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Life Was Changed After Covering 9/11 Attacks

It sounded like it could be a joke.

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before,” my editor in Rockland said.

He told me a plane hit the World Trade Center and since I was the only one on staff living in Manhattan, he wanted me to go there.

I took a cab and, after the driver dropped me off, walked as far south as police would let me. By the time I got there, a second plane had crashed into the other tower.  I stopped on a corner and stared up at the smoke pouring from the buildings I had always considered the most iconic part of New York’s skyline. I looked closer and, not trusting my eyes, turned to the man standing next to me.

The construction worker to my left was right out of central casting. He wore faded jeans and tan, suede work boots. He carried a metal lunchbox and knew what I was thinking.

“Yes,” he said to me. “Those are people. Those are people jumping from those windows.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off them. One after another they jumped to escape what was surely hell inside. It pains me that these people were denied the dignity of a private death, forced to face the last seconds of life with so many people watching. Every year as I watch the televised Sept. 11 memorial, I wonder, while the names and pictures of the victims are flashed across the screen, “Was it you? Did I watch you jump to your death?” I will probably wonder it every year.

I didn’t have much time to think about what they were going through before I heard rumbling. People started screaming and running north as quickly as they could. I joined them and ducked inside a deli.

When I came out there was dust and chaos. A man was wandering around, dazed and bleeding from his head. A woman and I asked the ridiculous question “Do you need help?”  He did and we found it for him.

Throughout the morning my Dad and I communicated as best we could. Later, I read the panicked emails that went between him and my sister, detailing where I was at each moment and what I told him.

After the first tower fell I was somehow able to make it further south than before. I was on the corner of Chambers and Church streets – about five blocks from the towers. Foolishly, I felt safer than before.  I had my notebook out and was talking to a guy my age, Justin, from the Bank of New York, when I heard the rumbling again.

“Run,” Justin yelled. But that time I froze. I could see the tower coming down, each floor folding into the one below it.

Justin told me to run again. When I didn’t move, he carried me around the corner and pushed me into a doorway. A tsunami of dirt, dust and debris blew past us. I found my cell phone service, which had been spotty all morning, was working. I didn’t want to think about the possibility that it was because thousands of people were no longer trying to use their phones.

I called my fiancé, Dan, who had been downtown looking for me. I told him where I was and he told me he’d come get me. I handed my phone to Justin, who wanted to tell his wife he was safe.

Both towers were down and we thought maybe the worst was behind us. On Sept. 11 we didn’t know about the awful days to come. The tanks in the middle of the street. The faces of the missing, smiling down from every light pole, pay phone and bus stop, asking me whether I had seen them. The exhausted firefighters covered in dust that I shared the subway with. The sleepless nights and, worse, the nights when I did sleep and dream.

It’s been 10 years. I’ve gotten married and have two beautiful sons. I’ve had joy and I’ve had loss. But I know I’m not the person I would have been had I not seen what I did. It shaped and changed me. It will always be a part of me.

Andrea Graziano is the managing editor/Westchester copy desk at Main Street Connect.

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