Trigger warning: This post may contain details from the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City that may be disturbing to some.
19 years ago, I was 19 years old and it was a typical Tuesday morning. My parents took the kids to school and went to work. I woke a up a little later to get ready to go to class at the University of Puerto Rico. My alarm had been a New York news station on my TV since I was a kid. I know, sounds weird, but it had been my connection to my life in the city for the last 10 years since my family made the big move from NYC to the island. I went to the kitchen to grab a glass of water, when I got a call on my home phone in the kitchen from a friend telling me to turn on my TV. I ran to my room and there it was. The first plane had already collided with the Twin Towers and I was witnessing, on live TV, as the 2nd plane was ramming into the building.
I thought I was watching a movie. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t even get air. I felt like I was going to be sick, but then I remembered that my cousin was in school right down the street from the World Trade Center and that her father, my uncle, worked at Marriott Hotel, the third building to be impacted by the attack. A wave of panic took over my body and I ran to parents bedroom to grab the phone to call them. I must have dialed every single number in my mom’s phonebook and not a single call went through. I was freaking out, and I called my Mom at work crying hysterically. I stayed in my parents’ room for maybe another hour, watching the TV in utter horror, trying to make out the people running on the screen to see if I could spot a familiar face, but it was hopeless.
I obviously skipped school and called a friend. I went over to her house because I didn’t want to be alone. I cried in her arms for hours until I fell asleep from exhaustion. After I woke up, I started to try contacting family again, but to no avail. I was emotionally drained, so the rest of the day was somewhat of a blur, to be honest. It must have been around 10 pm when we finally hear word of my family in the City. My mom was finally able to get a hold of one of her sisters. My memory may be a bit foggy from the exhaustion and shock, so it’s possible that some of the details might be slightly mixed up so I will have to leave a lot out of this post, out of respect towards my family.
My mom told me that my uncle had been in the lower level of the hotel in the kitchen area when they felt the impact of the first plane. I will leave out the details of what happened once my uncle and my cousin evacuated their respective buildings, but I can say this. Uncle Pedro was a hero that day, he saved lives and made it home “safely”. My family was very fortunate that day and I prayed every day in gratitude for that. He lived another 14+ years before he passed from Cancer he developed as a consequence of the inhalation of materials from the destroyed buildings.
9 years ago, I visited NYC for Fashion Week, and it just so happened to be the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. The city was somber, but buzzing. There was police everywhere in preparation for any possible attack. I had so much anxiety, but I chose to spend time with family and enjoy catching up with them that week. One night we had gone to dinner and my uncle decided to take me to Ground Zero. I didn’t complain, but to be honest, my stomach was flipping and I really didn’t want to go. The One World building had not been constructed yet, so when we got there, the area was surrounded by a chain link fence. I was overwhelmed at the at sight of a place where spent so much of my childhood now looked like a wasteland. I refused to get out of the car so we just sat there in silence. Without looking at him, I placed my hand on his shoulder and I felt the movement of his head bowing down. I wanted to burst into tears, but I wanted to remain strong, for him. We stayed there for just a few minutes, though it felt like an eternity. The ride home was silent. I will never forget sharing that moment with him. It would be the last time we would be in the same space together.
This day will forever be a difficult day for me and my family, but nothing in comparison to those who experienced it firsthand, those who sacrificed their lives to save others and those who lost their lives in this senseless and horrific tragedy.