The story of my 9/11

I lived and worked in Midtown Manhattan on 9/11 and watched the entire attack unfold right before my eyes from less than four miles away. This is my story.

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, I left my apartment for my typical morning workout from 7-9 a.m. Eastern time.  As I was finishing my workout, I noticed several gym partisans huddled around one of the TVs stationed around the floor. On the TV, I saw flames and smoke coming from a building looking like The World Trade Center. Under the Breaking News header, the line read “Small plane suspected of crashing into WTC.”

While this seemed puzzlingly odd at the time, none of us realized the gravity of the situation at that moment, and I headed to the showers trying to make sense of what I thought was a one-off situation.

In my rush to get to the office, I didn’t look at the TV or speak with anyone after I went into the locker room to get ready for work. 

As I stepped out of the elevator on the 48th floor at my office at 270 Park Avenue and turned the corner to head to my desk, I looked southward towards downtown and saw not one but two familiar buildings burning in the distance.

My colleagues briefed me that there had been a second plane strike, and this was now believed to be a terrorist attack. 

Not one of us was thinking about working, and strangely I wasn’t afraid at this moment; in fact, a dozen of us decided to climb the stairwell to get a better view from the 50th floor.

I will never forget the moment as I watched the South Tower fall. It is a sight I will never unsee.   

In one moment, there was a burning building billowing out black smoke. 

In the very next moment — strangely, as if in slow motion like a scene out of the movie The Matrix — steel twisted in the haze.  

Finally, a 110-story building came crumbling down. 

Within a few seconds, all you could see was a shroud of billowing brown dust emanating from the World Trade Center site. The entire visible skyline was covered in smoke and dust that was projecting towards us there at 270 Park Avenue.

The only way I can describe it is something out of a movie, because my brain could not process the situation, and I was unable, until much later, to come to terms with the fact that there were actually people in these buildings.        

The sight of the South Tower falling actually wasn’t as haunting as the sounds were. Think of a large-scale construction site, with all the banging and the sounds of metal on metal. As the tower began to disintegrate, I heard the most unearthly cacophony of twisted metal and breaking glass as 250,000 tons of skyline came crashing down. 

For the past 20 years, I suppressed the memory of this sound, until a friend recently “helped” me recall this horrific symphony. I can hear the haunting echoes in my ears now as if I am watching the tragedy repeat itself before me.   

At this very moment, 9/11 became real to me. 

It must have been the same for the others as well, because after the first tower fell, the managers told everyone to evacuate the building and go home immediately.  

That night I had a nightmare.  

As I gasped awake in the dark, I remembered that my dream had something to do with a bomb going off, which made sense, because the sounds of the loud rumbling of the dump trucks traveling express down 2nd Avenue (to offer assistance initially, then to assist in remains recovery efforts) would become a constant part of our lives for the next few weeks.  For me, these memories will last a lifetime.  

Sometimes when I look back, I wonder if life is just a figment of my imagination. Then I realize there is no way I could have possibly imagined that day, and my reality sets in.  For better or worse.    

9/11.  NEVER FORGET.    

Austin Rosenthal enjoyed a 21-year financial services career, first working on Wall Street as an investment banker, then helping redesign European retirement systems alongside a Nobel Prize-winning economist while living in London. He is now a writer living in Austin, Texas.