WTC - the Aftermath

© Tonya Leary 11 November 2001

The afternoon of September 11th and the subsequent weeks seem almost a bad dream in retrospect.  I was on the phone for hours that afternoon and in the subsequent days.  My family, my friends from all over the country and the world were calling to check in.  I was calling my friends in the city to find out if they were OK.  The conversations with my friends and family were to reassure them – I’m OK.  I had all the basic services in my apartment – electricity, water, etc.  My internet connection at home was out, but I had my Blackberry, which allowed me to send and receive email.  I did feel cut off though – no newspaper delivery, my favourite radio station was out – their transmitter was atop the North Tower and obviously was out.  I didn’t own a television at the time – I hadn’t owned one for seven years.  I felt disconnected from information and news sources.  What was going on?

 I was OK in the basic sense.  I was alive; I didn’t know a single person who perished in the attack.  I have several friends who lost friends and loved ones.  I felt lucky to be alive.  I also felt incredibly stupid.  I had walked toward the eye of the storm.  How could I have been so stupid?  I live south of 14th Street - I was now faced with security checkpoints.

 I was worried about Muslims in the US.  How would Americans react?  I was saddened by the fact that I knew bad things would happen to innocent people, again, on our shores.  I worried about Afghanistan – before the bombing even started.  I was filled with sadness at thought that this already devastated nation would bear the brunt of the Taliban, Al Quaeda, Osama bin Laden and US actions.  Those poor people.

 During the first day, the sound of screaming sirens filled the air.  It was almost non-stop.  On September 12th, it was eerily quiet on the streets.  I walked over to the West Side Highway and looked south.  The plume of smoke from the rubble continued.  There were no sirens – this was a bad sign.  When I did hear a siren, I hoped, willed for it to be an ambulance taking a survivor to a hospital.  There were few ambulances heading north – this was a very bad sign.  I felt this overwhelming sadness.  Chelsea Piers had been turned into an emergency services staging area – for about seven or eight blocks the front of this building was ringed with ambulances waiting to head south.  They stood silent – a very bad sign.

 For about two weeks after the disaster, I heard sirens frequently – but they were in my head.  I heard them from the first moment I would wake in the morning.  I would rush to my window and open it¼it was silent outside.  When I took a shower, I would hear sirens.  When I was falling asleep at night I would hear sirens.  I found this rather alarming, but I also thought, this too will pass. 

My brother is a Lt. Colonel in the US Army.  He called me every evening and suggested I needed to leave the city.  These conversations, more than anything else, filled me with fear.  It was like the two of us were trying to get inside the head of terrorist and figure out their next move.  The discussions started out on an intellectual level, I didn’t want to argue with my brother.  After a few evenings of these discussions, I finally had to clarify my position with him.  I wasn’t leaving Manhattan.  This was my home.  If I left, I would be abandoning my home, the city that I love.  When would it be safe to come back?  What about the bridges and tunnels?  I was afraid to be near them.  I was more afraid to leave the city than I was to stay.  I wanted to be in my home, in my city, where my life is.  How could I leave?  New York City is where I want to be and I just couldn’t leave. 

I am a big fan of the subway system in New York City.  It is the most expedient way to get around the city.  I take it just about everywhere, but I just couldn’t get on the subway.  I was suddenly afraid to be in anything resembling a tunnel.  I started using the bus system and taking more taxis.  I was uneasy about moving about the city – where was it safe?  Rumours were flying about – bomb scares at Penn Station, Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building, bridges and tunnels in and out of Manhattan.  I kept thinking, the safest place for me to be is in the city.  What a strange thought – “the safest place for me to be is¼” – previously, this would not have entered my consciousness.  I wore running shoes everywhere and didn’t leave my apartment without a bottle of water, my cellphone, my Blackberry and my wallet.  I had to be able to run if I needed to.

 I have yet to feel anger.  I feel anxious at times – especially on the subway.  Scares are a daily occurrence, so things are definitely not “normal”.  I feel sad – to me, senseless violence against innocent people, is just wrong.  I also know that what I think doesn’t really matter.  It is a very different world than it was two months ago and now it just time to deal.


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