I was in New York City with good friends having Hungarian food on the upper east side. It had been raining that night, but by the time we finished dinner, the rain was a light sprinkle, and it was a wonderful night for a walk. And walk we did...from about 85th Street to the Empire State Building.
I was vacationing with a dear friend of mine from Croatia. It was our second to last night in the city, and he'd never been to the Empire State Building and never seen Manhattan at night. He REALLY didn't want to go. It was getting late, but I brow beat him into it. I never tire of the view from the Empire State Building, and at night, it's magical. Mercifully, the lines were minimal. It was a Monday night. It was September 10, 2001. There were fewer tourists in the city than there would have been only a few weeks before. We had no wait in line as we went to the top of the building.
I remember standing there on the south side of the building looking at lower Manhattan and admiring the monolithic twin towers. They were so beautiful to behold and completely defined the financial district. Who would have known that about 12 hours later that they would be gone.
I remember that night. I tried to teach my friend the rules of American football. The Giants played that night, and the game went well into the night. We drank sodas from the overpriced minibar and watched a movie after the game. I fell asleep in my bed on top of the covers still fully clothed.
The next morning, my cell phone rang. It was Marija; I'd been to dinner the night before with her and her husband. I didn't answer. My hotel phone rang. I decided to answer that. It was Marija telling me to turn on the TV. I looked at the result of the first plane that went into the WTC. I was very confused and unsure of just how big that scar on the building was. I convinced myself that it was a corporate jet...probably small...that accidentally hit the building. The night before at the Empire State Building, the tour guide told a story about a small plane that crashed into the building there 60 years before. The building remained intact, and only a few people died. I thought that this was going to be a scenario like that.
I called work to let them know I was ok. I was on vacation, but everyone knew I was in New York. I watched the coverage on the Today Show and on local news stations, and I saw an explosion at the other tower (on TV). Midtown Manhattan is several miles from the financial district, and I didn't see or hear anything in real time. I watched it on TV like the rest of the world. The angle of the shot I saw made it appear as if a helicopter reporting the story may have gotten too close and clipped the building. It was several minutes before I realized it was another plane.
Panic started to set in. In my hopeful mind I was wishing for a horrible accident. When I heard about the plane crash into the Pentagon, I completely lost it. I "freaked out" in every sense of the word. I started making panicked calls to people in Chicago, LA, San Francisco warning them to get out of tall buildings. My Croatian friend thought I was overreacting.
My cell phone had no reception, and the outgoing lines at the hotel were down. I could hear the ring indicating that I had messages received, but I had no way to access them. My mother was in Peoria working at the VA clinic, and she was in a panic. I received several calls where friends and family said, "I know you're probably not in New York, but if you could just call and let me know that you're safe...." As soon as I could I called everyone I could. My sister was awesome and acted as a contact person for family members so that I didn't have to tell the story again and again.
I felt helpless and desperate to do something. I prayed...a lot....I freaked out...a lot more. I never cried because I knew that if I began that I would not be able to stop.
There are many, many emotions that I have about 9/11. I am so proud of the people of New York City. They were ALL wonderful. This horrific tragedy brought the best in human kindness, charity and service that I've seen in a long, long time.
I hoped with all my might that people would be rescued from the buildings. As we now know, few were.
Seven years later, 9/11 is an important day to me and my family. We try and celebrate by watching a film or documentary about the people of that day. We always go to the Healing Field in Sandy, Utah where thousands of flags are put up in honor of those who died. Tomorrow, we'll make a night of it with a special dinner, a documentary and a visit to the memorial.
I want my kids to know what happened, why it happened, and what we all need to do about it.
I'm so grateful for the fire fighters, NYPD, the city government, the port authority...and all of the first responders. My heart still ache for those who lost loved ones in NYC, PA and Washington, D.C. Tomorrow is a day of remembrance for me. I honor those who lost their lives by remembering that day with my family. I hope you will do the same.