Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rembering 9/11

World Trade Center one year after 9/11
Nine years ago, was the longest day of my life. My family one one of the lucky ones. The memory of that day will always be in my mind. I had just had knee surgery and was sleeping on the couch downstairs when my phone rang @ 9am. 

Below are two of the stories I wrote while working at the Repository in Canton, Ohio as a staff photographer.

Part 1

A smoke break saved my brothers life.

Tuesday, at around 8:40 a.m., my brother Joel and a few of his coworkers were taking a break during their second day of a three week training program at the Morgan Stanley financial firm in the World Trade Center, when the first building shook. Above them an explosion. Papers began to rain down on them, taking cover in one of the buildings, they decided to make their way back to the hotel.

Back here in Ohio, I was awakened by a message from my friend Kathy Sutton, who didn't know my brother was in New York. Half asleep, I heard the answering machine. All I remember hearing was World Trade and planes. Frantically, I replayed the message and redialed her number. All I could say was, What? Which Channel, "All of them," she said.

Turning on the TV, the first thing I saw was the second plane slamming into the building. I still cannot explain what I felt when I saw it. My heart stopped. I began shaking and screaming into the phone, Oh my God! Joel is there, Joel is there. I couldn't breathe. My hands were shaking. I hung up with Kathy and shouted, Oh dear God, please, please let him be OK! I called Joel's wife, Missi, in Pittsburgh. Both of us were in tears and were not sure where he was.

In 1996 and 1997 I lived in New Jersey, spending every weekend I could in New York. I had been to the top of the World Trade Center, watching the city crawl below. Its amazing how quiet the world was up there. All you heard was the wind. I was planning to visit during one of the weekends Joel was there. Unfortunately, I had to have knee surgery and wasn't able to go.
After talking with Missi, I called Joel's boss in Pittsburgh. Still shaking, I said my brother, Joel Newcomb, was in New York, and that I needed to talk with his boss, Autumn, and I had no idea what her last name is. They put me through. After reaching her, I told her who I was. She said she had not heard from any of them.

My worst fears began to engulf me. Autumn asked me to stay calm, and told me that as soon as she heard anything, she would call me. She gave me the name of Joel's hotel and room number, then gave me every single phone number of hers, telling me to call her if I needed anything, day or night.
Shortly afterward, I tried to locate my parents. I called the house. No answer. I called their cell phones. No answer. I couldn't think straight, or focus on what I needed to do. I didn't want to leave a message on the machine at their home, but I knew I had to. I don't remember what I said exactly, but my dad said later that he had to sit down as he listened to the machine. Finally, I remembered my mom was at the Alliance Country Club. Calling the pro shop in the clearest voice I could, I gave them my name and her name, and said they needed to find her no matter what it took because it was a family emergency.
Hours seemed to pass in those few minutes I waited. The phone rang.
Mom, theres been an accident, were the first few words I could say. The World Trade Centers been hit by planes. I began crying and told her Joel's training was in one of those buildings. She said she was on her way over.
I'm really not sure how much time passed. I still did not know where Joel was. The phone rang again. It was Autumn, Joel's boss. All I heard was, "Joel is OK".
Relief. My legs gave out. It was Autumn, she told me that Joel was outside having a smoke when it all began. Thank God he smokes, I replied. I hung up and tried to call my mom again on her cell phone, no answer. I called Missi, his wife and and told her. I called my dad. No luck. Pacing at the front door, I waited for my mom to show up to tell her the good news.
As she walked in the front door, I told her. We hugged and cried for a long time. I tried to call my dad again. Still no answer. I left another message. Better news this time.
Meantime, my friend Kathy showed up. We hugged as I told her Joel was OK.
Finally, my dad arrived home and heard the messages, and called my moms cell phone. As they were talking, Dad got another call: he clicked over, It was Joel.
God, its good to hear your voice, Dad said. Dad clicked back over on the telephone to let us know Joel had called. Hearing from someone that hes OK is a relief. Having him actually talk to someone in the family is unexplainable.

During the next few hours, we watched in horror as both buildings collapsed. All those lives. All those families who weren't as lucky as we were. We still didn't know where he was supposed to be in those buildings. I continually called his hotel in New York and left messages, each time, wishing I could just talk to him. I called Missi, his wife, again, to tell her he was safe, because Joel had no way to call her. They had just settled in an apartment outside Pittsburgh, so he didn't know the number. The only number he had was mine and my parents. Finally, they connected.
After making his was though the city and the chaos he got back to the hotel. He told me they had been in the second building that was hit, that it took them nearly three hours to reach their hotel. As we talked to him, Mom and I cried even more.
Joel said it was the fastest he had ever run in his life. He said that by the time the second plane hit, he and another trainee were near the church, which sits to the northeast of the trade center. Too close for comfort.
My brother is alive, and for that, I thank God every day. We found out later the training was on the 61st floor of Tower 2.
I still cry not for my brother, but for all those who werent as lucky. For those who still dont know. This has changed me in a way I'm not even sure of, as it has many people in our country. Maybe it has given me greater respect for life, not taking things for granted, realizing that petty things dont really matter.
My parents and I are driving to Pittsburgh on Saturday. We know Joel is safe, but all we want is to see him and hug him. For a very long time.

Bryant Park, the chars represented the number of people lost on 9/11
Part II
A year later...

One year ago, smoking a cigarette saved my brothers life. One year ago, I experienced the longest and worst day of my life.
We all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard that the World Trade Center towers were hit by two hijacked commercial airplanes. Next, a plane struck the Pentagon. Then, a fourth plane crashed southeast of Pittsburgh.
It seemed as if the entire world were coming to an end.
I was in my living room, using the couch as a crutch, afraid that if I let go, my heart, mind and life would fall apart.
Last September, my brother, Joel, had stepped outside Two World Trade Center, the south tower, for a cigarette break. He began three weeks of training for his new job at Morgan Stanley that Monday.
Sept. 11 was his second day at work.
When my brother decided to return to New York a year later, he knew without question that I would be going with him. Its been five years since I've been in New York City. In 1996 I spent a year working in New Jersey and spent every weekend I could in New York, soaking up the culture, the people, the places. I had been at the top of the World Trade Center towers, where the only sound you could hear was the wind.
Today, my brother, his wife, Melissa, her sister, Tina Proudfoot, and I exit a subway station onto Canal Street, and head toward the site. Flowers, flags and photos of friends or loved ones cover a fence surrounding a church that sits next to Ground Zero. My eyes keep searching for something that is no longer there.
Were standing at Ground Zero.
Vendors line the street selling American flags, patriotic T-shirts, buttons, banners and photos.
Surrounding the 16-acre site is a 13-foot fence covered in a mossy green mesh. At one corner and side is a viewing area. We enter the site, and my brother tries to describe where he was, but he cant finish. We walk to an opening. Part of the way through, my brother looks out over the hole, a gaping space of what used to be the World Trade Center. He puts his arm around his wife. In the distance, bagpipes play "Oh Danny Boy".
Tears slide down his cheek as he looks back at me. I cant help but cry myself. I walk over to him and kiss his cheek.
Today, we realize how close he really was to the horror.
We search around the site, looking for the statue of the businessman eating lunch, only to discover its been removed due to the devastation, and the small park it was in, torn down. We wander around the city for the rest of the afternoon, visiting such sites as Times Square and the Empire State Building. We watch the city in motion. The scenery has changed a bit, but its the same great city it has always been. Later, we stop for dinner at Annie Moores, a small Irish pub near Grand Central Station, before we catch the train back to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where were staying. When we were standing next to Ground Zero, it was very hard for my brother to try to describe what had happened to him on that day a year ago. But the more hours that passed, the more he talked about Sept. 11, 2001.
At dinner, Joel talked about the people standing, mesmerized by the unbelievable horror and hearing windows break from falling debris as he ran.
The noises were incredible and peoples reactions were incredible, he said. Its something you cant explain.
Joel said he saw both buildings get hit by the planes, and he felt the earth shake beneath him when they crashed to the ground. He talked about the surreal nature of an empty city.
Our return to New York City helped us put an end to a day that will be forever a part of our lives, a part of everyone's lives.
It was good for me, Joel said. It was good for all of us.

Wall St, covered in the Red White and Blue

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