My husband drove me to work that day as usual. I was an Assistant Principal at an elementary school in The Bronx. We were not yet aware of the horror at P.S. 67. There was announcement, “Ms. Paris. Come to the Office Immediately.” As I ran down the stairs, staff in passing said the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. The day came to a halt as too many lives also came to a halt. We could not dismiss the children because there was likely nobody at home to care for them. They might be working or grocery shopping or. . . We had to keep them calm as the news continued to filter in about the tragedy that was occurring downtown in my city. There was misinformation circulating, including the belief that one of the children’s father had been killed in the attack. Staff was also affected. One of my teachers was in tears because one of her dearest friends worked in Tower 1.
We organized children by grade and then class in central areas as frantic parents started to arrive to pick their children up. My colleagues and I were able to make sure that all children were taken home by an authorized person in a fairly short time. My colleagues included aides and secretaries who checked student records to make sure that those records indicated that a person other than a parent was allowed to escort the child home and made numerous phone calls when an authorized person wasn’t available. The custodial staff made sure doors were secure and helped teachers calm nervous children. Only a few educators were on the front line, but school staff also did a remarkable job that horrible day.
Once all the children were gone, we all began to think how we would get home to our own children, husbands and wives. One of my colleagues, who also lived in Manhattan, had a car. We thought we could just get home, but it wasn’t going to be that easy. It took a long time, but we were finally able to get to one of the bridges which carry traffic to the borough we all call “The City.” But when we got there, we were told that no cars were being allowed on any of the Manhattan bound crossings. We abandoned the car in The Bronx and walked across the bridge, eventually finding a livery car to drop her in Harlem and me on the Upper West Side. We were unable to reach our husbands to let them know we were OK. When I finally got home, it was as if I had been away forever.
My husband was home that day waiting for the super to do some repairs in our apartment. The super had come up excitedly telling my husband to look out the living room window from which we had a view of the Twin Towers.
In the days that followed, we heard all of the stories being told on the news and by friends and acquaintances. We heard of the two sons of one of our friends who walked out of the Financial District
for several miles covered in toxic dust. We heard about a friend of my husband’s daughter who was killed in the Twin Towers. And we heard about an acquaintance of my husband’s boss who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and had gone to his office on his day off to pick up golf clubs. He too was killed.
3,000 lives were ended that day by a group of fanatics led by a lunatic. 3,000 people from all walks of life that were just doing what they did, going to work, seeing clients or visiting a New York landmark. More lives were damaged by heroic efforts to save people or by just breathing the toxic air. How could this have happened? Why did it happen?
People with far more information than me have been unable to answer. What I am able to answer is the question, “Where were you on September 11?” No year is necessary. And the answer is something I will not forget. Neither will any New Yorker who was here on that infamous day, or, for that matter, anyone else who was anywhere.