MY LIFE – Remembering 9/11 on the 20th anniversary

MY LIFE – Remembering 9/11 on the 20th anniversary

As it does every year, the advent of Sept. 11 casts a pall on my soul and this year, the 20th anniversary of that dark day in history, is no exception. If anything, it brings it into even sharper relief with more media coverage surrounding it than had been generated in recent years.

Where were you when the planes hit?

I was at work that morning, sitting in the dining room at Wrentham Developmental Center feeding one of the clients her breakfast. The TV across the room was tuned in to the Today Show and I will remember to my dying day the moment when Katie Couric interrupted programming to announce that word had been received that a plane had just hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. As cameras cut to a shot of the building with smoke pouring out of the upper floors I announced to no one in particular that my son lived in that neighborhood.

Moments later we all watched in horror ... in real time ... as a second plane approached, plowed into the second tower, and a massive fireball erupted.

“My son lives in that neighborhood!” I exclaimed again, but with considerably more feeling. To be exact, he lives just two blocks diagonally southwest of the World Trade Center and on most days around that time he would normally be walking almost right by there on his way to the subway station to catch the train to work.

I continued with my work that morning, my mind racing and praying, until I finally received a call letting me know that Tom had an early appointment at work that morning, and if all had gone according to plan he should have been safely in his office in Midtown when the planes hit.

I was doing pretty OK after that until someone ran into the nurses station and yelled, “One of the towers just fell!” Glued to the TV moments later, I was watching, again in real time disbelief and horror, as the second tower pancaked and disappeared in a massive cloud. Still not positive that my son was actually safe, I knew I needed to go home. Not later, but right now. I needed to be with my family.

Moments after reaching home my phone rang. It was Tom, letting me know he was OK, telling me he had already spoken to his sister Kathy and asking me to please try calling his sister Barbara. The phone lines were massively jammed, and most calls weren’t going through. I kept trying, but then somewhere around 4:30 my phone rang. It was Barbara. She and her family were just pulling off the Massachusetts Pike and she asked if they could come stay with me. Their home in Montbello, N.Y., is just 30 miles or so north of the city, and not far from a nuclear power plant. When her husband heard that strategic targets were being hit he said, “Get the kids, throw a few things in a suitcase, and let’s go!” or words to that effect.

Two weeks later, I had occasion to be down at Barbara’s and decided that I could not be that close to the city and not go down there to see it with my own eyes before returning home. I had just been there in April, staying at Tom’s apartment for a week of rest and relaxation while he was in Chile on vacation. It had been my neighborhood for that time as I bopped in and out of the WTC every day at noontime to grab a newspaper, pick up some lunch and walk through the shops. In fact, surprised by the fact that I couldn’t find a decent tea mug in Tom’s bachelor apartment, I bought a set of four cobalt blue glass mugs as a house gift for him while I was down there browsing. My own connection to the area had come to feel quite personal.

We took the train from Tarrytown to Grand Central and then walked block after block, heading south, passing pictures posted on buildings and surfaces everywhere, all begging “Have you seen this person?” Flowers, candles, and smoke that I can still smell and taste every time I think about it and tears that flowed down my cheeks then, and again now as I remember.

We were able to reach the chain link fence that closed off that whole end of the city, and from where we stood on a pedestrian bridge just a few blocks north of what was now “the pile,” we watched as one large flatbed after another, piled high with twisted steel beams, was hosed down and then driven right under our feet and off to our right where the loads were then put onto barges and taken away.

Tom had become homeless and was sleeping on a friend’s couch. Days later he was allowed back into his apartment for a few closely timed minutes, accompanied by the National Guard, just long enough to throw some clothes into a bag and get back out again, but it would be five weeks before he was able to return to his vastly changed neighborhood.

A few months after the attack, on March 11, there was a wonderful (Peabody and Emmy Award winning) documentary called “9/11” on CBS, narrated by Robert DiNero, consisting of video shot by Jules Naudet, a French videographer who just happened to be out on a call with a fire crew just blocks from the WTC when the attack occurred. He panned the camera up as they heard the low flying plane and caught the plane as it hit the building, and he just kept the camera rolling, right through their arrival into the North Tower, to their final escape from the building shortly before its collapse, and to their return to the station at the bitter end ... live and as it was happening.

I watched it on its original showing and taped it. I will watch it again this year, this time on CNN, and my heart will once again feel like it is breaking.

Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.