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Your Memories of 9/11
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To mark the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, readers and staffers are sharing their stories: where they were, what they remember, and how the events of that day changed their lives and their countries.

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Across the Street From the World Trade Center

On September 11, 2001, I was 7 years old, and my second-grade teacher called a class meeting to explain that two airplanes had hit the twin towers in New York City, about 25 miles from where we were in northern New Jersey. I remember raising my hand and asking how there could be a plane crash on such a sunny day. The pilots just not seeing the towers, an honest mistake, was the only explanation I could fathom. I don’t think I knew what terrorism was then, but now I wonder if it’s something today’s American 7-year-olds know too well.  

Many parents in my hometown of Ridgewood, including my dad, were among the thousands of people who commuted into New York each day. In 2001, my dad was working for Merrill Lynch in downtown Manhattan: His office stood opposite the World Trade Center. I am extremely lucky that, when my mom took me home from school that day, he was waiting there, unhurt.  Since he is very reserved by nature, it wasn’t until this week, 15 years later, that I finally got his account of what happened. A condensed transcript of that conversation follows.


Emily Goldberg: How did you find out about the planes hitting the towers? Did you hear it or see it?

Ken Goldberg: I was in at work well before anything happened. I remember noticing, before anything happened, that it was a really nice day. When it first was announced, people were talking about a small plane hitting one of the towers. So that was the initial story, which seemed strange at the time because it was a perfectly nice day. The first plane, I found out about it on our newswire about the markets. After that, no one really knew anything and no one was overly focused on it. Then, when the second one hit, people knew it was an attack. When the second plane hit, people were running towards my office to say that they either saw it or felt it. Then everyone started walking down the stairs. We were on the 19th floor.

Gary Hershorn / Reuters

Everyone seems have their own story of the 9/11 attacks, and I recently asked readers to share theirs to mark the 15th anniversary. I got responses from people who on that day were all over the world: in New York and nearby, in DC, elsewhere in the U.S., and in other countries. This first set of responses comes from people who were near the geographic epicenter of 9/11’s most devastating strike, on the World Trade Center.

One reader had an office on the 14th floor of the World Trade Center, but he happened not to be in the office that day:

Our firm had a telephone system which allowed people to call your office number and have it immediately connected to any number you desired. This allowed most of the staff to work remotely, whether from home or on the road. So, this particular day, none of the senior staff members were in the office, whether at home or traveling.

September 11 was the first day of school for some schools in the area. Our office manager was taking her daughter to school that morning, so she was not in the office that morning either.

While we suffered no casualties in the attack on the WTC, I have friends who died in the attack.

I wrote this email to my goddaughter, who grew up in California, on August 28, 2006. She was 10 years old at the time, and she had asked me where I was on September 11, 2001.

So on Sept. 11 I woke up early so I could go vote that morning. I did not turn the TV on since I wanted to get out of the house soon. I walked to the polling station (where you vote) and voted. Then I took the train to work, as I always did. [I lived then on West 176th Street  in Washington Heights, one of the northernmost neighborhoods of Manhattan—I had grown up in the Bronx. I worked at Urban Latino magazine, down on Varick Street in the West Village, about 30 blocks from the World Trade Center. That meant I had to traverse the length of the island daily.]

When I got about halfway down on my way, we stopped at one of the stations along 42nd Street, which is the center of the city. The conductor announced that the train was being held in the station because a small airplane had crashed onto the antenna of the World Trade Center. All the passengers in the car started grumbling since we were all going to be late for work. So I decided to get out onto the street and take a taxi the rest of the way.

When I got up on the surface there were a lot of people walking in every direction and many of them huddled in groups talking about something major that had just happened. Then I saw some people, especially women, running up the street away from downtown. So I got nervous and checked how much money I had in my wallet. Exactly $2! Not enough to get me to work or home. So I started walking toward the bank, which was closer to the center of Times Square.

As I got closer to Times Square there were many more people in the area—thousands—and traffic had stopped. Everyone was looking up at the giant television monitors on the sides of the buildings in Times Square. CNN was on and they were showing video of a plane hitting one of the towers. I was stunned. It was so surreal and unbelievable. And it was happening about 50 blocks away from where I was standing.

I was nowhere near New York or D.C. on September 11, 2001. I was a senior in high school in suburban St. Louis, and when I woke up that morning I knew the date was significant—not because of what would happen on the East Coast within the next few hours, but because I’d started dating my high-school sweetheart exactly a year before, and “9-11” was a handy way to remember the anniversary.

That day changed the course of life—and in 2,977 cases, ended it—for many people, whether they were high-school students in St. Louis, or window-cleaners in Manhattan, or generals in the Pentagon, or farmers in Afghanistan. For some of us with the luxury of a far remove, the significance wasn’t immediately clear. I remember fiddling with the radio in my Volvo on the way to school, hearing something about “top floors are on fire,” and switching to the oldies station. By the time I got to my first class, U.S. history, the television was on in the classroom and Ms. Fairbank was gesticulating with the remote. I assumed, watching smoke pour out of the buildings, that everyone must have gotten out; it just didn’t seem possible so many people could die, all at once, in America. I didn’t really get that something truly enormous and horrible had happened until my mother called me, on the classroom phone as I sat in physics right before lunch, to say everything was going to be all right and she and dad loved me, and it would be wise to get gas on the way home.

Everyone I’ve talked to about it over the past 15 years seems to remember where they were that day. There were those who lost loved ones, and those for whom the attacks determined the future in other ways: They joined the military, got into politics, or ditched stable jobs to go document the “war on terror.” And these were just the Americans; Afghans I met in Kabul 10 years after the attacks had seen their lives completely transformed, for good and ill. There were little girls marching to school on dusty mornings as they hadn’t been allowed to under the Taliban. There were new job opportunities and a flood of foreign aid. There were also suicide bombings, humiliating night raids into Afghan homes by American special-operations forces, spiraling corruption, and thousands of civilians killed, predominantly by the Taliban but also by coalition forces and those loyal to the government.

How did September 11 change your life, or your country, wherever in the world you are? What are your memories of that day and the aftermath? How are you marking the anniversary, and how has your perspective on the events of that day changed over the past 15 years?

Write to us at hello@theatlantic.com to share your own experience. I’ll curate the responses in a series of posts to mark the 15th anniversary of the attacks.