Where Were You on September 11, 2001?

I was at home, in a crisp clear Fall day, we had an outside space in our apartment, a garden. The sky over Manhattan on the Upper West Side was sparkling blue.

I was at home, in a crisp clear Fall day, we had an outside space in our apartment, a garden. The sky over Manhattan on the Upper West Side was sparkling blue.

I got up, made coffee, and watched my son get ready for school. He was attending the School of American Ballet full-time on a scholarship. I went outside and looked at the beautiful sky. Fall in New York City. When the weather turns crisp and everything starts anew. I remember looking at the Neiman Marcus catalogue sitting on my bed, and Vogue’s September issue, both crammed with ideas of beautiful Thanksgiving tables and Christmas season dresses. Getting ready for fundraising season and galas.

I had just graduated from Columbia University. Hope was the word of the day. Had just finished working for a consultancy from the UK. We did content analysis of news media coverage for big brands such as BMW, IBM, and the pharmaceutical industry.

Next I turn the television on to watch the news. There is the TV news anchor saying how everything is so perfect, the economy!, jobs!, life in America!, on this bright September day. I’m on board with that. Yes. Then he stops the upbeat coverage to say that there was an incident on the Twin Towers. A plane, a small plane, had crashed into the building causing a fire on the floor where it entered. I looked and said “terrorist attack”. We stared at the image, my son and I. His father had moved back to Switzerland just a few months before. At least we knew his dad was safe.

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That week I was supposed to go to a job interview near the towers, I had worked for Bloomberg TV from 1999 to 2000 and, for the first time for the UN in late 2000, briefly, before another longer contract, where I was Officer-in-Charge of the Portuguese Language section of UN Radio while the Editor-in-Chief was on his annual leave, and the health insurance company HR person was impressed and had invited me for an interview. He was impressed that I had worked full-time, while attending Columbia University full-time, while raising my son full-time. You guessed it. I slept an average of 4 hours a night. I was also exhausted. I look back and I am also impressed. What person in their right mind would do that? I attended Columbia University on loans and the largesse of benefactors.

These sacrifices had the dangling carrot of the American Dream in front of me, now I was going to get a job, embark on a career that would secure my son’s and my future. So when the first tower came down I realized that we had no idea how incompetent government intelligence services could be. You mean the terrorists were in American soil for months, plotting these attacks, and they just did not know?

As we watched, mesmerized, the images behind the anchor’s chair, the second tower came down. Now they could stop pretending that that was not a terrorist attack. We knew from the start. Of course the anchor has a responsibility — before the facts are established he/she cannot simply say: terrorist attack. It was only a few minutes later that they finally had double checked, and could announce that was indeed a terrorist attack.

The horrifying images on the television were disturbing. Watching the towers fall, crumbling into dust. My son took his backpack and headed outside to go to school. Fifteen minutes later he returned, all classes were cancelled. We stayed indoors, wandering what would happen next. My sister calls, she never calls. She called that morning. “Get out, go to the airport, get on the first flight to Brazil”. I then I looked at the TV set and the anchor said: “All airspace around Manhattan is closed, none can get out of Manhattan to the boroughs and none in the boroughs can get into Manhattan. All airports are closed. No flights in or out of New York”.

The TV news anchor continues to say that they do not know what is happening, then there is the Pentagon incident, then all is silent, the phones stop working. No Internet. I go outside and look up at the sky and see that the F16s are criss-crossing Manhattan’s airspace. I breathe a sight of relief. As someone who grew up during a military dictatorship I am always worried about military interventions, but this time I was, thank you God, for once I am ok that my taxes go to the military (I’m usually like “They got how much of an increase in their budget? Why don’t they invest in broadband and education in rural America?”).

Then I am thinking that is good to know they are acting quickly and, perhaps will protect us? From what? Because at the time there was no coordination among the intelligence agencies. There was confusion, CIA not speaking to FBI not speaking to NSA, something called BlackBerry, and landlines.

I had a vague idea of what were these attacks as had read some text or other in my Political Science classes about Bin Laden and the mujahideen. I was shocked but not surprised that they could do such thing. My son was growing restless and late in the afternoon or the next day, I can’t remember, asked if he could go around with one of his school mates to see if they could find his father. There were people coming out of the rubble still alive for several hours after the towers fell. I said ok, solidarity in such moments is important, and to give him/them a sense of agency in the face of uncertainty. His friend’s father worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, and later we would learn that their floor was impacted in such way that almost none survived. In the days that followed we were despondent, sad.

On September 11, as soon as I could email again, I wrote to my friends and colleagues in Brazil and Europe. In the subject of my email I wrote: we are all Americans. Le Monde published a headline saying the very same thing the next day.

This statement was on everyones’ lips.

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About Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund

The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund was founded 20 years ago to honor the life and legacy of the 658 Cantor employees and 61 Eurobrokers lost in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Since then, the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund has raised and distributed more than $350 million globally. The founders pledged on day one that help would always be there, not just to assist those affected by 9/11, but to provide hope and support around the globe.

To make a donation to The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, please visit www.cantorrelief.org.