This Sept. 11 finds me in a completely different life from the Sept. 11 of 2001. It has been years since I’ve ridden a subway, went to a Yankee game or stood in line at TKTS to catch a Broadway show. I am now a wife and mother living outside of Saratoga Springs in upstate New York.
I still think of 9/11 with a heavy heart. I still cannot make sense of the day or understand how people can feel such hatred and cause such destruction. The examples of strength, determination, generosity and focus that I witnessed on 9/11 will continue to be some of the best examples of human spirit I have ever witnessed.
I was in Manhattan. It was my second day of a social work internship at a special-education elementary school, and I was observing in a classroom. The crisis worker came in and whispered to each of us that a plane hit the World Trade Center. I honestly thought that everything was fine because I remembered that a plane had clipped the Empire State Building in the 1940s.
I made my way back to my desk at lunchtime. My supervisor called to me and asked if I had heard. I said I heard that a plane hit the World Trade Centers and inquired how bad it was.
“Suzanne they’re gone,” was her very calm response. At first I did not understand what was gone. As she continued to talk about other planes hitting other buildings, I really struggled to make sense of it. She asked if I had talked to my family and encouraged me to use her phone to call them because cell phones were not working. I started making a mental list of all of the people I knew that had ties to the towers.
I walked across the Queens Borough Bridge the afternoon of 9/11 because the subways were not running, and I desperately wanted to get back to my dumpy little apartment in Queens. It was surreal watching the black smoke billowing from where the towers use to be. Everyone was so nice to each other — offering rides to strangers and bottles of water. None of it made any sense.
Although it has been nine years, the events of Sept. 11 continue to affect me. I still get a lump in my throat if I hear a plane flying a little too low. My heart accelerates if the TV show we are watching is broken into by a special news report. This Monday morning, while watching Sesame Street with my 2-year-old, the station broke in with “a test from the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test.” As the text rolled across the screen, I silently thanked God that it was only a test.
9/11 showed me who real heroes are. Everyday people who were helping their co-workers out of the towers or passing out bottles of water to strangers were heroes that day. Today, I teach my son that hearing a siren is a good thing because it means that fire trucks, police cars and ambulances are going to help someone. Those sirens mean that help is on the way.
I spent that semester as a therapist to children with special needs who were trying to make sense of 9/11. I sat in my graduate classes smelling the burning flesh from the fires at Ground Zero. I rode the subways with armed National Guardsmen at every tunnel. I watched Army tanks cruising down the Avenues. I started therapy.
On May 16, 2002, I graduated with my master’s degree in social work from New York University. I left New York City the very next day. I wanted to stay, but I knew I could never feel safe in New York again. My boyfriend and I were talking about getting married and starting a family and neither of us wanted to build our futures in New York. It was a bittersweet move. We decided to move back to the Albany area of upstate New York where we grew up.
I decided I wanted to continue to work with children and families in crisis. While helping children through post-9/11, I truly felt like it was one of the few things I could do to help in this disaster. Although it was not something I ever saw myself doing, I developed strong clinical skills in this area. I began working as a clinician in a residential program with special education adolescents and their families who have experienced trauma. It was difficult work and I loved it: a career path that I never would have discovered without 9/11.
Nine years later, we are living in upstate New York and have built the lives we dreamed for ourselves as we drove that U-Haul truck out of New York City in May 2002.
I am happy to say I love New York City again. Last March I took an Amtrak down to New York to meet an author I greatly admire. It was this day that I realized how comfortable I was in my beloved city once again. I felt safe. I loved it as much as I did on Sept. 10, 2001. I miss New York all the time. I look forward to the day our children are old enough to show them the amazing city where their parents met and fell in love.