We watched it all day at Farmington High School my freshman year. We saw the buildings collapsing over and over again. Each time I saw the replay of the planes hitting, it created a better understanding for our principal's announcement over the loudspeaker on Sept. 11, 2001 that "the Twin Towers have fallen." I heard it, but it did not register until I saw it. And, even then, I did not understand.
We were all shocked and school just stopped that day, though the learning did not. All we talked about and watched in class was the coverage of the terrorist attacks. Then we all realized that the day was 9/11. 911. An emergency. A tragedy.
I did not really know how to react. Walking through the high school parking lot to soccer practice after school, my best friend, Jilian Gundling's mother, Christine Matthews pulled up in her car and rolled down her window.
"Your father's okay, honey," she said.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"He was in his office in New York today. But he's okay," she said.
As I practiced defending the soccer ball from opponents on the developmental soccer team that day, I was glad that I had not known my dad was in New York. As a consultant, he traveled a lot, usually between Hartford and New York offices, and as far as I was concerned, he was in Hartford. Had I known, I would have had more of a reaction to the announcement.
When I got home, my mom, Christina Dagradi hugged us and said that daddy was coming home on the train.
"Give him a lot of hugs when he gets home," she said.
When my dad, Jeffrey Sawyer came home, we hugged him a lot, but the severity of the tragic event still did not register.
My dad later told us about what the day was like in New York. He was supposed to stay in the Mariott World Trade Center at the base of the towers that night and his Deloitte & Touche office was across the street.
When checking into the hotel, the receptionist told him that there were only smoking rooms available at that time. My entire immediate family consists of non-smokers, so my dad said he'd wait for a non-smoking room to open up and come back later.
It was 8:30 a.m. He went across the street to his office and did not stop that time to talk to a coworker outside who was smoking at 8:40 a.m. My dad dropped his briefcase off at his office and went down to the lobby to get a cup of coffee at 8:45 a.m. While in line, he saw a man hurrying out of the elevator on his cell phone, upset. Then, the fire alarm went off at 8:50 a.m. and everyone evacuated the building.
He looked up and saw the North tower consumed by black smoke. He called home and left a message for my mom, telling her, “I’m outside looking up at the World Trade Center, and it’s on fire. I’m OK. I don’t think much work is going to get done today. I’ll call you later.”
It was 8:55 a.m. when he hung up and he stood watching in disbelief, noticing glistening debris falling from the building. Not even 30 minutes had passed since he had been inside the base of the towers. He walked away from the towers toward Mid-town to get to his company's other office in the city, listening to the radios of cars as he passed, still unsure of what was going on. He wondered how firefighters would put the fire out.
At 9:05 a.m., when he was three or four blocks from the towers, he heard an explosion. People ran away from the towers in a stampede. He learned about the second plane hitting and started to realize the crashes were linked. Further down the road, he heard about the attack on the Pentagon.
He tried calling home again, but couldn't get a signal until about noon. On his walk north in the city, he felt the ground rumble as he passed a subway station, and he ran down to catch the subway, but saw that there was no train. Later, he learned that that rumble was the South Tower falling. Even though the North tower was hit first, the South tower fell first because the plane hit the building at a lower point by comparison.
He walked to Grand Central Station to see if there were any trains, but police were not letting anybody in as a security precaution.
He went to the Sheraton Manhattan hotel, where he had often stayed in the past, thinking he might not be able to leave New York that day. One of the staff members, Maggie saw him waiting in line and motioned for him to come to the front. She gave him a key to a room, which the hotel offered him for free. My dad went to the room, called my mom and got through to her. She was calm, as my mom always is in emergency situations, but told him she was worried he was at the base of the towers when she heard of the collapse. My dad turned on the television to watch the news coverage, still stunned.
He stepped out for fresh air and heard fighter jets in the air, patrolling the sky and enforcing a "no fly" zone. He later went back to Grand Central, and at 3 p.m., confirmed with an attendant that a train would be leaving momentarily for New Haven. He decided to take the train instead of checking out of the hotel. People on the train were quiet and by 6 p.m. the train arrived in New Haven.
My dad was home by dinner, and you better bet we gave him a lot of hugs. That day is the only day that I've ever heard of my dad crying, though he didn't do so in front of me and my siblings.
I have heard so many stories like this when chance kept people who were supposed to be in the tower out of the tower. Some were late for meetings. Others missed flights. My dad lost his briefcase, its contents and some personal items he left in his office when the towers fell on his office building and it collapsed, mostly photos of me, my siblings and my mom. But I am happy that is all that he lost. He was very lucky.
I don't know for a fact what would have happened if my dad had been in his hotel room in the Mariott World Trade Center when the first plane hit, but all I can say is thank you, dad, for not smoking.