all the time. He almost never took his car. I can’t tell you how many times I’d make my way to the corner, and I’d see him two or three blocks away, or I would see Peter up ahead, and you’d want to speed up to try to catch up to them, because it would be so much fun to just sit on the train with them, and go into the city and shoot the shit. That was the beginning of what became great relationships, they started on the train. It was just one of those things where we all kind of shared that time, that hour on the train. - Matthew, 22 Tree St.
Phillip Friday 9/7 • My 9/11 story actual begins on Friday 9/7. I was working for Temenos USA in 1 WTC on the 82nd floor but was relocated to the 54th floor at the end of the day. Tuesday 9/11 • I remember 9/11 being a beautiful morning. I took the 6:40am LIRR to Penn and then the E train down to the WTC arriving at my desk a little before 8am. • Around 8:30am I had a call with coworker/friend Ken H., who was still working on the 82nd floor. I agreed to come up to him at 9am to review a project we were working on together. • While still at my desk at 8:46am the plane hit the north tower 1 WTC. The impact rocked the building, knocked me out of my chair even though I was located 40 floors below the impact point. After standing up, maybe 10 seconds after the initial impact, I was thrown onto my desk with what seemed like the building twisting/snapping back. • Being a few feet from the window I saw the sky filled with papers swirling in the wind. • I had worked in 1 WTC for many years with another company before joining Temenos. During the fire drills we were always instructed to not leave the area unless instructed by the fire safety team. A couple of coworkers immediately left. • Looking down the hallway towards the elevator bank, you could see smoke coming over/thru the hallway safety doors. I decided to leave at that time, along with coworker Michael N. • Our receptionist Linda S. initially decided she was going to stay, but Michael & I convinced her to leave with us. The closest (& only available one) was stairwell C. The three of us started our climb down the stairwell, probably 10 minutes had passed since impact. • There were 2 columns of people going down the stairwell. For the most part it was in an orderly manner, but there were times where a few people would push through & race down in between the two columns. • Early on I remember that someone had a handheld device (palm pilot?) and reported that a small commuter plane had hit 1 WTC. • Somewhere in the mid/low 40’s we came upon a pregnant woman sitting on a vent in the stairwell. She said (I do not recall her first name) she was waiting on rescue officials for assistance. We encouraged her to join us, as we were walking very slowly, Linda in her bare feet (after removal of her high heels), often letting people pass us on the staircase turns. • We were in the stairwell when the second plane hit 2 WTC. • During our time in the stairwell, three or four groups of firemen ascended the stairwell. Each in full gear, sweating faces, carrying their heavy ropes & other rescue equipment. • When we got to the lower floors, probably in the high teens, water was running down the stairwell steps. • We exited the stairwell onto the old rotunda level, ground level. At one time the oval had hosted all the airlines service counters. • Immediately to our left a large piece of metal hit the ground. Shortly after that, a body landed right outside the glass. • We were directed by a police officer to a broken escalator that led to the main concourse level of WTC. • Initially on that main level, while still within 1 WTC glass doors, water was as deep as my lower calves. • As directed, we walked through the concourse, and exited outside through the Borders Book store (I believe that was the name of the store). At that point, the pregnant woman left our small group. • Once we were across the street we stopped to look up at the towers. No words were spoken but both Michael & I were thinking that there was no way that Ken had made it out of the building. • As we were walking down Dey street, moving towards J&J Music, I remember seeing a woman’s foot still in her red high heel shoe in the middle of the street. Someone had attempted to cover it with a newspaper. • Approximately 10 minutes after getting onto the street, the South Tower fell. A black dust cloud filled the area. We initially took safety in the revolving entrance doors of a store. • At some point, we entered a Duane Reade, bought slippers or flip flops for Linda, gave her some cash and she left to go over the Brooklyn Bridge. • Michael & I decided to start walking uptown to where his wife worked at First Boston. The staff at First Boston were great, letting us clean up, giving us water and access to a conference room to call home (their phone lines were working). • I called my wife to let her know that I was okay. She informed me that our good friend & neighbor across the street had not heard from her husband. • Sometime after 2pm I left First Boston to walk to an office in midtown of Bank Julius Baer where approx. 20 people from Temenos were working on an implementation. Those coworkers informed me that all NY staff was accounted for except for Ken H. • Sometime after 4pm I heard the LIRR was starting to run trains back to LI. • I remember Penn Station being extremely quiet. • What seemed like a long time, the track # for my train was finally posted. • After at least 30 minutes the train finally departed Penn Station. • I walked home from the Greenville station, cutting through the neighbor’s house behind us on 4th street to avoid speaking to anyone on Tree St. • After cleaning up, my wife & I attended a special evening Mass for the victims. • Sometime after 9:30pm I got a call from my friend Ken H. He made it out of Tower 1 minutes before it crumbled downward. He told me that he walked to midtown and waited for train service to Westbury. While waiting, he sat at the bar in a steakhouse. Wed 9/12 • The next day was a blur, spent watching TV coverage of the events. • Several Tree St. neighbors stopped by during the day. • The toughest part of the day was hugging/speaking to our neighbor across the street. There were several arranged & impromptu gatherings on the block over the next few weeks. The residents of Tree Street were incredibly supportive post 9/11. On each 9/11 anniversary (before recently moving to NC) Ken H, his wife & son went back to that midtown steakhouse to celebrate his escape. And Ken continues to check in with me on each anniversary. - Phillip, 3 Tree St.
Andrew “I had a meeting with my lawyers that morning at 9am. I was battling the town because they wouldn’t give me access to baseball fields for the team I started. The first lawyer arrived and told us what he heard on the news; my first thought was Al-Qaeda. I don’t know why I thought that, but I did. I went out into the street, there were about 15-20 people out there. Then we heard that the Towers had started falling down. It felt like a dystopian movie. And the World Trade Center had been such a social place as well. The restaurant and bar at the top, The Windows of the World, the Greatest Bar in the World. From up there you’d see planes from the New York airports flying below you. It was a place for locals, for workers and everyone to gather. That’s one place that was never rebuilt in the new World Trade Center. There’s an observation deck up at the top, but it’s not open for locals. I’m sure the builders didn’t do it on purpose, but that’s one permanent death you never hear about. The bar for everyone. Later that day, James drove up in his car. Phillip’s wife was a wreck. She had gotten a call from her husband that he was safe and she broke down in the middle of the street. I walked up and hugged her then headed towards John’s. I had a cousin and a brother in the Towers, and I spent the rest of the day trying to reach them and John, but all the phones were down. I called every hospital and morgue in the city, but no one was answering. No one answered for two days. In the days after, we attended church, and funeral after funeral. I remember all the empty seats. It was one of the hardest things to take. One of the chilling things. For weeks and months, all over the train there were papers plastered on the walls “Have you seen my son, husband, brother.” - Andrew, 10 Tree St.
Peter September 11, 2001
I left the house as usual for my early morning commute to New Jersey. Unlike all the other dads on the block, I did not work on Wall Street. I was in a meeting at 8:30am when a colleague came into the conference room and announced that a plane crashed into the Twin Towers. My first thought was that I fly all the time and planes seem to come close to tall buildings, but something must have gone terribly wrong with the plane for it to lose control like that. But then she clarified… planes crashed into each of the Twin Towers. We turned on the news and watched the replay and then the news anchor said they were considering closing all the bridges and tunnels into NY. All I could think was “how was I going to get home?” I grabbed my bag and left. I drove all the way up and around and crossed the Tappan Zee bridge. I was surprised at how little traffic there was. I listened to the news the entire drive. I couldn’t process what people were describing… both Towers had fallen down? Plane crashing into the Pentagon? Plane crashing in a Pennsylvania field? Terrorism? What the hell is going on? I just have to get home. I pulled into my driveway on the corner of Tree St. around 10:30am. The moms on the block were around but the first sign of a dad coming home was late morning. He was walking slowly back from the train station, his head down. He turned the corner onto our block. I said hello and asked what happened. He shared a brief story and left. He had a look of shock. “Just need to get home.” The other dads arrived on the block over the course of the day. Later in afternoon ‘the block’ (dads, moms, kids) started to congregate. Some shared their experiences. Others just listened and were quiet. It seemed that most of the families from the block all needed the company. Some stayed inside. Some went to church. The kids played in the street and around the various yards. We got pizza and had a few drinks outside. We all wanted to stay together. Everyone trying to process what happened. And we waited for one dad, John, to still come home. At about 10pm I was asked to go down to the train station and pick up his car so “he wouldn’t get a ticket” leaving his car overnight. It was beautiful new Saab. I drove into his driveway and his children jumped off the porch excited with a momentary look of relief on their faces. But then they saw me and slumped and went back to the porch. I will never forget the looks on their faces. John never came home. - Peter, Corner of Tree St.
Thomas The week of Sept 10, 2001 started off in classic Northeast conditions. Bright blue sunny skies, strong North winds creating great visibility. To top that off, there was a strong tropical storm well offshore that would be bringing in a powerful ground swell within the next two days. My brother Michael and I are both longtime surfers and both worked as brokers downtown close to the World Trade Center. In between business that Monday morning, my brother and I were back and forth on which day we should take off to catch the tropical storm. I was pushing for Tuesday Sept 11th and Mike and I both agreed that would be the plan. We both took that day off and the plan was to meet my boy Skip at his boat in Island Park and take it to Democrat Point in Fire Island, a great surf spot. On the way home Monday night, I ran into my cousin Jimmy M. on the train. We had not seen each other in over 6 months and spent the entire ride home catching up and talking about his new job. He was recently married to his college sweetheart, and they were living with Jimmy’s parents to save money for a new apartment – a day that was finally coming as he had just purchased a new place in Mineola and was having work done and getting ready to move in. He was in good spirits and work was going well and he was planning to attend a conference at the Windows of the World restaurant in the World Trade Center, a place that I had been to many times. Jimmy got off on his stop and I wished him well and offered my help in the move if he needed it. That was the last time I would see that big lovable smile. Tuesday morning Sept 11th was a repeat of Monday. Strong, offshore North winds, great visibility, just a perfect Fall day. We shoved off the dock at around 5:30am and made our way to Democrat Point. We got there and anchored the boat and made our way over the bluff to hit the surf. Waves were firing! 6-8 foot waves with even bigger sets. We all got in the water and caught one great wave after another. I was very pleased with my selection of days to surf and was looking forward to a great day of surfing. Little did we know what was about to unfold. At about 9:40am word started to spread on the beach about a terrible accident in downtown NYC. There were a lot of guys who had permits so they had vehicles on the beach and they were getting news from their radios. My brother paddled over to me and said he thinks something really bad was unfolding downtown. We both got out and were talking to guys who had the radios on. F15s were now flying over our heads at the beach on their way towards Manhattan. Word was that a plane flew into 1 WTC as a possible terrorist attack. My heart sank as I looked west and could actually see the smoke billowing into the sky. I knew this was bad and that I needed to get home asap. There were over a 100 people I knew who worked in those buildings and I needed to know if they were safe. We finally got my friend Skip out of the water and demanded that he bring us back to our cars in Island Park. We finally headed back at around 10:30am and had a very quiet boat ride home. I didn’t feel good about how this was going to end. I finally got home to Tree St. around 12:30pm and my wife was there with her parents watching the news. By that time, it was a confirmed terrorist attack with two different planes flying into #1 & #2 WTC. Both buildings down, thousands killed. If not for the bravery of NYPD, NYFD, and transit police that number would have been much higher. Men like my rugby friend Terrance M. who I would go on to learn was one of the firemen who ran from Red Hook through the tunnels in full gear to help save lives. Bravery beyond belief. But that’s the caliber of people that we have serving this great city. When I hear of these jackass’s talking about defunding police, I think back to that day of the bravery that all these men had shown and how fortunate we were to have them. All the guys that I started off brokering with, who now worked at Cantor, had all perished. They didn’t have a chance. That could have been me had I not decided to go my own way when Cantor bought Patriot securities 2 years prior. My cousin, Jimmy - just so unfortunate to be there on the wrong day - never had a chance to escape. All these great people just trying to make a living for their families died because of a sinister, well-executed terrorist plot. The world was changed forever. After I was done grieving, I went out to Tree St. to console and hug some neighbors. It had started out as such great day and went on to being one of the saddest in my life. I was on the phone all week with friends and family that were in the building and managed to escape. Hearing their stories was beyond sad and terrifying. I could sit and write about all the different stories, but it would take hours. I got a call from the office late Friday and they were hoping I could come in to work Tuesday Sept 18 - one week later. I told them I would be there and do my best to perform - probably one of the hardest work days of my life. Two of our competitors were knocked out from the attacks and our product was a vital hedging tool for banks. Our services were needed. I took my regular train that Tuesday morning (9/18) and headed into work on a half empty train. I took the subway from Brooklyn and got to the streets about 7am, it looked like a war zone. Grey ash was all over the streets, national guard trucks were all over the place. Before I went to my office at 80 Pine Street, I needed to walk over and view the remains of the World Trade Center. It was beyond sad. I couldn’t believe that both buildings before me were completely gone. I just stood there and cried. I couldn’t control myself. All my friends gone, all the great memories that we had there after work. I walked to the office and greeted my workmates, a sad day for all of us, but we all managed to push on. The next few months, I attended one service after the next. I tried to attend as many as I could, but some were two in the same day. I think all-in-all, I made it to about 40, I just couldn’t be there for all of them, one sadder than the next. This year will be the 20th anniversary, so hard to believe! I think about my friends and family all the time and miss them with all my heart. If I could reach out to them, I would tell them how dearly they are all missed and how life was not the same without them. But we never forgot you and never will! We will never forget the countless heroes who ran into those buildings to help save lives. All of you true Hero’s and New York’s Best! God bless you All and God bless America! - Thomas, 25 Tree St.
James My thoughts on the events of 9/11. I will focus this short essay on my story from the period of time between the plane crashing into the North Tower at 8:46 AM and the time I returned home. I was working for a Securities firm, on the morning of 9/11, brokering government securities, sitting on the 26th Floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I had accepted a job in January of 2001 from a friend of mine. I had taken my seat at approximately 8:10, having gone to 7:30 Mass at St Peter’s that morning. It was a beautiful day, so beautiful that the pastor at St Peter’s had opened wide the doors of the church after Mass and stood and shook hands with each person leaving Mass that day. I point this out because Father had never done that before. I walked down to the World Trade Center, grabbed a cup of coffee, and headed up to the 26th Floor on the elevator. I am guessing (because I have zero recollection of the pre 8:46 activity) that I had set my trade blotter up (just a sheet of paper on which we recorded every trade we brokered). I got another cup of coffee and then I would check in at home to see what was going on with my family. I know that at 8:46am I was talking to my wife, there was a tremendous muffled explosion, my office chair and I were moved from my desk, (which was a large roundish desk that had 20 men sitting around it, about 8 feet), and then I fell out of my chair onto floor. The building just moved. I was sliding across the floor. I said into the phone, “Holy sh-t, Holy sh-t!!!” My wife, who had been a broker’s wife for 17 years, immediately hung up the phone thinking I must have a trade problem or some other business issue. As I got to my feet and got back to the desk, I looked at the faces of a few of my workmates and said, “WTF just happened??? Look!!!” We ran to the window and there was debris floating down, tons of paper. It took a few minutes for all of us on the 26th Floor to figure out we had to get going. We all gathered by the stairwell and began to descend. I had a small travel bag with me. In it I kept a bottle of Holy Water, as we walked into the stairwell, I was offering Holy Water to my workmates. The stairwell was nerve wracking. As we descended, the stairwell was filling up with people, it became slower and slower. There were gas fumes and gasoline dripping down the stairwells. Tremendous odor. I remember continuing to exhort everyone to keep moving. The rumors we were hearing as we walked down the stairs from people coming into the stairwell from their offices was that a small plane had hit the building. I knew that was BS because I was thrown from my chair. I personally thought it was an earthquake or a bomb, similar to the ‘93 bombing of Trade Center. I knew we were in danger. I vividly recall my two thoughts, 1. I said to myself, “when I see my friend who hired me, I am gonna give him an earful for inviting me to work in this building.” 2. I thought “Okay God, I thought you had more for me to accomplish in this world, but I guess you don’t, please take care of my family.” We exited the stairwell into the lobby of the North Tower. Firemen everywhere. I was jogging. Along the path at least 5 firemen told me to walk not jog. My answer to each request was, “sorry, I can’t walk.” I definitely knew I had to get out of the building. As we were ushered through the first lobby there was a woman being attended who had been burned badly. They guided most of the crowds right out or through the arcade below the WTC. Our group of about 100 were led into Marriott’s Tall Ships Restaurant, in the lobby of the South Tower. I guess to try and exit us on West St. As we were heading toward the revolving door, moving very orderly, the second plane hit the South tower, 79 stories directly above our exit point. Basically, it set off a panic in the restaurant. Debris was crashing down right outside the door. The door was blocked, it looked like we were going to be stuck in there for a while. People were screaming. Some jumped under tables and behind the bar. I ran over to one of the massive round windows and picked up a chair to throw it through the window. I was looking at complete bedlam outside. Debris was pouring down from the building. As I was thinking where to wing this chair, another fellow came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I explained my idea. He started screaming at me “just do it Man, just do it!!!” over and over. His reaction jolted me to think about how thick the window was and if God forbid, I broke it, this guy might use me as a ladder to get out! I put the chair down and all of a sudden they cleared off the debris outside the revolving door. I got in line to get out. As we got closer to the door I could see outside. There was a policeman literally standing and dodging debris in the middle of the street, looking up and then sending small groups across the street to safety. This policeman was one of the bravest men I had ever seen. When it was my turn, we were told to wait under the canopy above the door until he signaled. As I was waiting, the fellow standing right next to me was a friend of mine for 15 years, I never even saw him that day, only when I saw the picture later in Daily News did I know we left together. I was so focused on the policeman. I also had my canvas carry bag over my head, like it was gonna prevent a piece of metal falling off the building from crowning me. There are a couple of famous shots of people fleeing the WTC. The two I have were taken by a Daily News Photographer. Shortly after taking them, he was hit by debris. He survived. The first picture is of my group. Me holding my bag over my head waiting to be told to run, the second picture captured perfectly how much fear we were all feeling as we fled. The officer gave us the high sign and we took off!! I sprinted. I had no idea where I was running, I think I was heading west to the river. I ran by a Priest who was standing across the street praying with his Missal as I ran by. It seemed I was running uphill. When I got far enough away to stop sprinting. I ran into another old friend who had also been in the building but got out a little faster. He was standing watching. I said to him, ‘what happened?’ He said he just saw a Jet Airliner fly into the South Tower, it came right over his head. We started to head west and north away from WTC. Everybody we passed who was heading toward the building, I screamed at them to turn around and get out of there. My buddy had a bad knee. I would literally sprint 100 yards ahead of him and turn around and exhort him with waves to get moving. We were heading to my car which was parked on Ann Street on the other side of the WTC. The volume of siren noise was beyond imagining. We stopped at City Hall for a minute on the journey, it was surreal. We could look up and see the building. So much noise. We then jogged to the parking garage. I had been parking my car there for 8 months, right across from Rosie O’Grady’s Bar. I looked at the bar and thought, “a tall glass of whiskey would be a good idea”, though at the time I had been sober for 9 years. Instead, I borrowed my friend’s phone and called my sponsor. Charlie was the attendant. As we got to the garage, I handed Charlie $20.00 for the car and $20.00 for him and said, “it’s been nice knowing you Charlie, you will never see me in Manhattan again.” As we were waiting, we heard a large explosion and screams. I walked out of the garage onto the sidewalk and saw 100 people sprinting down the block at me, something had flown out of the Trade Center high up and hit near these people. They all thought the building was coming down. One fellow, etched in my mind, was running full speed down the street when an explosion from the building sounded. He dove full speed under a car, completely scraping off all his skin all over his body. Such incredible fear was present. We got my 1998 Red Explorer and headed out of the garage. We drove around and got on the FDR Drive at Brooklyn Bridge. We were heading up the Drive listening to 1010 Wins. At 33rd Street the commentator started screaming. “Oh My God, the tower has collapsed!” over and over. At that moment my thought was that the radio antennas had collapsed. I had no idea that the building fell. The traffic was light as we headed on to the Triboro Bridge. I was driving. We came around the bend on the Triboro, and we could finally see downtown. That’s when we saw that one building had collapsed. On the radio they were talking about this being a terrorist attack. I’m not sure but I think I heard that the Pentagon was hit also. I lost my composure completely and started to scream and pound the wheel. Glad my buddy was with me because everything faded to black for a couple seconds. My buddy grabbed the wheel and then I calmed down. So much anger. So much fear. So much confusion. I guess the whole thing was incomprehensible. I drove my buddy home. I stopped briefly at his house with a mutual friend of ours who lived next door, I left them and drove back to my home on Tree Street. - James, 2 Tree St.
Parallel Lives: September 12th and On
Scroll through their words
The Bubble Was Burst
“And ya know, Emily, in a sense Greenville was a bubble. We had 20 people killed that day, but the bubble of Greenville was even narrowed down to the bubble of Tree Street, and the relationships that we all had. John was a peer to me in that he was a husband, a father, a neighbor, a friend, a train companion. Both your dad, Peter, and Phillip. And John, while he was a relatively quiet guy, he also had a great sense of humor, there was no doubt about how much he loved his wife and he loved his kids, and he was always playing with the kids and putting them in front of anything else.
“We all lived in this bubble of Greenville - in this safe, secure world. We were not privy to terrors and terrorism, the Al-Qaeda’s of the world, Bin Laden, all that stuff. That was never anything that would ever happen, we barely ever even saw crime, and we sent our kids off to safe schools and they got to ride their bikes and stay on a safe street, but now when you think of what happened after that day - meaning we saw a family get fractured - we all went to an incredibly sad memorial/funeral mass for him. We, and you guys [kids] did the same thing, we all had peers that you really had a hard time knowing how to comfort. You almost didn’t know what to say. And your mom and my wife, as much as they had a relationship with Mrs. John, there’s almost no way to explain how to try to rebuild that relationship after something like that happens.
“Because it is so hard for someone to walk in someone else’s shoes. No one could know what it would be like if it has never happened to you. And of course, that can be said for tons and tons of people. Right? Everybody has somebody they’ve lost. But when you’re in the same kind of timeline with everybody else, in other words you’ve got this family - they’re literally right next door to you, your kids are the same age, you go to the same school, you go to the same church, you have the same morals - it’s almost indescribable to try to understand how those people move forward when really nothing happened to you in comparison.
“And when it happens to you, you try to justify ‘why did that happen to him and to us? Nothing happened to those guys over there.’ And let me give you an expression, I say this all the time: when you’re driving in HOV, or in the left lane, it’s an expression my dad used to say, ‘Oh he’s doing great, he’s in the left lane. He’s just cruising through life.’ That expression, the left lane, is a metaphor. There’s no traffic, there’s no slow down, so if you use that metaphor talking about families – parallel families – it’s very difficult because 9/11, even though it glued us together in a way that’s very hard to explain, even though it happened to all of us at the same time, some were effected way more than others and, upon reflection, it really shows you the inequity and the unfairness of life.
“We were all hitting our stride and feeling pretty good about stuff and all of a sudden – whamo! None of us were really in that quote-on-quote easy “left lane of life” from that day forward. The bubble was burst and we went on in life, and there was more pain and suffering to come beyond 9/11.”
- Matthew, 22 Tree St.
And Tree Street was a bubble.
Even as kids we were aware of that. Not in the sense our parents talk about, the safety and security of it, but as kids we had our own world. As long as we stayed on the block, as long as we were home by dinner, we had ultimate freedom. We had 23 houses, 23 front and backyards to run through, a couple of basements to play in, a group of friends, multiple fridges for snacks, and a quiet street to walk up and down at night talking and messing around.
I don’t remember much in the days after the attacks. My mom told me the teachers were obsessed
with helping us process everything. God Bless America and “Draw a picture of what you can do to cheer yourself up when you’re feeling sad.”
But of course, I don’t remember that; that just felt like normal school.
I do remember how Kasey went to school the next day. I remember holding out hope for weeks that Mr. John was still alive somewhere, at a hospital in New York City, memory lost and unidentifiable like the dad in A Little Princess, and how he would eventually walk up Tree St as if he’d only been gone a few hours. Again, I was 9. But I think everyone held out hope since hardly any bodies were found.
And I remember being so fixated and fascinated with all the close calls back then. The grown-ups who almost got on a flight but decided against it because they had a weird feeling. The ones who hadn’t missed a day of work in years but decided to skip that day. The ones whose wives convinced them to stay home, the ones who missed the train or their flights. I was in awe of the people who skirted death by some lucky accident.
But what I never spent much time thinking about was how there was another whole group of people: the ones who went into work that morning to do their job but never came home. The thousands who weren’t lucky. Those who ignored the “funny” feeling or were on time for the train. And like Mr. Matthew said, it really exposes the true unfairness of the world, and how luck, in the end, really is the only variable that matters.
Twenty families on Tree St., a group of fathers hitting their stride, three in the buildings that day, one never came home. It makes life feel a little bit more like a crapshoot.
Eventually there was a memorial service for Mr. John. I remember the sadness and Kasey in a dress, a rare occurrence, but mostly I remember everyone from Tree Street. All the kids and parents, all my friends and my safe little world, cracked and bruised, devastated, and missing a member, but still there together, holding one another up. We had cups of candy, individually wrapped wintergreen mints, and Kasey got to pick the movie we watched in the back room as her mom, surrounded by our parents, thanked the guests.
The 9-year-olds, Beth, Jeff, Kasey, myself and all the other kids on the block are nearing the age our parents were when those attacks happened. We are the ones hitting our stride. Spread all around the country now, we’ve watched and been there for each other’s successes, struggles, life, and death. And we will always have a second family who, at one time 20 years ago, rode the bus home from school on September 11, 2001 and stepped off the bus and onto Tree St.
- Emily, Corner of Tree St.