September 11 was the last day I commuted to the World Trade Center. I walked the three blocks to my office, sat at my desk on the twenty-third floor, and logged on to my PC. It should have been a typical day, but it wouldn't be. Everything changed when I heard the sound.
"A plane hit the World Trade Center!" a colleague shouted. We could see the Twin Towers, directly out our windows, and one of them was on fire. We opened a window and took turns leaning out. I grabbed a camera and started snapping photos. A news helicopter hovered nearby. CNN was on, and in the background we could hear it telling us what we were already seeing.
It was then that we heard the roar and jumped back from the window as a United jet hurtled past. It looked massive flying through the concrete canyons of Manhattan. I heard the engine accelerate as the pilot throttled forward and knew instantly that the original pilot had to be dead. This was someone else at the controls, someone evil, guiding the jet with deadly precision at the heart of Tower Two. I hoped there were no others aboard, but I knew that there were. I am about to watch a thousand people die, I thought.
I followed the aircraft as it slammed into the building and vanished into a black, jagged hole. Debris swirled out of the metal gash and the smell of burning things filled the air. Now both buildings were on fire. Impossible. Was I really seeing this? A voice in my head commanded me. Get out. Those people are dead, and more will follow. There is nothing you can do. There is nothing anyone can do. Get out now.
I joined the crowds spilling out on Broadway and realized people didn't yet grasp what was happening. People were streaming north, towards the Trade Center. "I think there's a fire," someone said. "A commuter plane hit it," said another. They don't know, I thought. They have no idea. I feared there could be other attacks, perhaps Wall Street was next. I followed a colleague into the subway near Battery Park and hopped on a waiting train. It was half empty. The same was true for the Path that took me beneath the Hudson. People weren't leaving the city yet; they were still trying to grasp what was going on. But the magnitude could not be grasped; no matter how long one stood and stared at the flaming monoliths. But I had seen all I needed to see.
I found my way into the Hoboken train station. Behind me the city was being shut down. I found a seat on a train that I hoped would take me back to my family in the refuge of the suburbs. The faces that greeted me were shell-shocked, all of them reflections of my own. I sank into my seat as the train pulled out of the station but bolted upright as the city skyline came into view. The towers had collapsed and vanished in a massive cloud of dust, debris, and death.
The train raced ahead and the nightmarish scene receded from view, but failed to diminish from my mind. Within me surged anger, grief, and confusion. I wanted everything to be as it was, I wanted answers, I wanted vengeance. I had made it out alive, but I couldn't escape what I saw.
I never will.