I stayed at the Millennium Hotel adjacent to the twin towers. I remember how completely amazed I was the first time I saw the massive buildings. I couldn’t even see the tops. This was the coolest city ever.
I spent a lot of time on my own while I was there, which was heaven for me. I was so excited to explore so many of the places I’d only heard or read about. I took the subway to Time Square where I met a childhood friend who was living in NYC. I walked the corridors of SoHo, haggled with a street vendor for a sweatshirt in Little Italy, had a sandwich in a nearby cafe, and shopped in the WTC mall where I found two really cool black and white framed photos of the city. But, the souvenirs that became a part of my every day life are two silver rings and a bracelet that I bought in Chinatown. One of the rings is my special favorite – I most often wear it on my thumb, and remember.
One evening, I went to several receptions with my friend, all in the twin towers. Morgan Stanley had a big party, and Cantor Fitzgerald. I had never been the least bit interested in the financial world. I thought Cantor Fitzgerald was some guy who worked in Manhattan.
The last night we were there, we attended a party at the top of the north tower at Windows on the World, the renowned restaurant and bar that occupied the 106th and 107th floors. I’d heard about this chic place, never dreaming I’d actually go there. The ride on the elevator to the top was torture for me. I hate heights. The only reason I went to the party was so I could say I’d been there. I wasn’t excited about it.
When the elevator doors opened and we walked in, I had to catch my breath, and then I thought I might faint. We were literally on top of the world looking down on the clouds. I immediately downed a couple of cocktails so I could at least try to enjoy the experience, yet I couldn’t stand any closer to the windows than about 4 or 5 feet. It was like we were completely disconnected from the earth. I just knew if I touched the window the building would topple over. I wasn’t going to take that chance. So I mingled in the middle.
I must have met 20 to 30 brokers and investment bankers that night, but I don’t remember a single name of even one. The only thought on my mind was a haunting fear – if there was ever a fire in the building, there would be very little chance that any of us at the top would make it out. It was simply too far down.
I’ve often wondered if I had a premonition that night. But I know many others who worked there every day or visited often must have had the same thought many times.
After the horrible events of 9/11, it hit me that I had stood in the very buildings that were savagely attacked, taking the lives of so many innocent people who were simply going about the everyday business of living. I’m sure I shook hands and chatted with many who were lost the day the towers went down. I’m sorry I don’t remember their names or faces. How I wish I did.
So many of the landmarks associated with my only memories of NYC are gone. I will return one day and revisit that hallowed ground. I want to pay my respects to those I cannot name, whose faces I barely recall, and tell them I’m sorry. Sorry they lost their lives so tragically; sorry I don’t remember their names.
I am deeply grateful to the men and women who fought so valiantly to save lives that day in NYC and Pennsylvania and Washington DC. Today, I recall those days in 1998, say a prayer for those who were lost in 2001 and those who must live with the vivid memories belonging only to survivors and their families, and twist the ring on my thumb. Though I may not remember names, I will never forget their sacrifice.