I was at work in northern Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, when the word came that “something had happened” at the World Trade Center. The night before, at home in Hastings-on-Hudson, a quiet village north of New York City, both of my daughters had eaten dinner and spent the night at my house. Next morning — the morning of 9/11 — my older daughter had set off north for Boston. That was the safe direction. My younger went south into the city to Parsons School of Design at Fifth Avenue and 14th Street. I set off for my work in northern Manhattan.

The world turned upside down just two hours later.

My daughter’s teacher at Parsons, not knowing what happened, took his class outside after the first plane hit. From the street outside of Parsons, just 30 or so blocks from the World Trade Center, the students had a clear view of the second plane hitting the south tower and of the smoke and chaos. A little later, my daughter and her classmates saw groups of people, covered in white ash, walking north. These were the stockbrokers, business people, office workers and others who had worked in lower Manhattan near the Twin Towers. She soon joined the masses, walking out of the city, in her case west, toward the Queensborough Bridge and her home in Queens.

From my office in northern Manhattan, I was trying to reach my girls — just like every other parent in New York. The daughter who had set out for Boston was out of the fray and safe. I did not know about my younger daughter and tried repeatedly to reach her by phone. The phone lines were jammed with calls from anxious parents and friends. It was some time before we connected.



She was shaken, but safe and on her way by foot toward the Queensborough Bridge and the five-mile or so walk to her apartment. Subways were not running, and people needed to walk out of the city. She had stopped to buy flip-flops and change out of dress shoes. After we spoke and she told me she was safe, she said she sat down and cried. She was remembering all the times I had asked that she call home to make sure she was safe. Before this time, she was always safe and the calls just annoyed her. This time, she realized, was different.

After I knew both of my girls were out of danger, I started my own journey home, one that was far easier than my daughter’s. The Metro North trains were running, and I could take one of my regular trains home. These were also the trains that the stockbrokers, business people, office workers and others from lower Manhattan took. At every stop along the Hudson River, one or more riders in business attire got off the train and fell into the embrace of weeping family or friends.

My then-husband also had a story. He was working as a superintendent at a construction site at Newark airport, just across the Hudson River in New Jersey. Earlier in the day, one of his colleagues had come into his office and said urgently, “The structure is in the skin.” This would be meaningless to most of us, but people in construction know this meant the towers would not topple over, but rather would come down straight. And that is what happened. We heard later that an engineer in Texas was trying to get this word to “someone who would know what to do with this, to help (maybe) with the rescue.”

My family was safe. So many were not. Our hearts go out to them.

Gerry Fairbrother, Ph.D, is a retired health services professor. She authored or co-authored several articles in professional journals about post-traumatic stress disorder in New York City children after 9/11 and the unmet need for counseling.

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