A 9/11 Letter to a South African

Dear Mary,

Thank you for your interest in my 9/11 story, when I responded about this on Twitter.  I see you’re from Pretoria, a city I’ve been to.  Thank you again.

I’ll start with the following:  Where I grew up in Brooklyn, I watched the buildings go up, outside my parents window.  In school, I was in that building daily to take the PATH train to New Jersey.  I ran errands there, had interviews, jobs, etc.  The buildings were a part of my world.

Now to that morning.  I watched from opposite where I grew up.  The other side of Manhattan on the Hudson River.  

I didn’t see the first plane hit, but sure saw the second plane.  This was no drill, to quote what was said at the attack on Pearl Harbor, sixty years earlier.  

I watched it as though watching a Bruce Willis action thriller, too shocked to absorb the reality.  The weather was clear blue skies, perfect temperature and nice until this.

Then, the buildings collapsed like toys.  You think, that could’ve been you, being on an errand in those buildings, or the PATH station, way down below the surface.  

I drove home in shock.  The next few days, would be eerie to put it mildly.  I spoke with my youngest sister Debby.  She and my other sister at the time worked in the same office at the time, at 51st Street and Lexington Avenue.  With a long, convoluted subway ride to my sister Sarah’s house in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, they finally made it.  (Debby lives fifty miles East of Manhattan on Long Island and couldn’t get a Long Island Rail Road train home).  They got out of the Clinton-Washington subway stop and described paper blown across the East River from the devastated towers, like giants snowflakes and the smell of burnt meat.  For the latter you can use your imagination.

Day 2, Wednesday, September 12th, 2001.  It’s my mother’s birthday, but she and my dad are out of the country at a conference.  This will come up later.  I’m glued to the news.  

I’ve traveled many places where I’ve seen police and soldiers armed to the teeth, South Africa being one of them.  I never thought I would see this on the news in my country.  I would be dealing with more of that.

Day 3, Thursday September 13th, 2001.  Donated blood, thought about joining the Red Cross.  I spoke with my Toastmasters friend and partner in crime George Tully.  I’m about to tell you about the one person I know, who escaped from Tower One of the World Trade Center.  

George worked on the 72nd Floor.  The plane crashed above them around the 90th Floor.  People just got up from their desks and headed into the stairwell, which was full of smoke.  He remembers many firemen passing him going upstairs (343 New York City firemen died that day.  More, who survived that day are dying slowly from poisons picked up working at Ground Zero).

He got down the seventy-two flights, where a police officer directed him through a side door to the street.  He remembered seeing a large puddle of blood.  The next thing he remembers is being two and a half miles away at Penn Station.  He walked there in shock and the crowds in the station jarred him out of shock  He remembers nothing of his walk.

Day 4 Friday, September 14th, 2001.

That night, my wife and I drove to West Orange High School (West Orange, New Jersey), to hear the acting Governor speak about what was being done.  There had been attacks on Muslims.  The Governor made it clear such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated.

Day 5 Sunday, September 16th, 2001.  My parents were flying back from Europe.  We only found out at the last minute, they would be on one of the first International flights allowed back into the United States.  We weren’t sure if we would have to drive eight hours to Montreal or fourteen hours to Toronto to pick them up.

It was a drive I will never forget.  Military checkpoints at bridges and tunnels.  The New York region is full of bridges and tunnels.  Makes the region a target.  

JFK Airport was jammed like I’d never seen.  A flight from Central Asia emptied.  There was an upset woman with a thick New York accent waiting for her husband, crying and sobbing angrily when the people in Muslim garb walked past us.

When we drove my parents to my childhood apartment, they stared in shock at the still smoking remains of the World Trade Center.  I watched the buildings go up, I watched them come down.  The smoke went on for months.  

I’d lost my job, along with many other people.  We met on Wed. morning at New Jersey Unemployment in Professional Services Group.  The New York Area economy had a tough time.  I had nightmares.

I live in Tucson, Arizona now.  The nightmares are gone.  I had a queasy feeling, when I was staying with my parents.  The PATH station had been rebuilt, but you had to walk through scaffolding to the trains, where you could look into the giant hole, that was Ground Zero.

Yesterday was the sixteenth anniversary.  A long way away.  My buddy George and I used to make jokes that we would join the U.S. Army and fight in Afghanistan, but we were too old then and the Army was really scraping if they needed us.

September 11th steered my life in a different direction, that’s for sure.

I have to let another South African friend, Althea Garner know I finally came through at wrote my 9/11 story.

Please don’t hesitate to share this and ask me questions.


About tucsonmike

I am originally from Brooklyn, New York and now live in Tucson, Arizona. I have discovered a passion for writing. I have five books out now, with a sixth on the way. Take a look @ my book list: The Search for Livingstone An Affair of the Heart The Search for Otzi Griffith Justice in Space. Moriarty The Life and Times of a Criminal Genius Available now on Smashwords - Amazon and Barnes and Noble As to not bore my public with just "Buy my book," I am also interested in baseball, the outdoors, art, architecture, technology, the human mind and DNA. I learned Ashkenazi Jews, of which I am one, have to lowest rate of Alzheimer's in the world. Therefore, I treat my brain as a muscle needing a workout. I enjoy good food, flirtation, beautiful women (I am happily married for thirty years), so just flirting ;) I was considered autistic when I was young, trying to figure out if I have a mild form of Aspergers and learning from that. That is for future posts. You can also see I love history. Enjoy my sarcastic silly look at the world, and making History more interesting than a textbook.
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