People who were alive then, always say they remember exactly where they were when Kennedy died and how absolutely shocking it was. It was the same when Princess Diana died; I was a young teenager but I remember hearing it on the news on my little Sony radio. It was a Sunday and I can vividly recall the ghastly orange curtains I had with pictures of stuffed animals painted all over them. I remember looking at these drapes as the awful news spilled out of my sound system and filled my little box room. I was utterly stunned. I, along with the rest of the world, was completely enchanted by her and some people just seem too iconic to be extinguished. The same as some landmarks. New York has many – The Empire State building, the Chrysler building, and at that time – the Twin Towers. And just as with this, all who were there and conscious and old enough to – we all remember where we were when 9/11 happened.
I was working a really boring summer job on a production line, and my ‘role’ was to push some wires into an LED board and pass it along. Over and over again. As the job was so mundane we were allowed to listen to the radio and the general consensus for the station was Radio 1. At the time, the songs that repeatedly rang in my ears were So Solid crew’s ’21 seconds to go’, Aliyah’s ‘If at first you don’t succeed’ and Gwen Stefani’s ‘Let me blow ya mind.’ The songs were played on a cycle and I was sick of them. But on that morning like any other, the mundanity of life was pierced by an unscheduled news reports which blazed across the airwaves. It was just after 2pm here in England, so about 9ish in the morning in New York city.
‘A plane has collided with one of the twin towers, this is all the information we have right now, we don’t know if this is an accident or what has happened. This is a breaking story.’ We all looked at each other in disbelief. A plane? Colliding with a skyscraper? We couldn’t fathom how a plane would even be flying that low, much less the ‘chances’ of it crashing into a building. Less than 10 minutes later another news bulletin ripped across the broadcast: ‘A second plane has hit the other tower, this is now likely to be considered a terrorist attack.’ The words of the journalist hung in the air like poison ‘terrorist attack.’ It was really frightening to hear those words. We may have been 3000 miles away, but America seemed untouchable – this huge superpower being reduced to this awful event. How could this happen? It was the words on everyone’s lips. And at this point, no-one knew the details. Compounding the fear for me personally was that my boyfriend of the time was actually in America and due to be getting on a plane to fly home that day.
We didn’t get the enormity of the damage until we got home that day. My friend and I worked at the same place and went to hers after to get dinner. Her mother had the TV on; the news outlets had videos of the towers streaming constantly, showing thick billowing black smoke and fire erupting out of them. Honestly, it looked like a disaster movie. It was awful and chilling and gut wrenching all at the same time. They kept showing the black silhouette of the second plane hurtling towards the South Tower before being obscured in view and then the resulting fireball cloud enveloping the building. Even watching this, thousands of miles away, on the other side of the world, it felt frightening. It seemed unfathomable that all the pieces that would need to be planned, undetected, could lead us to this point. Questions were aimed at the FBI, the CIA, did they know? The firestorm that emerged from this, and the global implications from this nightmare were only beginning. The ensuing years and the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ era and emerging war in the Middle East has had many questioning the transparency of 9/11. All I personally know, is that it is a tragedy that has affected not just the Americans, but those worldwide. One of my uni friends, an affable English bloke, had an auntie who worked in the world trade center. She would normally have been at work at that time but was pregnant and had an OBGYN appointment to attend that morning before returning to work after lunch.
Her building wasn’t there after lunch. Being at that appointment was the thing that ended up saving her life – her office was in the direct pathline of one of the planes.
To this day, it is still so visceral. I hadn’t visited New York yet in my life, but had always wanted to. On that fateful day, the 2 towers were reduced to rubble, collapsing in a heap of smoke and ash.
When I first visited New York in 2003, I couldn’t bring myself to visit ‘ground zero.’ It felt disrespectful, voyeuristic even – at this point it was just leveled ground of those had died terribly and tragically.
I still didn’t visit when I lived in New York just 4 years later. The city itself was everything I imagined it would be – fabulous, bustling, awe inspiring. And the people are strong, resilient and there is a real sense of community. My walk to classes each day consisted of seeing policemen chat, navigating past the busy building site where the workmen got to know me and would yell ‘late again?’ whilst laughing, and me shooting back ‘you know me!’ I waved to the guys who worked in the flower shop, mostly because I was always tripping on their hose pipe which was nourishing the outdoor plants with water. The city is amazing and magical, and it’s a testament to this great place that they have been able to rebuild and stay strong.
I can only imagine what those New Yorkers went through that day. When I see videos even now of that day of destruction, it makes me feel emotional and I wasn’t even there.
The thing that really resonates is listening to all of those voicemails from people in the towers or on the planes.
One woman’s message is ‘Pick up sweetie..ok well I’m stuck in the tower, we’ve had a little problem. I wanted to tell you I love you so much. I don’t know if I will get to say those words to you again..’ That simple (incredibly calm) message made me cry instantly. There was so much outpouring of love in those crucial, frantic and fraught hours.
2,996 people died that day, with a further 6000 being injured.
The bravery of everyone involved including the amazing firemen who sacrificed their lives, the policemen, the servicemen, the people on the street even – is to be commended.
Rest in peace to all that lost their lives and know that we will never forget. Much love coming from this English girl who has a special place in her heart for this great city.