Putting life in perspective

My family lives on Greenwich Street between Warren and Murray streets, just a few blocks away from ground zero. It started as a normal day. My two oldest children rode the subway to their schools on the upper east side. I dropped another child off at PS234, the elementary school across the street, then proceeded to take my youngest child to his nursery school around the corner.

While we were inside a teacher came in and told us a plane hit the World Trade Center. Parents went outside and stood at the parking lot across the street to see the damage. I assumed it was an accident and wondered how they could repair it. One parent was immediately concerned and took his child back home. I left my son at preschool. I ran into a neighbor my apartment building lobby. She was upset because her husband had just returned from the green market at the WTC.I went upstairs and started watching the news. That's when the second plane struck. I picked up my sons from preschool and PS234.

My husband returned home from his midtown office while I was trying to figure out how to connect with my oldest children. Firefighters knocked on our door and told us to evacuate. I continued to make arrangements to get my oldest children. The WTC was collapsing when we were ready to leave. Our apartment was shrouded in darkness and you could see debris falling, grey items among the blackness. I packed a large duffle bag with towels and water, then we waited in the lobby until then dust seemed to settle. I was and still am proud at how calm my youngest children were since they were 8 and 3 years old. We began walking north hoping to get our car but the garage was closed.

Everyone heading uptown seemed calmed but periodically would run, worried about the debris cloud and possible gas explosions. We reached Washington Square Park and rested there people purposely treated everything as normal to protect their children. We learned that buses were taking as many people as possible uptown so we headed west, climbed onto a bus and made it to the upper west side where we stayed a few days with relatives. A cousin and my husband's coworker picked up our oldest children and brought then to us. We were in the west 80's but even at that distance you could smell the smoke.

The next day my husband returned to our apartment and brought back items to comfort our children such as a favorite toy. We stayed with relatives, then in a hotel and finally in an apartment. We did not return home until February of 2002 because the site was still smoldering.

Our apartment was inside the fenced off area so we weren't allowed to got back for a while. We were escorted home and given 15 minutes to gather belongings then had to leave. PS234 and the preschool had to relocate. There was large particles resembling grey snow in the air, at least as far as Canal Street for months. When we walked past tall buildings, my children would ask how far they had to run if the building fell over. They wanted to know if buildings could be mad of rubber so they don't break. My 8 year old drew pictures of burning building with what I thought were birds. I thought I had blocked his view but he recently told me he saw people jumping. He told his father when it happened but I thought my husband was assuming it when he would say my son saw this. Months after, when describing what happened, my youngest son said "Planes hit the buildings and they fell down and we ran and ran for our lives"

My oldest sone put life in perspective for me. They was scared and sad for the lives lost but they also said they were lucky because we are ok, there are countries were bombing happens all the time and this only happened to us once. I think my then 8 year old was the most traumatized. For a long time he didn't want to do anything. I and grateful to the students from across the USA that sent our children gifts. My son received a toy with a note attached saying he was a hero. That act of kindness was the beginning of his recovery.

I am grateful for John Lithgow. He did a free performance which was the 1st thing after 9/11 my son was willing to attend and enjoyed. I and also grateful to John Salley. We saw him one day in Century 21. He said hello and spent a few minutes talking to my son. These things may seem small but they have a great impact.

Our lives were forever changed by 9/11. I frequently walk by the site and it's a strange juxtaposition of the memorial and the shopping complex plus the construction of an arts center. It demonstrates how we should never forget but also acknowledge that life goes on. It shows the determination not to let this act of terrorism stop us from living. Twenty years later and me and my family are still overcome with sadness. We think of the lives lost and the neighbors that moved away. The loss of innocence, open sidewalks now strewn with "decorative barriers". The deep fear that another attack can happen. We have to allow ourselves to acknowledge that although we did not have the unimaginable suffering of people connected to those who were murdered on 9/11, we were also hurt and suffered loss. I'm torn by all of the coverage of the 20th anniversary. I feel obligated to hear the stories of those willing to share. I feel traumatized by constantly reliving that day.


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