By Danita Trahan – Cumulus Lafayette
I still can’t believe it’s been 22 years now since the day that changed the world. A lifetime ago. It’s still unbelievable. Here’s my story. A story I’ve shared every year for about 15 years.
You know, it never gets easier. You’ll see that repeated over and over. Over the last 22 years that I’ve shared this story. I always preface it with a more recent update. Just because, well, it’s been a lifetime…
And it still never gets easier. It’s been even harder in more recent years. It’s not a holiday or a day of mourning, as I truly believe it should be, so as life goes on, it’s harder and harder to take the morning as I need to. To mourn. To remember.
And to this day, sights of the old Twin Towers can still take my breath away.
The other day, we watched The Money Pit on Netflix. It’s an old Tom Hanks movie and I hadn’t watched it in decades. While we watched, the intro is full of pictures of the Manhattan skyline. The old skyline – Twin Towers and all. That’s the skyline I remember. The one I saw everyday when I took the subway into work. The ones I saw fall with my own eyes.
22 years. Just unbelievable…
Some of you may not know, but I lived in NYC for just under a decade – from 1999 to 2008. So, I was there for 9/11.
Yeah, it still hurts. It’s weird, I know it’s been 18 years, but I can still see and hear everything that happened that day. It’s like it’s a movie playing over and over. Right from the perfect weather. Gosh, it was the MOST beautiful September day. I always tell people to visit in September. You can’t get any better weather than a crisp September day in the City. From the perfect weather, to the most unimaginable day ever. I can’t even put into words how profound it is…to know that I was there on that day. That day that would change the world forever. I literally boarded a subway in the Bronx in one world and got out in downtown Manhattan to a completely different one, all within an hour’s time.
Below is the blog I’ve shared for the greater part of 15 years – give or take. I update it and I post it somewhere, anywhere, every year. This year, I get to publish it here. Sometimes, I’ll leave the dates, just to remember what was going on when. I still can’t believe it’s been so long.
I left NYC in 2007. At that point, Freedom Tower had only recently broken ground. It wouldn’t be complete until 2014. I’ve been back to NYC a few times over the last 12 years and have seen it’s many phases. I went back for the 10 year anniversary and retraced my steps on that day. Most recently, my daughter and I both went to NYC for the holiday season in 2017 and we both visited Ground Zero. I’ll be sharing some of those photos below as well.
Over the last 18 years, so many things have changed and I see it when I go to update it. I mean, in 2001, we didn’t have smart phones. Our phones weren’t depended on for cameras or videos. We didn’t get our news from them, either. That wouldn’t happen for a few more years. So, when I think about the photos that I share from that day, I remember the throw-away camera. The camera that, at the time, didn’t mean much, meant so much more when I got that film developed. I recently shared them with my daughter. Something I hadn’t done yet, and her first comment was about the “quality” of the photos. I had to remind her that these were prints, that came from a negative, from film. Lol. Again, amazing the things that have come in 18 years. And, while the pictures definitely aren’t the best quality, they are something that I will always take out this time of year and I’ll always look at them. And I’ll cry. I always cry. It never fails.
Two years ago, I participated in a 9/11 event thrown by our local art museum in Odessa, TX. This was the perfect way for me to share my story, while also passing along a part of history. Imagine my surprise when I walk into a room and find the interview I had given to the local newspaper, The Odessa American, on the evening of 9/11. In all honesty, I can’t remember talking to anyone, it was all a big blur, but when I saw the article, I was brought to tears. It’s the same story. The same story I wrote down so many years ago. The same story I still share every single year. The same story.
So, here’s my story.
For the past 12 years, I’ve posted this story or a variation of this story as a part of my grieving process. I remember that day more than any other day, with the exception of Bella’s birth. There were things like smells & sounds that I just can’t describe and that have stayed with me all this time. The fear on our faces was genuine. The sadness was true. This is only one of many stories of people who were there that day.
I was fortunate enough to be in NYC in 2011 to commemorate year 10. It was something I needed. Since then, my little brother, Lt. Daniel Maldonado, US NAVY, has gone and come back from Afghanistan, fighting a war that was started all those years ago.
Earlier this year, they put the final spire onto the new Freedom Tower. A move that took over 11 years to complete and something that brought tears to my eyes.
Ever since I saw the Freedom Tower with my own eyes, I have breathed a small sigh of relief. THAT building signifies more than you can imagine. It signifies the tenacity of New Yorkers who were there, who watched, who cried and who persevered….every single day. It signifies the strength of our country. We will NOT back down and we WILL get back up and rebuild. It also signifies the future. And the future is bright!
Every year, this day rolls by and I think that it’ll get easier to handle. So far, I’ve been wrong.
I figured I’d start this blog as a way for me to deal with the pain and hurt and sadness that I’m feeling. Whether in NYC or in any other part of the world, those events on that day have completely changed our ways of life. And for me, have shown me just what it means to be American.
Feel free to repost. Whether for those 3,000 souls who died that day, for those 3,000+ soldiers who have died defending this nation or for the first responders merely doing their jobs, let’s remember the fallen, as well as honor those who continue to serve, with memories of what that day held and what that day still holds.
WHERE WERE YOU ON 9/11/01?
I was (21 years old) living in NYC at the time and working near Union Square. I started my workday @ 9am everyday and I remember walking out of my Bronx apartment around 8am and walking to the train on an absolutely gorgeous Tuesday. I remember what I was wearing and I remember the smell of the bagel shop as I walked past to board my train. It was just a day like any other. As we approached the Times Square station at about 5 minutes till 9, the speaker system announced that trains would be bypassing the World Trade Center station due to police activity. That was all that was said. Nobody was concerned, that’s what happened on New York subways on occasion.
As I got out of the subway, I looked into the sky and commented to myself about the weather. This was probably the most beautiful day I’d ever seen. The birds were literally chirping as I walked to my office. On my way, I noticed tons of people at a local restaurant looking up at a TV. I didn’t know what they were doing, but I figured it had to do with the election going on. Rudy Giuliani was the outgoing mayor and today was election primary day.
When I walked into work, the looks on my co-workers faces were ashen. They had been able to log online and there was a picture of one of the towers on fire. We all looked at the computer with disbelief and a moment later, we lost our connection. Little did we know, but the other tower had been hit. In the office, we didn’t have cable and the only thing we found was an old radio that ran on batteries. We listened with utter shock as we were told that our city was under attack. The subway system was completely shut down.
My best friend worked in Windows on the World on the 106th floor. I started calling her, but our cell phones were already out of commission to any outgoing calls. I could still receive sporadic incoming calls and my boyfriend at the time called me and told me to leave immediately. I did. I walked over to Union Square and saw hundreds, if not thousands of people standing on Broadway on the West side of the park looking up in horror. When I got there, I saw what they saw. The World Trade Center towers were completely engulfed in flames. I joined this mass of people as we could only watch, stare and cry. People were shouting and wailing and holding each other. It was chaos. I ran into a small deli and bought a throwaway camera. As I walked out, I heard a collective gasp and saw the first tower fall. The entire crowd of people reached out as if we were all holding each other. It fell and then…silence. Nobody said anything. People were sobbing and hugging, but no words were spoken. What was there to say? All we could do was listen to the screams of agony and join them. I remember holding onto a man who couldn’t hold himself up and we looked into each other’s eyes and hugged. I still don’t know who that man was.
As time went on, we all stood watching the second tower. I took out the camera and began taking pictures just as the second tower fell. As before, there was another collective gasp and more wailing. I think we all became dizzy. I was able to snap a couple pictures. One prior to the fall; another as it fell and the other where nothing was left in the sky. At that point we knew that life would never be the same. Papers from the towers were floating up the street – memos from jobs, pictures of loved ones, receipts. It was like confetti blowing up from the site. As people fled from downtown, the soot that covered them from head to toe made us all realize that we weren’t in some big-budget movie production. This was real. Very, very real.
Cell phones were completely out of order…all the cell phone towers were on top of the towers. Lines for payphones were blocks long. The subway wasn’t running, so we had nothing to do but to walk. I ran into some good Samaritans who offered their place to me to watch what we could of the news and to use the bathroom. I still don’t know who these people were, just that they invited many strangers like me into their home on 23rd Street and allowed us to grieve with them.
After a while, we heard that the Pentagon was hit as well as learning of another plane that went down in Pennsylvania. After leaving the stranger’s house, I made contact with my frantic family in Texas and assured them that I was okay. I was getting information from them as I made my way back onto the NYC streets. It was a mass exodus uptown as people got away from the downtown area.
As I walked the 80+ blocks to get to a running subway, I passed blood banks that just appeared on street corners and small delis that were giving water to those of us who needed it. People looked into my eyes for the first time and when they asked if I was okay, I know that they meant it. It was the first time that I’d ever seen New Yorkers come together like they did.
It took me hours to get home. Once I got on a working train, it took me to the Bronx, but it was still out of my way home. It took a while for my boyfriend to get through all of the roadblocks that had been erected. By the time I got in the car, I could do nothing but sob. We held each other for a long time and all I could say was “Cristina?” I’d still not heard from my friend and with cell phone service still out, I had no way of getting through to her.
Later in the day, I heard from her boyfriend and all we could do was cry with each other on the phone and pray for the best. Later, that night, she called and all we could do was cry. She called me by our pet name, “Bunnie.” Once I heard that, all we could do was sob. I was so thankful that she was okay. Traumatized? Yes. But she was okay. (I love you, Bunnie!)
The weeks that followed were a blur. I know that I took a little time to become fully functioning again, but with the help of friends and the great city of NYC, I pulled through. That’s one thing that I’ll never forget –the endurance of New Yorkers. In the worst of times, we stuck together and we made it through the darkness.
Now, being back in Texas, I continue to think about my NYC days and on this twelfth anniversary, I remember where I was and what I was doing and how my life has changed since then. I’m now a mother who will have to tell my child what happened there and why. I can only hope that the patriotism instilled in me by my father, will be something that I can instill in my child. And I will never, ever let my baby forget the thousands of brave men and women who have died and who continue to fight every single day for the freedoms that we often take for granted.
To the victims of 9/11, to the heroes overseas in Iraq & Afghanistan, to those local first responders all over the country who continue to serve and protect and to all Americans…may we never forget this day. God bless you all.