9/11 Stories

Neal Coxworth

It was 8:40 pm in the morning, and I arrived in my office at 67 Wall Street. As I sat down to the computer, a few moments later, someone came in saying “hey a plane just hit the trade center”. This piqued my interest, because I knew planes don’t just hit the trade center on accident, though it was a remote possibility. I had a friend, whom I had spoke to the previous afternoon, my college roommate, and he worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. Myself and two co-workers went outside to take a look. As I stepped out onto Wall Street, I immediately noticed the pieces of paper, reports, and such, partially singed, strewn about everywhere. We worked our way up to the corner of Wall and Broadway, about three blocks from the Trade Center, and saw the smoke coming from the top of the North Tower. There were approximately 300 or 400 people gathered there, gawking in astonishment.

I had been standing there maybe 10 or 15 seconds, when a loud jet sound pierced the sky and the second jet slammed into the south building. The building swallowed the jet whole, leaving the black mark where it went in, millions of shattered pieces of metal showering the street below. There was a second of total quiet, than a tremendous loud report, and the fireball. Pieces of shattered debris fell everywhere, and I could feel the heat of the fireball on my face. My mouth was agape, and I stood there, dumbfounded and completely terror stricken. I forced myself to move, my perception being warped and bent under stress, and suddenly I was aware that everyone who was standing there with me was now running down Wall Street, screaming for their lives.

I had done enough reading, and as I too joined the throng down Wall, several things went through my mind. The first was, I must outrun the debris if the top of the building comes off, there is no telling where it might fall. The second was, I must keep running, there are probably more jets on the way. The third was, everything has changed, and how can we ever stop a menace like this…...everything has changed for me, and for all of us, whether we want to admit it or not. I stood in front of my building at 67 Wall, tried to tell a few people what happened, and then went upstairs, called my mother in Chicago and tried to call my girlfriend, grabbed my bag and left the office. I headed back toward Broadway, walking up, repelled yet attracted to the flaming towers, now belching black smoke like huge spent roman candles. I stood at the plaza(I believe it is Liberty) with the red cube on one end, and tried to call my friend at Cantor. At one point I gravitated toward the police cordon, in a state of shock, vaguely thinking I could help him. So near, yet so far from you Steve. Of course, I couldn’t get through. I stood for a few moments, watching them burn, compelled and dumbstruck, and in partial shock, only two blocks from away. The fires were raging, and moving up the buildings, as all fires do. Debris and metal were strewn about the plaza, and I could not take my eyes off of it. I knew Steve was not going to make it. I knew he worked at the top of the North Building.

I have watched way too much Learning Channel in my time. I knew that intense fire could weaken structural steel. The cops were not saying this, but they were steadily expanding the cordon around the buildings. “Exit your buildings and begin walking North” was the resounding message. I stood there, and said, I must keep walking, I cannot stand here. It was very hard to keep moving, though I did it. The time must have been approximately 9:30. Sirens wailed and blared constantly, and you knew things were bad, because all the cops had a very scared and worried look on their faces. You don’t see that every day. I began walking as fast I could, my head on a swivel to keep looking back at the towers, as though they were beckoning to me. I met up with a man who had come out of the North tower who was working on 50. He was in shock as well, having been knocked from his chair by the impact. He told me he saw chunks of the building fly by his window, and he told his buddy in the office they wouldn’t make it. He went into the stairwell, and said he saw things there that he hoped he would never see again. People with their faces coming off from burns, panicking. He told me that he was trying to make it to 10, thinking he could jump from there. Then he made it to 3 thinking he could certainly survive that jump, and then, by the good grace of god, he was on the ground floor, and walking north with myself. I talked to him for about 10 blocks, it helped me to try and help him. On the street, rumors were going that there was a planned attack on Battery Park, that the Sears Tower had been hit(a very hard one for me) the Pentagon had been hit, and that there were biological agents on the planes.

After a long time, I made it to some bar, in the low 30’s thinking I was clear of danger, thinking that it was an innocuous spot that would not be a target. Apparently, I had walked 35 blocks or so in a half hour. I deliberately stayed off of the bridges, thinking that they would be next. Subways were not an option, not after Tokyo, and they were closed anyway. I went into the bar, ordered a bloody Mary. It was around 9:55. It was on the TV and the bartender was a bit overwhelmed with the amount of business he was getting. I ordered a drink, and several more. Then I saw the first building collapse, and my heart sank, feeling another mini-shock, thinking I couldn’t take another heartbreak. I almost lost it at the bar, but I didn’t. Being surrounded by strangers who managed to hold it together helped…..25 minutes later the second tower went down, and the damage was complete. I exited the bar in a daze, the alcohol barely cutting through the feeling of shock. It was a very intense, bewildering feeling, making it hard to remember where you were, what you were doing…..all I know is that I survived that day, and am eternally thankful…I will also carry the memory of the worst day of my life, of total complete terror, until the day I die.

I had just moved to NYC from Chicago on 6/26/01..but I’ll be damned if those bastards make me leave. God Bless all those who died that day, and my good friend Steve Russin (aka S) I will always love and remember him for the countless good times we had together.

Neal Coxworth