Editor’s note: Before we had the privilege of caller her our co-worker, Kristy Throndson worked in New York City. She was on her way to the City on Sept. 11, 2001. We asked her for her account of the event. “I worked in mid-town so my workplace wasn’t very close to Ground Zero which was downtown,” Throndson wrote.
In September of 2001 I was working for a software development company whose New York City office was located on 32nd Street and Broadway, on the 33rd floor. I was living in New Jersey and took the train to work every day. The round trip took three hours and though the commute was long, I much preferred it to highway, car traffic. I enjoyed my work; my desk had a great view over the Hudson River and my co-workers were all good friends.
September 11th started like any other Tuesday. I took the train for about an hour before having to switch trains in Newark, New Jersey. I got off the train and moved along with the swarms of commuters heading to the platform at where the train going on to New York, Penn Station would be arriving. We all stood shoulder to shoulder on the platform as the train pulled up, breaks screeching. The whole crowd, like a herd of animals, squeezed onto the train which was already full. I ended up in the vestibule with about a dozen others, pressed up against the door which kept opening and closing as the last passengers tried to fit onto the train, pretty much the same way we did every day.
As we waited for the last few to push their way on, I heard someone towards the center of the car yelling “Let me out! Let me out!”
We all looked at each other. The only way this guy was going to get out was if we all got out first, and that wasn’t going to happen. Somehow, in his desperation, he managed to push his way through. Now he was yelling something different.
“A plane just crashed into one of the Twin Towers! Let me out!” Those who weren’t completely ignoring him were looking at him like he was crazy. I had a feeling he wasn’t crazy.
I looked at the person standing next to me and said, “I think I’ll be a little late to work today.”
The next time the door opened, the guy who had been yelling and I stepped back onto the platform. Everyone else continued reading their newspapers or tapping styluses at their PDAs. The doors closed and that was the last NJ Transit train that went into NYC that day.
The hours that followed were some of the scariest in my life. I waited in a long line at a payphone and called my parents. My dad answered and confirmed that the guy on the train hadn’t been crazy and told me to get on the next train back and to get away from New York City as fast as possible.
A handful of us waited on a train that was scheduled to leave in 20 minutes heading in the direction from which I had just come. We watched out the train windows, in absolute disbelief, as the towers burned, smoke billowing from each of them. Tears streamed down my face. Someone had a radio and when it was reported that one of the towers had collapsed, some in the train car started wailing and crying hysterically. A man boarded and announced that the Pentagon had just been hit. We thought bombs might start falling, or maybe more planes. I pushed my tear-streaked face into my shaking hands and wondered if I’d make it back home.
The train conductor, sensing our panic and desperation to get home, announced that the train would be leaving on schedule, not to panic and that they would get us all home safely.
The weeks and months after September 11th were almost as traumatic.
Armed National Guardsmen and Women seemed to be patrolling everywhere, the smell of the towers burning went on for weeks, and when the wind shifted, the ventilation would be shut off in our building so as to not draw in the toxic, acrid air.
Every morning, walking through Penn Station, I passed a long wall that was plastered with hundreds of heart wrenching, homemade signs; “Have you seen my dad,” “Have you seen my daughter,” “Please help me find my wife” with their last known location (usually downtown, near the World Trade Center) and a phone number to call. I made the conscious decision to pause and look at a different face each day; it was my small way of honoring that person and the tragic, terrifying way in which they had probably died.
The posters hung there, untouched, for months and became almost sacred over time. I believe that wall, with the posters still attached, is now part of the 9/11 Memorial downtown, which I still haven’t managed to visit.
Twenty years later, the New York City skyline still doesn’t look right to me without it’s once characteristic Twin Towers rising high above downtown Manhattan. I don’t think it ever will.