Day Sixty Eight: 9/11

Here is my little 9/11 story.

I was 8 months pregnant with my daughter and sitting on an "R" subway train right below the towers when the first plane hit.

The subways were always crowded in the morning and I purposely caught a later train so I could get a seat, which you think would be an easy task since I was gi-normous. But New Yorkers being who they are, I had a hard time making eye contact with anyone to say "Hey, wanna give it up to the fat pregnant lady?" Waiting 15 minutes for a later train afforded me not only a seat but more easy-going train companions. Smiles and offers of snacks were inevitable, and I [heart] snacks. So the train I was on was a happy train, a less than half filled train, a train with people that made polite conversation. (But sadly no offers of snacks.)

It would also be the last R train to leave Brooklyn and enter Manhattan through the tunnel that day and for many, many days afterwards.

The train had pulled into the Cortlandt Street station, which is located right below the World Trade Center. After the doors opened, there was a loud explosion and the entire train rattled. It sounded and felt like a bomb had gone off, and I immediately thought that a fuel truck exploded right above us, street level. The conductor jumped out of the train and ran up the stairs to see what was going on at the street level while the passengers sat motionless. When he came running back, he starting yelling at the other car operators to close the doors and move the train out of the station as fast as possible. A man asked what happened, and what the conductor said was so unfathomable that I had to hold my breath.

"A plane flew into one of the towers."

The train sped all the way to Union Square, bypassing all the downtown stops. When I got out of the train, a man handed me his handkerchief because I had been crying and didn't realize it. He looked at me, smiled, and told me that it was going to be okay. And then he started to walk quickly down University Place, towards the smoke and the burning tower in the distance. I can only imagine he was running towards a destination where he had family or friends.

My co-workers had congregated in front of our office building, which was located on 5th Avenue between W17th and W18th streets, and had a clear view of the Twin Towers. They all gaped at the scene in disbelief. The North Tower was badly hit, smoke and what looked like floating paper surrounding the air just outside of the point of contact. I couldn't watch and went inside.

The rest of the details we already know: the second plane, the rush of firefighters into the buildings, the collapse of the towers, and the hospital emergency rooms that waited and waited for survivors to come; the expectation of people being pulled out of the rubble and the reality of thousands vaporized in the flames.

We were all trapped on the island of Manhattan. Every subway train except the F line stopped working because of the heightened security surrounding the bridges and tunnels, which meant that most people in the city had to walk home. I have friends that had to walk 15 miles to get home. People who lived downtown had to evacuate. Another friend jumped from a pier near Battery Park onto the last ferry leaving the city wearing only flip flops and shorts. I don't even think he had his wallet.

The idea of walking home with fifty extra pounds of baby made me nauseous. How could I make it home? I waited until the late afternoon to leave, hoping that I could avoid crowds of people pushing and shoving their way onto the Brooklyn Bridge. But it was miles away and my feet hurt just from standing too long in one place. My husband, who left downtown NYC via car just minutes before the first plane hit, was driving around in New Jersey and couldn't cross any bridges or tunnels. He couldn't get to me and I could barely reach him by cell phone.

But I made it home. There was one person left in my office that stuck around and then brought me home. I don't know what her reasons were. Maybe she didn't want to walk in the mobbed streets and figured that eventually the crowds would thin out. Or maybe she spotted the lone fat pregnant woman in the office sitting at her desk and was keeping an eye on her. I don't know and I'll never ask because this woman is a little more than intimidating. And her name is Midori.

Hmm, how to describe her...well, she's smart, tough, beautiful, and probably the most unsentimental person you'd ever meet. No, you wouldn't find Midori cooing over babies or puppies, and she's likely to say something salty at any given moment, but she's a loyal friend. And on a day that I really needed someone to help me, she was my champion. She fought our way onto an F train, berated a fat man into giving me a seat, walked me home from the station nearest my apartment, and made me lie down on my couch before leaving me. She made sure that I was okay.

And after that day, she has never asked for recognition, and she never brings it up in conversation. I actually think if Midori had her way, I would somehow forget it ever happened.

But how do you forget a day that changed your life forever?

So every 9/11, I thank Midori, wherever she is. Midori: you're a total badass and a little scary. BUT I love you. Thank you for being the one person I could count on when the chips were down.

I used to relate this story every year to my Mom, how her daughter and granddaughter were pretty much saved by Midori the Badass. My Mom once told me that she included Midori in her prayers because she was my guardian angel.

I may not be the religious type, but I'm fairly certain that Midori now has an angel looking after her. (Thanks, Mom.)