9/11 Stories

Tracy E. Hopkins

The morning of September 11th, 2001 the sun was shining and all seemed right in my corner of the world. I awoke early and went to vote for a mayoral candidate in New York City’s primary election. When I arrived at the election poll in my brownstone-lined Brooklyn neighborhood, I pleased that there wasn’t a long line of voters as there had been for the 2001 Presidential race.

By 8:45 a.m. my vote had been cast and I was en route to the subway. The G train, one of the trains I rely upon to take me to my downtown Manhattan office building, was notoriously late. This morning, however, the train took twenty minutes—even longer than usual to arrive. The next leg of my trip—on the A train—was also inexplicably delayed. While still in Brooklyn, at about 9:10 a.m. an A train conductor incoherently announced that the train would be taking an alternate route. Sighs and moans escaped from mouths of frustrated passengers. “What’s going on?” we all wondered, some of us aloud. As the train sat stalled in the station for another 10 minutes, a passenger got on the train and calmly announced to passengers seated nearby that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The man’s account was first met by disbelief. “Are you sure?” one inquisitive woman asked. “I just saw it happen,” he explained. The skeptical woman then tried to persuade the man that it must have been a helicopter, because there was a heliport not too far from the WTC. “Maybe,” he conceded. “But something crashed into it.” “It must have been an accident,” I thought to myself and concentrated on getting to work.

About four stops later, the dialogue on the train turned from speculative to hateful. An even more vocal woman, who proudly declared that she was from Trinidad, rationalized that the crash must have been act of terrorism. “I hate those towel-heads,” she said boisterously. “They come into our neighborhoods and take over.” One of the greatest things about New York City, however, is its cultural diversity. Two women of Indian descent, who seemed more preoccupied with the train’s re-routing than with the racist comments bombarding their eardrums were seated in front of me. Offended for them, I moved to another part of the train. At about 9:45 a.m., I anxiously arrived at my destination. I exited the train on 14th Street and 8th Avenue, and per usual, I headed to 9th Avenue to grab a bagel. Then I looked up at the sky. A thick wave of black smoke poured from lower Manhattan in the direction of the World Trade Center. Across from my office building, a small group of people gathered around a truck with its car radio on. A woman with tears streaming from her eyes repeated what the man on the train had reported, “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center.” The bagel could wait. “Surely it must have been an accident,” I thought to myself, my hand covering my mouth in disbelief.

When I reached my cubicle on the ninth floor, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had a direct view of the devastation that had taken place while I was traveling underground. At 8:45 a.m., the North Tower of the World Trade Center had been hit by American Airlines Flight 11, but was still standing. The South Tower, which was hit by United Airlines Flight 175 at 9:03 a.m., had already been destroyed. Smoke and debris filled the otherwise summery air. As we all soon learned, this was no accident. Terrorism had come home to roost in the land of the free and home of the brave. I tried to remain calm, called my loved ones and tried to find a way home. The subways were shut down. Workers gathered around television sets and around radios. But none of us could stop watching the smoke rising from the wreckage of New York City’s once glorious World Trade Center. Then the unimaginable happened. Minutes after the collapse of the South Tower, the North Tower collapsed - burnt to the ground like a cigarette butt. New York City would never be the same. America, for that matter, would never be the same.

The day after the WTC tragedy, New Yorkers tried to regain a sense of normalcy. In between watching endless, gruesome footage of the planes flying into, exploding inside of, and ultimately destroying the WTC towers, I spent time at the Laundromat trying to wash away my uneasiness. At a corner store near the Laundromat, an African-American woman held hands with the store’s Arabic owner - perhaps in an effort to re-assure him that he was not to blame for the evil actions of his countrymen. Two days later, the death toll was estimated at 5,000 victims and the subway ride to work was solemn. Outside, smoke continued to spew from the city’s broken skyline. Yet, the sun was still shining -signaling that where there’s life there’s hope for humanity. For peace.

Tracy E. Hopkins is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn.