This piece was originally published by Time magazine the week of 9/11.
At the Wall St. train stop people were covered with papers. A plane crash. That’s what everyone said. Then a boom. Everyone ran. I ran to my office and called my brother in the Midwest.
I wanted to be closer. At the corner of Church and Broadway, I angled my way through a large, packed crowd to get the best view. We talked about people jumping. The police stood behind the yellow tape. Minutes later, there was a boom. I thought it was a bomb, so I crouched, but people ran, so I ran. I couldn’t see anything. I don’t know how far I ran. Couldn’t see where I was running. Didn’t know if I was in a street or next to a building. Didn’t know what street I was on. No one could talk because the dust filled our throats. After about ten steps I tripped over a pile of people and then people tripped on me.
I laid there. The only sound was the falling of dust and debris. No one moved under me. The weight of people on top of me got heavier. I couldn’t breathe. I knew we were all going to die in that pile. I pulled myself out of the pile. My slip-ons slipped off. I stood up and saw nothing. Not even an inch in front of me. I put my hands out and felt for something. I bumped into the brick side of a building. I bumped into milk crates. I stopped. I had no idea what to do, and I knew everyone around me was suffocating. I thought about my mom and dad, they would be so sad to hear that I died. I thought about my husband. Just married and I will not get to live my life with him. I thought about my brothers. They would cry. I told myself to just keep trying to find a way to air, but I didn’t believe I would live.
I bumped into something that I could feel the top of, so I lifted myself up. I worried I was going into the back of a dump truck, and I was scared I’d be trapped. I didn’t know if there was fire, or a bomb. I didn’t know how to protect myself “? find air. Go up? “? so I didn’t know for sure that a dump truck would be bad. I think it was scaffolding. I think I jumped over piles of bodies by climbing scaffolding.
I pulled myself into a building. What building? I don’t know. And I took a breath. I took two breaths. I was sure the building would be bombed. I looked for stairs. I kept thinking I needed clean air. I found a bathroom. I didn’t realize I wanted water until it was there. Four men inside. Two fighting over the faucet. I shared the toilet with another man. We drank almost the whole bowl.
Once the four of us were calmed by water and air, we ventured outside the bathroom. We walked up stairs. Slowly. We checked doors behind us, left them all open. We got up only one floor. We waited. I cried. They shared one can of apple juice.
The intercom in the building announced stay where you are. I was so relieved to know people knew we were there. The intercom announced again and I thought another bomb would go off and I’d die. I cried. The guy with the apple juice put his arm around me. I wondered why no one else cried. The intercom announced to go down the stairs. I picked up a wastebasket: I planned to fill it with water. Planned to use it to shelter myself from the next bomb. (I still had no idea the building collapsed.)
In the lobby of the building someone gave me a Nantucket Nectar and told me to vomit. I walked outside the building with the drink in my wastebasket. There was no one around. White everywhere. The four of us had nowhere to go. I couldn’t remember where I was. I walked toward the water. Police directed everyone north. I asked a woman next to me, “Where are we going?” She said, “I don’t know.” She had no dust. She looked so steady. I followed her. This was the beginning of her long protection.
She said, “You can walk home with me. You need a shower.” I coughed. She asked why I was carrying a wastebasket. I said, “In case there’s another bomb.” She held onto my arm as we made our way next to the river. In Chinatown, she bought me shoes. At the Bowery we finally found a payphone that didn’t have a line of people. So she called her husband and I sat down next to my wastebasket. It was the first time I sat down, and I started crying.
We resumed walking. Sometimes we ran. I made sure to keep up and I didn’t tell Teresa that I was worried that I would faint. I drank Nantucket Nectar every time I got dizzy.
At 59th St. a plane went overhead and I screamed. In front of Bloomingdales. There was no one there from Wall St. I knew I looked crazy. I screamed anyway. I reminded everyone there were no planes allowed to fly. Someone said, “It’s the army.” I came out from under my wastebasket and kept walking. Theresa’s apartment was 71st on the Upper West Side. Where everyone looked fine.
In the shower, dripping debris down my body, I remembered one more moment under the rubble. When I couldn’t breathe. When I couldn’t see. In the middle of the dead quiet was a voice. He said, “Is there anyone here? Can someone hold my hand?” I reached out to the voice, and held his hand. It was shaking and the skin was old. I squeezed and then I let go.