Tuesday evening while eating dinner with my family, my brother tuned in Spike Lee’s new documentary series on 9/11.
As we saw the stories of survivors and images of the moment that shook the world, it also shook my core because my family and I lived in New York City and witnessed it.
After 20 years, we are still talking about it. It affects my parents and brothers the most because they were older and have stronger memories. We lived in College Point, an area of Queens, about 18 miles from lower Manhattan.
I remember being in my second-grade class in PS 129 and being one of the last of my classmates to get picked up. I had no idea what was going on, other than my mother telling me to walk fast. I could see the smoke coming up from the skyline.
By the grace of God my father and uncle, who were working close to the site of the attack, are alive. They worked for Rosenwach — a company in Queens that does general repairs on the water tanks of the buildings.
He worked in Queens, Bronx, Manhattan, you name it. The morning of 9/11, they were scheduled to work on a water tank in the first tower that was hit.
By luck, the job was canceled. So they went on to work in another building that my father said was on East 69th Street — seven miles from World Trade Center near Central Park. After the first plane hit, they evacuated immediately.
My father and uncle couldn’t communicate with my mother, public transportation was shut down, the only thing left was for them to walk home. There was a point when he was crossing the bridge from Manhattan Island to Queens and people were pushing in fear that the bridge would be the next thing bombed. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case.
On the other side of the bridge my mother was stressed, scared and worried. So many things were going through her mind when her mother called her from El Salvador.
My grandmother said “get the children and anything you can take and get out of that country,” my mother said. Of course my mother couldn’t at the time.
The attack triggered traumatic memories of El Salvador’s civil war for my mother and grandmother. My mother said, “Again, that’s it, we are at war.”
She said, “I thought your father and uncle were already dead.” She knew they had to work at the towers, but of course there was no communication between the two — my mother was calling his work, his manager and anybody that she knew who had a phone.
My mother told me she would go into the bathroom and cry about it. She would hold her cry and screams into a towel so I wouldn’t get worried.
My mother left me with a neighbor and went out to find my two older brothers who also were coming home from school. She ran into the oldest (he was in ninth grade at the time) and told him to go home to be with me.
She said she cannot remember if she found my second oldest brother, who was in seventh grade, because it happened so fast — he got home safely.
Roughly it took them an hour to get home, when on a regular day it would take them 20 minutes. As for my father, it took him five hours to get home.
It took me 20 years to actually talk to my parents about this day. As I was interviewing my parents, my mother was shaking and crying. My father, who rarely shows emotions, teared up in remembering what he went through.
I was only 6 years old when this happened, but now that I am 26 there was something in me that I needed to share.
From my perspective, it is more of a “what if” story. What if my father and uncle had to do that job? Would they be alive still to share their part of the story?