I cannot say that I know what the families who lost a loved one on Sept. 11 are going through because I do not. I would like to tell you how it feels to survive.
I was drinking coffee and speaking to my co-workers at our office located on the 14th floor of Two World Trade Center, the south tower, when the first airplane hit the north tower. We heard two or three explosions, the office kind of shook, and when we looked out the windows we saw what appeared to be burning paper falling down. We immediately started for the stairway. I was so terrified that I left all my belongings behind because I thought the problem was only in the north tower and we would be able to return later on.
The stairwells were already crowded with people from the upper floors trying to get down the stairs. I was so scared, and I kept telling myself: only a couple of more flights to go. I also thought, I cannot die today, my two small sons need me.
We got to the bottom of the stairs and waited in the lobby right in front of the revolving doors that lead to the plaza. The ground was littered with gray papers. Later on I realized that those burning "papers" were actually debris and pieces of the airplane. Many people tried to use their cell phones, but most could not get through to anyone.
Then, a security guard ordered us to run outside, so we ran outside and crossed the street. I cannot remember exactly where I was standing when the second plane hit, but what I vividly remember are the people falling out of the windows. That's when it hit me that this was serious, that a lot of people were going to die. I remember seeing a well dressed man falling to the ground and I thought, this man is someone's husband, father or grandfather, and someone's son. Watching him fall broke my heart.
Right before our eyes, the other plane crashed into the second tower. That was when I knew the crashes were deliberate. We ran as far from those buildings as we could. We walked across the bridge terrified that the bridge might be blown up also.
I got home a little after 7 p.m. The first thing I did was hold my sons. As I held them I thought of all those children who would never see their parents again, the wives and husbands who would never be seeing their spouses again.
The first week after the attacks I had no place to work, so I stayed on my sofa feeling numb and depressed. I would sometimes think that the whole thing never actually happened, but then the images of those planes hitting the towers would bring me back to reality. I did a lot of crying. When I actually had the courage to leave my house, I had to turn back home because I burst into tears at the sight of the fire department.
I had nightmares for the first couple of months. These nightmares always involved my children or me being trapped under a collapsed building, or airplanes crashing on my street or backyard. I had lived near J.F.K Airport for five years, and now, all of a sudden, the sound of the planes terrifies me. A couple of times I grabbed my children and ran into the basement to hide because I thought the planes were going to hit the house. I cancelled my vacation because the thought of boarding a plane made my heart beat fast and my stomach hurt.
Thunderstorms sound like explosions to me now. I am easily alarmed by any type of siren, alarm or noise. The holidays are torturous because I can only think of those families whose holidays will never be the same.
I am only 29 years old. Young people are supposed to feel invincible, death is supposed to be a minor concern. But so many young people, under 30-years-old, died on Sept. 11. I no longer feel safe, secure or invincible. This is my story.
Catherine Jameson is a psuedonym for the writer, who wished to protect the identities of her children. She worked at the World Trade Center.
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