Surviving the effects of 9/11

In 2001 I lived in Tribeca, in the “restricted zone”. On September 10, I started a new temp job in the World Trade Center. I was scheduled to work in Jersey City, NJ that week. About 8 am, I walked into the World Trade Center to take the PATH train to Jersey City. I was getting a cup of coffee when I looked out the window and saw flames coming out of the south tower. Since the office I was in was the disaster recovery site for the bank, I told the DR guy about the fire. A few minutes later, the second plane hit the north tower. Most of NYC’s radio and TV transmission towers were on those towers and stopped working. We learned the details because the TV in the conference room was able to pick up a signal from a Philadelphia TV station. Following standard protocol, the guy I was working with declared a disaster and told all non-essential people to leave.

Virtually no one is less essential than the new, temporary IT auditor.

My plan was to walk to the Newport Plaza mall and take a different PATH train back to Manhattan, or to spend the day in the shopping mall. After arriving there, I discovered that the mall had closed and the PATH trains weren’t running any more, so I continued walking to Hoboken because it had more options to get back to Manhattan. At the Barnes & Noble, I borrowed a phone directory and found the name and address of someone I knew who lived in Hoboken and walked to his home. Since no one answered the phone or the door, and the store had closed for the day, I walked back to City Hall and spent the rest of the day sitting on one of the benches. I didn’t have a cell phone then, and the pay phones on the corner were eating quarters without placing calls. Shortly after 6:00 pm, we finally learned that the trains were running, so I took a PATH train to Manhattan and transferred to a subway that would take me to the station nearest my home. At West 4th Street, an announcement said this was the last stop for the train.

I decided to go to my church first to use their bathroom. The host insisted that I call the pastor from the church instead of after I got home. That was when I realized that most of my friends had assumed that I was dead. There were two barricades on my 20-minute walk home where I had to show my ID to prove that I lived in the “forbidden zone” so I could continue walking.

I was now jobless with almost no hope of finding another position in my field in the NYC area, and I lived in a restricted area where I could see the smoke and smell the 9/11 odors. For several days a flatbed truck was parked around the corner with what appeared to be a flattened fire truck on it. Lots of people were concerned, but no one seemed to know what to do. The Red Cross came by to give me a check; they were giving the same amount to everyone in the area – my upstairs neighbor, an attorney who missed one day of work received the same amount I did. A group was giving residents HEPA air filters, rated for 800 sq. feet, to people who lived in the area – not very helpful for a 1900 sq ft open loft. Part of me understood that these organizations were trying to help as many people as possible, but another part was incensed that they were giving the same amount of money and other things to people who had lost only a partial day of work to people who had lost a job.

I was traumatized enough that I refused to watch any TV coverage at the time and didn’t realize until the first anniversary that some people had jumped to their deaths before the towers collapsed.

My sister was scheduled to arrive from Austria for a 3-day visit on 9/14 before going to visit our mother in Indiana. They talked me into going for a week. The airports and planes were almost empty. I was glad to get out of the city, but after a few days I was tired of telling my story to many people and was very glad to return to NYC.

Initially I didn’t qualify for unemployment because my job was temporary.

Because the recruiter I had worked with had told me that there was a possibility the job could become a permanent one, I was eventually able to qualify for unemployment. Lots of organizations were doing a lot of things for people who had lost jobs and I developed a support group of people I met at various meetings.

Nine months later, I obtained a sales job with a sole proprietor who turned out to be very unethical in how she treated her employees; this job lasted less than 3 months with threats of lawsuits to return my salary. Six months later I attended a job fair, hosted by a school who was helping 9/11 victims learn new job skills and obtained a position with a consulting firm. One of the companies where they placed me at was happy enough with my work that they created a job, whose description matched my specific skills and experience.

I stayed with them for 10 years until I decided to retire.

On a different level, this experience was the nudge I needed to get out of what had become a loveless marriage, sell the loft in Manhattan and purchase a condo in Brooklyn in a new building across the street from the Parade Ground and Prospect Park.

In 2017 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which I blame on the air I breathed following 9/11. I am now registered with the WTC Health Registry and the 9/11 Victims Compensation fund.

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