Fear, confusion and bravery on the fringes of 9/11

Fear, confusion and bravery on the fringes of 9/11

The Westerly Sun

I was in the Trade Center that morning and lived in the neighborhood of Ground Zero. That day, as most of you remember, was a magnificent fall day — New York that morning could not be more beautiful. I started the day walking Justice, my cockapoo, and spending a couple of minutes with my fellow neighbors. At about 8 in the morning, a group of us dog lovers would have a cup of coffee together and just say hello to each other as our dogs socialized. We had a group of dogs ranging from a miniature poodle to a German shepherd, and they all were happy to greet each other. Battery Park City, the neighborhood of Ground Zero, was and is still a very dog-friendly community.

After bringing Justice back upstairs, I embarked on my day with Wall Street Journal in my hand. The front page had a story about how a woman from Morgan Stanley had won a suit with the EEOC for sexual harassment and discrimination. Her time on Wall Street had been a walk in the park compared with mine (another story, another day), but I was happy that she had won. I was working as a quantitative analyst for a service that my friend was going to buy for his hedge fund. The man I was working for was abusive and cheap, the worst boss I had in my life.

I got to my office, across the Hudson River in New Jersey, after being in the Trade Center and taking a PATH Train that left New York at about 8:32. I think it was the last train to leave the Trade Center that day. I got to work and no one was in their designated offices. I thought that was quite odd, since a few workers usually arrived at 7. I called an ex-colleague, Jay, to tell him about the Morgan Stanley case. He said, “Thank God you’re OK,” and I responded, “Huh,” and then he said, “Oh my God, oh my God, another plane just hit the Trade Center, turn on the television, we’re under attack.”

I lived across the street from the Trade Center. I got off the phone and went toward the room with the television and found all of my co-workers huddled around it. One of the guys was as white as a ghost; his brother-in-law was in the tower on a high floor, and I hugged him for support. I ran back to the office and called my neighbor, who also happened to be Justice’s dog-walker at the time, and asked her to take him with her if they had to evacuate. Then my sister called and found out I was OK. My friend, Claire, and my sister’s father-in-law called, telling me that they would come get me, and then one of the buildings fell. I went into the room with the television. It was all surreal, and then I grabbed two other co-workers, to go see if we could help in any way. We walked toward the pier, so we could help anyone who needed shelter as they fled toward New Jersey. As we got there, the other tower fell, the ground shook, and everyone was screaming and crying. We all hugged each other, but now we could see New York on fire.

My mind kept thinking the smoke was contained to one avenue, and it wasn’t hurting my neighbors or neighborhood — bizarre thinking, but true. Later some people came off the boats; they were all filled with soot, crying, coughing, and just stunned. I offered people water and sodas — we had taken a bag filled with refreshments to the pier. It was crazy; people just talked about how they were engulfed in soot and debris and thought they were going to die. I was praying that all my neighbors would be safe, and I was convinced that my neighbor had got out with Justice.

After we ran out of the refreshments, we went back to the office; everyone was comforting the man who had just lost his brother-in-law. The nutty boss was not there, but he was forcing this guy to stay there to get work done. My friend, Noreen, called, she was in New Jersey as well, and she was going to come and get me. We were going to stay with her fellow co-worker, Seth, until we could get back to our home.

The neighborhood I was working in was now being evacuated, and they wouldn’t let her near the office building to get me. Well, if you need to be saved, Noreen is your girl — she told the police, “I need to get my friend, and I’m not taking no for an answer.” (FYI, she was the whistleblower in a mutual fund scandal, so if you got a check it was because of her bravery.)

She got me and off we went to a very nice house, where Seth, her partner, took great care of us. I couldn’t sleep wondering whether Justice was safe. My neighbor didn’t have a cellphone, and even if she did, service was dead for many of the carriers. I knew that she would go to a friend in Midtown, but I wasn’t sure what building he lived in even though I had been there once or twice for a party.

When Noreen and I got back to New York the next day, Noreen found us a place to stay. Her employer owned a couple of hotels near Battery Park City. Tribecca was filled with smoke as well, but we wanted to be close to our home, and half the residents of Battery Park City found themselves there as well.

All my effort was on Justice. My neighbor’s friend’s number was not listed, so I went up and down different blocks in Midtown trying to find the apartment building. I was convinced Justice was with her.

Noreen had a house in the Hamptons, and she thought we would be better off there instead of breathing the fumes of Tribecca. At this point, Noreen was my lifeline. I didn’t want to leave the city without Justice, but I was positive my neighbor had him. I got on the bus to the Hamptons, and suddenly a phone call came into Noreen’s cellphone. My parents had gotten a call from my neighbor. She was unable to take him; he was still in the apartment in Battery Park City. I was still in Manhattan, I begged the bus driver to let me off. He wouldn’t and the other passengers started screaming — let her off, she needs to save her dog — and he stopped.

I was now somewhere in the 30s and went to my friend Frank’s barbershop on Fifth Avenue about 10 blocks south. He was happy to help me. My neighbor found out who was rescuing dogs and left the information with my parents. I called the number, and they told us to go down to the West Side Highway next to one of the piers. We got there and it was mayhem. There were tons of people trying to get back to get medicine, or save an animal, and some to get people who were unable to leave the buildings. I put my name on the list; it was about 3 p.m. on Thursday. I also signed away any right to sue anyone and was warned that no one knew if the buildings would fall or whether there would be more disasters in the area. I didn’t care if the buildings were filled with mustard gas; I was going to get Justice.

Finally at about 8 p.m, the first group of people was called. I had never won in a raffle in my life, but I came up in the first group to rescue the dogs. We were all taken in a van with a group leader who worked for a unit of the ASPCA, and a parks policeman. As we approached Battery Park City, we couldn’t believe what it looked like; it was a war zone, firemen all over, dust, glass, a putrid smell, and paper all over the place as well as empty shoes. In fact, there was about six inches of mud surrounding the World Financial Center.

Before we got out of the van, someone suggested we all pray for the animals to be safe. We held each other’s hands and prayed — I could feel a presence, I know it’s hard to believe, but I felt like our prayers were really heard.

There was no electricity in the apartment building, it was pitch dark, but the park police had large flashlights. We went toward the stairs and someone would accompany a resident as they went to get their pet. Once the dog or cat was saved, they told the residents to stay there and wait for them on the way down. I lived on the 34th floor, and by now I was running on complete adrenalin, I was so scared as I came to my apartment. I couldn’t hear the dog at the door, so my heart was skipping beats. I opened the door and he wasn’t there; I thought I was going to faint. The park policeman told me that the animals were so traumatized that they were hiding. Suddenly, I saw that my bedroom door was closed; I ran and opened it. Justice ran out, directly to the toilet. Somehow he must have got locked in my room; the blast may have blown the door shut. I was filled with tears and so thankful to the man I was with — we let Justice drink as much water as possible, and he told me there were pet triages and they would put him on an IV to hydrate him.

We started to make our way down, all the pets were saved and tears just flowed. We were all so thankful to our rescuers as well as thanking God; never before did I see such love flow from a cast of strangers.

Even though we lived in the same building, we never knew each other. As we got downstairs, don’t ask me how, but my buddy Justice took a poo. As I tried to get a paper towel to pick it up, still being a good citizen, everyone said don’t worry about it. We all laughed and immediately got into the van and got out of Battery Park City, back to the pier. The triage vet took a look at all of the animals and put Justice on an IV to hydrate him. After we were done, Frank was waiting for me; it was now close to midnight. We then walked to Stuyvesant Town, on the East River, where Frank lived with his wonderful wife, Melanie. She had food ready for us as well as for Justice, and Justice, being the polite guest, slept in both bedrooms, making sure his host knew he loved them as well.

I have way more to tell, because I saw a lot of great people help us rebuild the neighborhood, people from all over the country. In fact, one night two months later when I could finally return to my home, I was walking Justice and suddenly a cop called to me asking for help. He said, “Someone just jumped into the Hudson River, I need you to watch my stuff,” as he took off his gun and shoes, and proceeded to jump into the river. Seconds later, there was a helicopter and a boat. The tow of the Hudson is very strong and it was pitch black, but they saved the guy. I saw them take him out on a stretcher into an ambulance. As legend has it, he worked in the Trade Center and was not there that day, but had lost all of his friends and his wife. He was fighting a major depression. He was drunk and wanted to end it.

There was so much pain, but there were so many great people. The policeman who jumped into the river risked his life. Six months later, my doorman, Dave, got the Fire Department to save a squirrel trapped in the rubble of the Trade Center. As my friend, Armando, says, there is always good even in the face of evil.

My dog, Justice, lived to a ripe old age and got to have a life filled with love and travel. He loved going out on the boat and having the wind brace him. Never take the beauty of our world for granted. I thank God for all the wonderful people who helped our neighborhood. Despite it all, I know that love is stronger than hate, and there is nothing more beautiful than a fall day in September.

Marlene Jupiter lives in Westerly. She is one of the original residents of Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan, and is the author of “Faith Lives on Liberty Street,” a collection of 9/11 stories from survivors selected to be in the new 9-11 Memorial Museum in NYC and the George W. Bush Presidential Library. She is also the author of “Savvy Investing for Women.”


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