The Day That Changed My Life Forever

I originally posted this editorial on Epinions seven years ago today…
The Bottom Line As a New Yorker, this is something that is hard for me to grasp and something I’m still not quite ready to accept.  

Dionne: “Hello?”
Candice: “D”
Dionne: “Candice?”
Candice: “Turn on the news.”
Dionne : “What?”
Candice: “Turn on the news!”
Dionne: “What time is it?”
Candice: “JUST TURN ON THE NEWS!!!!”
Dionne: “What channel?”

At the exact moment that I turned my television to Channel 4, I saw the second plane crash.

Dionne: “I gotta go. I gotta call home!”
Candice: “You can’t; all the lines are down; no one can get through.”
Dionne: “Well, I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later.”

As I sat in my dorm room, all the way in Anchorage, Alaska, all I could think was, “I should be there.” I felt as if I betrayed my fellow New Yorkers by being so far away.

I was numb. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe what was unfolding right before my eyes. I kept thinking that this had to be a dream. That’s the only sane explanation I could come up with. There’s no way this could really be happening.

I sat in the middle of my bed Indian-style, rocking back and forth, watching the television. I don’t even think I blinked while I sat there. All I knew was that the tears kept flowing. I was scared and all I could think about was my family. The fact that I couldn’t get through to them on the phone made things even worse. All I could do was sit and watch.

Boy, was I in a predicament. One week earlier, I started a new job as Student Activities Coordinator and things seemed to be going very well. I thought the world was my oyster. But sitting in my room around 5:30 to 6:00 that morning, I didn’t even know what to think.

I think Candice and I kept calling each other that morning updating each other on our progress and to be each other’s support. I remember just sitting in my room completely dumbfounded as they kept showing the footage of the second plane crashing. Then, the first tower went down. I was frozen for who knows how long. I thought to myself, “No way…no freaking way!!!” A friend of mine who was one of my fellow Resident Advisors stopped by my room to see if I was OK, and at one point got me out of my room. She knew I was in Alaska all alone and this had to have been hard on me. Ultimately, I knew I had to be in my room, just in case my mom or my family tried to call. For some reason, I felt that being alone in my room made things a little better, if that makes any sense.

Eventually, I got in touch with my dad and he told me that he and my brother were fine. He was actually on the road getting ready to make a delivery when all traffic from the bridges was diverted. He told me that mom was at work. At the time she worked in a Harlem department store and that day got to work earlier than usual. But I still couldn’t get in touch with her and that’s when I really began to worry. I remember crying on the phone to my dad saying that I should be there and that I was sorry and he kept saying, “What could you have done? You didn’t know this was going to happen and you couldn’t have prevented it. It’s best that you were there.” He knew and I knew as well that had I been in New York at that time, I would have found myself down there somehow, or I may have been working in the area.

A few minutes passed and I tried calling my mom’s job with no luck and then the second tower fell. I think that was when I really lost it and just bawled. I felt like I lost a family member or something. It was still hard to grasp. Watching all those people running for their lives, the smoke charging everywhere, and knowing that there was absolutely nothing I could do made things even worse. The guilt just kept building and building and I honestly felt as if I did something wrong; that even though I knew there was nothing I could have physically done, I should have been there. I still have those guilty feelings today, especially around this time.

I think at some point that day, I left my room for maybe a half hour to go and eat. Everything on campus sort of came to a halt. All the television stations were tuned in to one of the major networks and everyone knew about it. We were close to military bases and at that point, no civilians were allowed on base and the only way to get on base was to have a Military I.D. and/or have someone vouch for you. No one was taking any chances. The airport was closed for the day and everyone was on alert and on the ready.

I remember being in the cafeteria and listening to some of the conversations that were taking place and some of the kids made comments that they had nothing to worry about because they were “up in Alaska.” I wanted to shake some sense into them, and say, “Hey, this affects everyone!!!” But I realized that they were kids and I was at least seven or eight years their senior. It was still a little shocking to hear.

It wasn’t until about 10:00p.m. Alaska time (2:00a.m. New York time) that I finally got in touch with my mom. She told me her ordeal of getting home and everyone at work trying to convince the boss the close the shop. She told me that the smoke from Manhattan reached the Canarsie area of Brooklyn and that it was pretty strong. Not only did smoke make it there, but some of the debris did too. I cried on the phone to her and apologized for not being there and she said, “You know, Dionne, this is one of the times that I am glad that you aren’t home. I know you, and I know the type of person you are. You would have tried to get down there to help or God forbid, you were working in one of the towers. Don’t you feel guilty about not being here. I thank the Lord that he has you there.” All I could do was cry because I knew she was right.

I think one of the main reasons I still feel so guilty is that in July of 2001, I was home and I visited the city and was taking pictures. I remember my brother was with me and we were at Rockefellar Center and I was thinking that it was a long time that I hadn’t walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to go home. I would have made my way down there and taken pictures of the downtown skyline to bring back to show my Alaska buddies. But, my brother and I were really tired, we were in the city for a while, and I thought to myself, “Well, it’s not like they’re not gonna go anywhere. I‘ll be home this Christmas to take pictures.” I distinctly remember thinking this and then two months later watching fate take over. How I wish I had gone down there that July. But I guess that’s the beauty of hindsight, huh?

For a long time, I didn’t even think I would write about this. It was too personal and I wasn’t ready to accept the fact that the towers are no more. I still haven’t come to grips with it yet. Right now, as I write these words, all the feelings from two years ago are creeping up again and I can’t help but cry. In fact, since the attacks, each time I’ve been home, I haven’t visited the site. I think if I was to actually see Ground Zero that would be when it would really hit and I’m still not ready for that. I also need to have reminders of the towers because in a way, that helps to keep their memory alive. I bought a vertical panoramic of the Twin Towers and part of the proceeds went to the September 11th Fund. It will be on display in our living room for everyone to see.

But each day gets a little better, although around this time it gets hard. I have to be thankful though. I was one of the lucky ones. All my family was safe and no one that I knew of really got hurt. Also I have a wonderful fiancé who understands how I feel and is there for me when I need him. But still that guilt likes to creep up on me.

So, what is my point writing this? I don’t expect anyone to read this or even rate it. I don’t expect to become a Top Reviewer because of this. I don’t expect anything. I simply wanted to finally put my thoughts in print about how losing the World Trade Center made and makes me feel. This is just a healing process, so to speak. This is a way for me to kind of come to grips with things. Yes, it’s been two years, but there are days when it feels like it’s happening over and over again. I just hope and pray that one day I will be fine with it.