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I was 22 years old and living in my first apartment in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. My parents just moved down to North Carolina that June and my sister lived in Colorado; my brother was living in Rockland, so I wasn’t completely alone, but I kind of felt that way. On September 10, I started a new job as a deck hand on a ferry that went from Glen Cove on Long Island to downtown Manhattan. It was an amazing job, and super easy. We left Glen Cove at around 7:30 AM and got to the downtown dock an hour later so the high-end customers could get to their desks before the morning bell rang at the stock exchange. To reduce fuel costs, we docked at Liberty Landing in New Jersey instead of shelping back to Long Island and waited until the evening run at 5:30 PM. Like I said, super easy, and I got paid for that entire time. It was a great job, on a great day. A friend of mine from school who helped me land the job and I watched the buzzing downtown of Manhattan with the Twin Towers as an amazing backdrop on a beautiful, cloudless day, very similar to the one that followed it when all hell would break loose. September 10, 2001 was a day of promises and new beginnings for me.
I was not scheduled to work the next day, so I slept-in. I was woken up by my phone ringing, several times. Finally I picked the phone up around 10:00 AM. It was my boyfriend — now, my husband — calling me. “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been calling and calling. Your mom even called me.” It takes me a bit to get my faculties together when I wake up so it was a while before I could say more than “Huh, what?” He went on to explain what happened. I know it may seem unbelievable that someone could be unaware that that all hell was breaking loose a mere five miles south of her, but all was peace in my neck of the woods until I heard the military jets flying overhead. When I finally got my TV to work and found the news, I was in shock. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. What do you mean planes flew into the Twin Towers and they collapsed? How is that possible? That doesn’t happen in real life.
I checked my answering machine and saw I had 67 messages. They were from my mom, freaking out and trying to find out where I am. From my sister, my brother, aunts, uncles, and friends, all trying to find me. Friends asking if any of their family members had contacted me. The frantic note in everyone’s voice made it all the more real that wow, this is really happening. I finally dressed, called the ferry office, and told the dispatcher that I could come in if I was needed. She didn’t hesitate: “Come in,” she said. So I threw on some clothes, packed a bag (because I didn’t know how long this would be) and headed out the door.
Even getting from the Bronx to Long Island was surreal. My boyfriend lived on Long Island, so I trekked out there often enough, but they’d shut down all entrances to the city. As I went over the Whitestone Bridge from the Bronx to Queens, I saw the entire Queens side was blocked off by cops; they weren’t letting anyone go west towards the city. I finally get to Glen Cove just as the ferry was docking. The two deckhands on this run were school friends of mine and I asked them how they were. They launched into the story of what they saw, in the way freaked-out people tell a story about a crazy experience. They told me how they were just docking at Liberty Landing when they saw the first plane hit the tower. Their first reaction was “Wow, air traffic control really messed this one up.” It wasn’t until the second plane hit that they realized that this was an attack. The captain told everyone to undock the ferry and head out into the river, where they spent the next several hours plucking people out of the Hudson who had jumped in to escape the debris from the falling towers.
The maritime community’s contribution to 9/11 rescue was enormous and deserves more acknowledgement. My friends and the rest of the shaken crew who had worked that morning were sent home, and the rest of the replacement crew and I hopped onboard with volunteer medical staff and some fireman to head back downtown to see if we could be of assistance. The ferry got to the dock on the east side of the Battery, by South Street Seaport, around 7:00 PM. When we asked if anyone needed the medical staff, we were told they weren’t needed, mainly because there weren’t that many serious injuries on 9/11: people either had minor scrapes, bruises, and smoke inhalation, or were dead. Not much triage was needed. They did take the fireman.
My job was to walk the dock and see if anyone needed a ride back to Long Island. There were many people there covered in dust. Traumatized people, that would come up to me and ask if we were going to Brooklyn or New Jersey but I had to tell them we were only going back to Glen Cove. During those two hours, so many people told me their stories. Everybody had one and needed to tell somebody what they’d experienced. At one point, I was surrounded by a group of five people, all animatedly talking in the way New Yorkers do about what happened, how they all came to this dock, and how they thought they would finally get home.
What I mainly remember was the smell of the city that night. I really can’t explain it but that smell remained downtown for almost a year after. Also, I’ve never seen the city so empty and devoid of life as I did that night. We were by South Street Seaport, which should have been bustling with life on such a beautiful night, but all we saw were lost, weary-eyed strangers looking for a way home.
After a while, we collected a few stragglers and made our way back to Long Island. We still had all the medical personnel who had who had found that they weren’t needed, which was unnerving in itself. We made it back to the Glen Cove Ferry Terminal, but I couldn’t get back to the Bronx, so I was stuck on Long Island for the foreseeable future. I went work at the ferry for the next week as we were “on call.” I asked the captain what that meant and he said we may be needed to fish bodies out of the river. That was not what I wanted to hear, and I dreaded the moment that we might be called into action; thank God we never were.
The fallout that week was horrendous. We had cars left in the parking lot, obviously from customers who’d been killed in the towers, and had to call the family members to pick the cars up. I ended up staying at my boyfriend’s house. During that week, we learned that a good friend of his, a fireman, had been killed, as had a friend’s father, also a fireman. I think that was the worst week, when the missing were determined not to be missing, but dead.
The weirdest part was that, the following Monday, we were back in action. We were on the ferry, bringing the good folks who worked downtown back to the city like we always did. We dropped them off amongst the smoldering ruins of downtown Manhattan, docked at Liberty Landing, and watched the big, smoking hole where the Twin Towers once stood until it was time to pick up our customers and take them home. Life, certainly, went on.
The ferry service closed down three weeks later. It wasn’t a very cost effective service: the fuel consumption was crazy expensive and it was an experimental run anyway. So, three weeks after 9/11, I was unemployed, though everything worked out for me.
September 11 is a weird thing for me: I can’t watch movies about it, I refuse to go to the 9/11 Museum, I don’t look at pictures; I have an intense emotional reaction whenever it comes up, so I just avoid it. But I started thinking that — while this may have been an intense, traumatizing experience for me, my friends, my family, and anyone else who was in New York that day — my kids know nothing about it. They don’t even know the Twin Towers even existed, except in pictures. It’s strange, and it made me realize that I am going to have to get over myself when they’re old enough, take them to the 9/11 Memorial, and tell them about what happened. Tell them who did it, and what we experienced We mustn’t forget and the young people need to know what happened.Published in