Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cathartic message of 9/11/2001


As stated in my blog entitled '9/11 Ten Years Later' I said I would post my cathartic letter...here it is in its entirety - you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll rejoice in life!:




Recently, a friend asked how I was doing in light of the events of 9/11.


Here is what I told her:


I am working for as a Quality Assurance Engineering Consultant for Siemens Transportation
System. We are designing and installing a Fiber Optic Telecommunications Network for New York City Transit (The Subway). I was scheduled to fly to Israel on August 15, 2001 on a business trip for one week to audit 2 of our suppliers. For several weeks prior to the trip my wife, my mom, my sister and brother-in-law, my in-laws and a multitude of friends compelled me not to go. They felt that the political / social climate in the Holy Land was not safe. My rebuttal to all of their compelling argument was "I think I will be safer in Israel than in my own
office!". Well, I went anyway.


I arrived on Thursday, Aug 16 at about noon with my boss, Raja, a Lebanese native who is a
naturalized citizen of the USA. Raja and I are very similar people, with only one major difference in personal belief, he is Christian and I am Jewish. We decided that in our free time we would travel throughout the country, contrary to both of our families' requests not to leave the hotel.


On Friday we set out for the Dead Sea...a place I like to call the most innocuous place on Earth. Not even the Palestinians want that territory.


After our 'float' in this ancient, body of water with an excessively high level of potassium salts, we began our trek back to Tel Aviv and our hotel.


I was navigating and had an incredible urge to see Jerusalem again (I was there back in 1985), so I took a route that would take us into the heart of the Holy City. I did not tell Raja until we were well over an hour into our trip so he would not decide to turn around. Turns out Raja wanted to go as much as I. So, about two hours before sunset on Shabbath (Friday night - the Jewish Sabbath) we entered the walls of the Old City and parked the car. We arrived at
the Western (Wailing) Wall within an hour of the beginning of the Sabbath. It was quite a sight, watching hundreds of Chassidic Jews marching to the wall to welcome the Sabbath...a weekly, holy event. I, too, partook in saying my prayers at the Wall. Raja observed with detached curiosity but found himself looking on in awe.


That night when we returned to the hotel, I spoke with Sharon, my wife. I told her of the
trip to the Dead Sea. She became quite angry so I intentionally neglected to tell her of the visit to Jerusalem. After we got off the phone I began to get ready for bed when the phone rang. It was Sharon. She asked me to hold for a second and the next thing I knew, my mom was reprimanding at me as if I were a 10 year old again. I intentionally lied to my wife and mom, telling them that I would not travel from the hotel, except to visit our business associates on Sunday through Wednesday. This lie was perpetuated to protect them...I did not want
them to worry.


Of course, this did not deter us from traveling throughout the country. We visited many
places over the next 5 days including Caesarea, Haifa, Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, Jaffa and Jerusalem twice more.


When I returned home I told Sharon, mom and others of my travels. They were angry but
loved the gifts I brought back from Jerusalem and Jaffa.


Do you remember what I said earlier about where I feel safer in Israel?


The reason for that statement is I worked, at that time, in a building complex that had been bombed by terrorists about 8 years ago (I did not work there at the time) and statistically, there was less of a chance of being hurt in Israel than in the World Trade Center. Sometimes I had
being right!


The above information was intended as a preface to my experiences of September 11, 2001.


I arrived at work that morning at 7:55 for a training session at 8:30 am.


I had a several emails to send including the announcement for my annual ski trip. At 8:30 I headed to the conference room...a room on the 30th floor of 2 WTC (Tower 2) that looks out over the World Financial Center and in the distance the Jersey City waterfront. With the blinds up we could see the southern side of 1 WTC (Tower 1). Of course we had the blinds closed and the projection screen down for the presentation. At 8:48 am, as we were making our introductions to the trainer, there was a distressing sound outside the window...it sounded like the window washers rig was sliding down the building at an unusually fast pace. Within seconds there was the smell of burning Kerosene. Just then an office mate, not in the session stormed into the room to announce that Tower 1 was on fire and we were evacuating immediately. I picked up everything in front of me and walked out. I had my cell phone, a note pad and a bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper. I left my briefcase, computer, suit jacket and many other personal effects too
numerous to list in my cubicle.


Well, we began a trek down 30 stories. It was a very orderly descent.


Many things happened over the next 15 minutes. One person on the stair was able to get a cell phone line out. We learned that a plane hit Tower 1.


We assumed it was a commuter plane that got off course or something. I commented to my
associate that all those fire drills during our school years paid off. We stopped a couple of times to assist an older woman who was becoming breathless. This was the most orderly descent in the face of a potential disaster I could imagine. Nevertheless, we reached the second floor, which on the north side exits to street level but on the south side is still one floor above the street. We exited to the south side of the tower and looked upon a war zone. There were papers flying everywhere, all kinds of 'trash' in the streets, cars burning and the sky was as dark as during a thunderstorm. What was missing was people and moving vehicles.


It looked as if downtown Manhattan had been bombed then deserted.


Out of curiosity I walked, with a colleague, to the north side of the building (inside, of course) to see what was going on. As I approached the windows overlooking the center court fountain of the World Trade Center I looked up into a Towering Inferno (just like in the movie) only to watch a body falling from somewhere above. The body (I think it was a man) landed on the other side
of the tent peak over the stage which abutted 1 WTC. At that point I turned to my associate, Hans, standing next to me and told him it was time to "get the hell out of here" so we went to re-join our teammates. We rushed back to the south end of the lobby only to find our team moving around to the south side in the opposite direction from which we were coming. We continued around to where we had just been to begin our descent to the first floor by escalator.
I began walking down the escalator, it was not moving, with Hans and 2 security people behind me...we were the last ones on the second floor as far as I can recall.


About two thirds of the way down the building shook and there was the sound of an explosion, then smoke started to pour out the elevators...I later learned this was at 9:03 am. The second airplane had just struck Tower 2.


I began to 'loudly' urge the people in front of me to move forward and away from the glass. We had to go through the revolving doors into 'The Mall' area. I continued to encourage people to move away from the glass.


As I were walking through the mall, I noticed one of my work associates wandering aimlessly. I approached and said to him, "Brad, lets get out of here!" I noticed many firefighters, police officers and rescue workers (EMS) swarming into the mall heading toward Tower 1. Brad and I walked through the mall, up another escalator toward Boarders Bookstore and out onto the east side of the complex at Church Street. There were already many police and fire personnel directing us to head down Fulton Street and away from the World Trade Center. As we proceeded down Fulton Street to Broadway we kept looking back to see two Towering Infernos now. It was devastating to see.


Our project team's primary office is at 195 Broadway, back to back with the Millenium Hilton Hotel which faces the World Trade Center complex. We arrived in front of that building to meet up with other team members. The Project Director, Peter, gave us instructions. He simply said to us, "whomever you see, tell them to go home and all of you GO HOME!" Prior to Peter's instructions I was debating going back to see if I could help anyone. His statement was a wake-up call to me. I realized that my job at this point was to get home to be with my wife, Sharon and my children, Danielle (almost 7) and Alex (who turned 5 just 6 days earlier).


I headed north, up Broadway continuously trying to reach my wife on my cell phone. I could not get a line out so I decided to head over to my prior place of employment. Argo International Corporation is located at 140 Franklin Street on the corner of Franklin and Varick in the heart of the Tribeca section of downtown New York City. I worked my way toward Argo continuously looking back at the burning towers. I saw something that no photograph could depict. Looking southward toward the north side of Tower 1 I could see the tail of a jumbo jet sitting inside the hole in the side of the building approximately 80 floors up. Tower 2 looked as if it were bombed, not struck by an airplane. I thought this due to the fact that the corner of the building about 65 floors up looked as if it had exploded outward, unlike the imploded appearance of Tower 1.


I stormed into Argo at about 9:30 am. I was not in a regular state of mind (I believe I was in shock) and basically pushed everyone out of my way. I recall being rude to friends but they seemed to understand. I attempted several times to get a phone line out. Finally, I connected with my wife's office. Getting her voicemail I left a message, in an incredibly shaky voice telling her, "I am alive, I am alright, I am at Argo and coming up to her." I must have repeated this over and over for 2 minutes. About 5 minutes later I called again and connected with her. I told her to stay put, I'm coming to her! I turned around a walked out heading north again.


When I reached Canal Street I decided to try the subway. As I headed east on Canal Street I noticed a woman with a subway map trying to find a route home. I stopped and helped her find an alternate route to Brooklyn, away from downtown. I did not remember this part of my story until two days later. I proceeded to the Lexington Avenue line and found the 6 train was still running north, so I got on the next train to arrive. Everyone on the train seemed to be in shock, including me. There was one young woman sitting alongside where I was standing who was crying. She composed herself and told us that her fiancee was on the 102 floor of Tower 1
and she had been trying to reach him for almost an hour but couldn't. When the train stopped at Grand Central Station I walked her off the train. She was much more composed and assured me she would be alright to get to her office. I walked the opposite way to exit onto Lexington
Avenue
. Sharon's office is in the Chrysler Building directly across from Grand Central. I saw her and walked across the street (there was practically no traffic) and took her in my arms. We held each other for a few minutes of relief, then turned to go back to Grand Central in hopes of getting on a train home.


Shortly after we walked into Grand Central there was an announcement to evacuate the station.
So we turned and walked out heading north again. It was now 10 am.


I noticed that my cell phone battery was nearly drained. I called my mom as we walked, to
let her know I was alive. Then my phone battery ran out of juice. We walked to my cousin Grant's apartment to find he wasn't there, so we continued to walk north. I had enough composure to realize that I needed a new phone charger...mine was in my office and I had no idea when I would get back to the office again (we had no idea that the building was no longer standing)...so we stopped and bought a new one. That was when I realized that I didn't have my
wallet...it was in my briefcase, in my office, on the 30th floor of Tower 2.


As we walked we stopped and talked to a multitude of people about what was happening here in
New York. We tried to figure how this could actually happen in New York. Whenever we mentioned that I had been in the World Trade Center during the attack people just reached out and touched me. It took me about a week to understand that this was validation for them. This contact assured them that people had actually survived the attack.


We did have one negative incident with a pompous, arrogant, jerk that will not be embellished here. Otherwise all the people we encountered throughout the day were great. In a word, they were all New Yorkers!!!


At noon we arrived at my Aunt Jo Anne and Uncle Martin's apartment on Park Avenue at 86th Street. Thank goodness my aunt was home. We got on the elevator and proceeded to her 9th floor apartment. We spent the next 3 hours watching CNN, calming down, charging the cell phone and returning all the calls I'd received to this point. At about 1:20 pm I saw my first video of the airplane hitting Tower 2...I got a bit shaky again at that point. Finally, at 3 pm, we decided it was time to head home. We left and walked north again. We decided to go to Mount Sinai Hospital to give blood but, upon arrival, we were turned away.


I was finally feeling hungry, so we stopped for a slice of pizza around 4 pm...this was the first thing I had eaten all day (I'd skipped breakfast that morning). The we began to walk north again. I live in Northern Westchester, approximately 60 miles north of midtown. Sharon and I agreed that if we had to walk all the way home we would. We were actually heading to the Metro North Railroad Station at 125th Street in Harlem. We waited at the station for about 1 hour for a northbound train. At 5:30 we finally squeezed into a Hudson Line train that would take us to Croton-On-Hudson, our station. We arrive in Croton at about 6:45. We had to leave my car at the station. You should, by now be able to guess why...my keys were in my briefcase, 30th floor, Tower 2.


When we got home 15 minutes later, we hugged and kissed the kids like there would be no
tomorrow.


Next day we took the kids to school. My son, 5 years old, and a kindergartener, in his second week of school looked at the mural in the cafeteria asking me if the plane in the mural was going to crash into the school in the mural. I thought I'd lost my mind, but I had to assure him he was safe. Then I went to the school nurse and principal to verify that they were going to 'take care' of the kids and counsel them if they needed to talk or showed signs of distress.


Over the next few days, I went through all the stages of grief regularly discussed by Psychologists. I knew what was happening to me but could not control myself. When I finally broke down and cried over the weekend, I started to climb out of my grief. I'm much better now, but periodically, I have a bad day, like last Friday when I realized that had I stood at the northern window of the south tower for 2 more minutes, I would have seen the second airplane as it crashed into our building.


I learned on Sep 12, 2001 that one of our teammates, Randy Drake, was on the street in front
of 195 Broadway when the second airplane struck. He turned to run and was struck in the back of the head with what was believed to be an aircraft part. It crushed his skull. After two surgeries and 2 weeks, he was airlifted home to Kansas City, MO. His family brought him home and chose to take him off life support. He passed away 2 weeks after the attack. While over
5000 people were lost in this attack, Randy is the only person I knew who was physically injured and eventually perished from the attack.


One thing I've become proficient at in the past month is being evacuated.


I've already discussed the evacuations from 2WTC and Grand Central Station.


On Thursday, Sep 13, 2001 I traveled back to Manhattan to spend some time with my mom while she was receiving one of her last chemotherapy treatments. On the way south the train was held at a Bronx Station for about 1 hour due to a bomb scare in Grand Central. We were asked to wait on the station platform...this was evacuation #3. Friday, Sep 14, 2001 our work team met in Jersey City, NJ for our first of many counseling sessions.


On the same day the FBI was all over Jersey City searching the residences of people
believed to be responsible for the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC (this was not an evacuation but I was starting believe someone was after me). The following Monday, Sep 17, 2001 we returned to work, primarily to continue the counseling sessions. We were given office space at a Siemens facility in Iselin, NJ. Late in the afternoon, there was a fire in the facility, the first in the facilities long history. We evacuated one more time - evacuation #4. Finally, one week after we returned to our offices in midtown Manhattan, the building management decided that our floor, and ours alone, needed to have a fire drill. We were evacuated once again. This was the fifth and last evacuation.


After all that I've been through I must state that I am very lucky.


Friends, family, colleagues and especially my wife and kids have given me the strength and fortitude to go on. I am now back at work in midtown Manhattan, trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild what was lost and move our project forward. Thank goodness for my family and my work. Each give me something to look forward to and a reason to wake up each morning.


David B. Levy


October 24,
2001






1 comment:

  1. David,
    I was gripped by your story. I did not know that you are a 9/11 survivor. I was moved to tears. You are a very good writer. I watched the shows last night about 9/11. Unbelievable and unimaginable. Thank you for posting the Blog. I am Bobby's sister-in-law Alyce. I have met you many times.

    ReplyDelete