On 9/11

Posted in Book's Journey, By Bethany Hegedus | Comments Off on On 9/11

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Grandfather Gandhi Illustration © Evan Turk

Post by Bethany Hegedus

The journey of the picture book Grandfather Gandhi began for me on a cloudless early fall day in Manhattan.

I was wearing a lime green linen coat over a lime green top with black trousers. I don’t remember the shoes, but I remember the rest of the outfit. I never wore it again.

I made it to work, as a receptionist, at One World Financial Center, a bit late that morning. I was to clock in at 8:30 am but I had a headache and was moving slower than usual. I hopped off the Path train under the Trade Towers as I did every Monday through Friday since I moved to NYC three years earlier. I made it through the maze of the underground concourse and I exited Two WTC. I stopped at a fruit vendor to buy an orange before hustling across the bridge over Vessey Street. I had made it to the office at 8:40am. I had just enough time to log in to my computer and grab a cup of coffee from the break room and open the main doors to the 31st floor before the first plane, Flight 11 hit.

One World Financial was all glass. The man in the corner office closets to One WTC stepped into the hallway screaming, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” I turned and fuselage was flying by the sliver of window behind me. I threw open the closed door to the left of reception and repeated his words to the side of the building that faced the Statue of Liberty. As a fire searcher for the company I worked for, I checked the bathrooms and my side of the building and made sure everyone had exited the floor before I did.

The stairway was backed up. There were too many bodies. Some folks chatted, having grabbed their bagels and coffee. Without any news, we didn’t know what had really happened. Word of mouth said it was a small plane and the pilot had a heart attack. I stopped on a floor about ten flights below where I worked, looking for my boss, Maureen, our fire warden. We were to go ten flights and call the lobby. That was our duty, what we were supposed to do.

The floor I entered was a brokerage house. It was all windows, no offices or partitions. I found Maureen. She had worked at the WTC in 1993, at the time of the first terrorist attack on the building, and knew this was an act of terrorism, but I fought that realization until I saw someone jump. And another. And another.

There were so many people on the streets and with the fuselage and now bodies plummeting to the ground we were safer inside, we were told.

We took the elevators to our floor, the second from the top. Once at my desk, I tried calling my parents in Georgia but didn’t get them. My aunt picked up at her place, and had heard what I heard from watching Today—a small plane, pilot heart attack. Then I called my brother, who was in line at the DMV; he didn’t understand what I was saying. He thought I was hysterical, muttering about planes and people jumping. We hung up and I called a friend of mine, an actress, who lived in the Bronx. I got her at about 9:02 a.m. I was trying to tell her I was okay, when the building I was shuttered as if in an earthquake as flight 175 flew right over our building and hit Two WTC between floors 85 and 77 at 9:03 a.m. I screamed; hanging up the phone, my friend not understanding where I was or what was happening.

I made it back to New Jersey, having taken one of the last ferries off the island, sitting with Maureen, wanting nothing more than for her to get home to her son Mikey, who had been born only a few months before premature. It was wanting to see Maureen home to her son, and the not looking up, that had us move so quickly.

I was stuck on the Path train when the Trade Towers collapsed, the one closest to my office building at 9:59am. Eventually, as the Path train rose from underground, someone said “the Towers are gone.” I didn’t believe them but all I saw out the train windows were clouds of smoke. The headache I began the morning with was still there, now only my entire body throbbed along with it.

When I arrived home, I went straight to the bathroom and opened the medicine chest for some aspirin. I couldn’t open it. My hands were shaking. I threw the bottle to the ground and touched my reflection in the mirror. I was alive. I touched the cold glass to prove it to myself. I was here now but I was there. I was just there. How had this happened?