Remember.

A week from this Sunday marks ten years since one of the greatest American tragedies in recent history.

For me, it started long before that.

February 26, 1993.

When I was a child, I participated in beauty pageants. In 1992, I had won the All-Star Kids pageant. As reigning queen in my age division, it was my “duty” to return & pass my crown on to the next year’s winner. The ’93 pageant was being held at the Marriot World Trade Center hotel.

Mom, Dad, & I arrived in New York City mid-morning. We parked in the underground garage, below the hotel. As we entered the lobby of the Marriot, we saw a large sign beckoning us to visit the observation deck of the South Tower. We briefly considered it, but having travelled all morning with a 6-year-old, Mom knew that lunch was going to be needed in the very near future. We checked in & a young bellhop helped us find our room on the 11th floor. Soon after arriving in our room, Mom realized we’d forgotten one of our bags in the car, so Dad left to get it. While he was gone, we started unpacking some of our stuff – the pageant held a door decorating contest, & we had posters to put up! When Dad returned with our wayward bag, it was decided that he would go to the Burger King a couple of blocks away & get lunch. After he (again!) departed, we set to work decorating.

As we were hanging our posters & debating on the placement of one of those (creepy) fake birds, two housekeepers stopped to chat. They were very excited about the upcoming pageant & Mom, ever the “Pageant Mom” was just as excited to tell them ALL about it. After just a few minutes, we heard an unbelievable BOOM. Looking down the hallway, it seemed like the walls were buckling in & out & the floor was rolling like your hand out of the car window in the wind. My mom’s first thought was an earthquake, having lived in California for many years, but we were in New York City! The building stopped moving, & I remember one of the housekeepers telling us, “Just wait a minute, the emergency system will come on & tell us what to do.” About 15 seconds later, the emergency system did indeed tell us what to do, & that was, “Evacuate the building in an orderly fashion. Do not use the elevators.”

I remember the door to our room was closed. Mom jammed the key into the slot & ran in to grab our coats, while the housekeepers yelled at her to leave them. Thank whoever-you-believe-in that she didn’t, because it was COLD outside. Mom had our coats in one hand & me in the other, & we ran to the stairwell.

I remember the trip down pretty well. Mom had ahold of my forearm; she was taking the steps two at a time, while hauling me along & I probably caught every third or fourth step (she was practically carrying me). When we first got to the stairs, Mom voiced her fear that in the chaos of evacuation, I would get run over by others. The housekeepers told her not to worry – they would protect us. One went down ahead of us, the other stayed behind. I don’t remember seeing anyone else evacuating with us, we were out so quickly. The smoke hadn’t even reached the ground level yet.

When we reached the plaza, it was a solid sheet of ice, several inches thick. The housekeeper in front of us ran out into the plaza, making it about 15 feet before she slipped & fell backwards. She hit her head on the ice. Mom carefully guided us out to her, & attempted to help her up, but she was still clutching my arm & our coats. Several people passed by without helping before someone finally stopped. They assured Mom that they would get her medical attention, so we made our way across the plaza, away from the now-steady stream of people exiting the building. There was a tiny, three-sided ATM kiosk, where we took refuge from the bite of the wind. We began scanning faces, searching for my dad. At that point, I’m not sure if Mom had an idea of what had happened or not. But I know she was worried that he had gotten stuck in an elevator since he hadn’t been gone very long before things started happening.

At one point, we saw our bellhop in the crowd. Mom flagged him down & asked if he had seen my dad. He hadn’t, but he promised to let him know we were safe if he did. I don’t know how long we stood there. Smoke had started pouring out of the doors, & as it reached higher & higher into the Towers, people began breaking windows trying to get fresh air. The glass was raining down on the plaza, so Mom decided we needed to move. I still hadn’t eaten, & despite the events, I was still a 6-year-old during what should be lunchtime. So we decided to walk to the Burger King. We could kill two birds with one stone: see if Dad was there, & get some lunch for me (because Mom had grabbed our coats, she had her wallet – she had put it in her coat pocket when we got out of the car).

Once at BK, it was obvious Dad wasn’t there. I sat happily eating my kid’s meal, wondering why Mom wasn’t touching her fries. Once finished, we began walking. The streets of Manhattan looked much like Times Square on New Year’s Eve at this point. We searched the streets for five hours looking for Dad, taking refuge in store windows when our faces went numb. It was in one of those store windows that Mom queried me, “What do you yell if you see Daddy?” Confidently, I answered, “DADDY!” With more patience & grace than anyone should have in such a stressful situation, she explained that I had to yell his name, as any little girl might be yelling “Daddy” to their Daddy as well. I remember thinking very hard about that, to be sure I wouldn’t forget to use his name should I happen to see him.

After many trips around downtown, we ended up back at the plaza. People were still evacuating from the towers, & thousands of people were in the streets. I was very tired, & very cold, & I missed my daddy very much. But at that moment, a more pressing need became apparent. “Mommy, I need to go potty.” Directly across the plaza from the Marriot stood the Millenium Hotel. Mom reasoned that surely a hotel would have a restroom we could use, so we crossed the street to the entrance.

As we opened the doors to the hotel, a most welcome sight – DADDY! He was standing in the portico, watching the crowd as we had been. After a very exuberant hug from me, he explained that he was at the Burger King when the entire place shook. Within minutes, word had spread that a bomb had gone off at the World Trade Center, so he ran back to the front entrance. The police had already cordoned off the entrances, so he walked around the complex looking for us. At some point, he ran into our bellhop & was told we were safe. A couple of hours after the bombing, the Millenium opened their doors to evacuees. They offered all open rooms to those displaced from the Marriot, & set up a large buffet in one of their ballrooms. Dad went ahead & snagged us a room, then he stationed himself in the portico to watch for us.

The room we were given looked out onto the plaza. As we lay in bed that night, we watched the 10 o’clock news showing people still coming out of the towers & a helicopter plucking people off the observation deck. We were able to look out our window at the exact same scenes.

We spent three days in the Millenium, waiting on firefighters to “rescue” our stuff. I remember going into one of the ballrooms & luggage was stacked all around the perimeter. We had to rent a car to get home because our car was in the underground garage (presumably; we didn’t know if or how badly it was damaged during the explosion). Several weeks later, Mom returned to pick up our car. She spent all day waiting, jumping through dozens of hoops trying to claim it. Finally, she was fed up. They were driving out BMWs, Jaguars, Porsches, etc. & here she was trying to claim an ’86 Oldsmobile & they were acting like she was trying to steal it. They finally admitted that it was one of the only cars in the garage that would start, so they were using it to jump-start the others. She hotly demanded that they give her our car & pay for a hotel room for the night since she’d been there all day. Smartly, they agreed.

I remember watching the trial news, & hearing that four people had been convicted in the bombing. But even at the tender age of seven, I knew it wasn’t enough. I knew that they would come back.

It’s been 18 & 1/2 years since the bombing of the World Trade Center. It’s been nearly 10 years since they fell due to another vicious act of terrorism. While the survivor’s scars may fade with time, they will always be there to remind them of the day their lives changed forever. Those lost will live on in the ones they left behind – in the faces of their children, in the hearts of their loved ones, in the courage to face another day without them.

Never forget them, America.

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