Notes from a Jersey Girl

by Lisa G Westheimer


15 Years On, In Memorium, September 11, 2001


Inscriptions of the names of the dead, September 11 Memorial, Eagle Rock Reservation, West Orange, NJ

I think many can understand the delineation of life before September 11, 2001 and life after.  On September 10, 2001 life was very, very good.  On September 11, 2001(click on the link centered above my picture,) life was very, very bad.

It was a day where thousands of people left their homes for work in the morning and never came home; a day when the skyline and footprint of Lower Manhattan were violently ripped apart; a day when hopes and dreams were forever altered and the collective American psyche was thrown into deep shock and mourning.

I was on a NJ Transit train to my office in Greenwich Village when I looked out the window to see one tower burning and a passenger jetliner fly into the other one.  Once in Hoboken, I hopped on one of the last PATH trains to NYC before they were all shut down.  I never missed a day’s work after that.  I felt it was my American duty to keep going, to be with my City when it was on its knees, to help claw business back onto its feet when the local economy collapsed into a heap just as the towers did.

In the ensuing work days I walked like a ghost down streets draped with American flags.  I walked past our local fire houses where every single fireman was either confirmed dead or missing.  I thanked policemen from other cities and states patrolling the neighborhood who teared up when they looked at me and nodded.  I looked at walls plastered with handmade missing posters where instead of them being for dogs and cats they were for people.  I carried a little baggie containing a small flashlight, a kerchief and an energy bar that comprised my “emergency go bag,” and wore photo id around my neck so I could be identified if something happened to me.  For two months the air smelled acrid as the ruins smouldered; and I listened to the scream of sirens from emergency vehicles for weeks and weeks.

Until the City got on its feet again and life went about its new normal we spent our work days gathering supplies to take to donation centers, raising money for the Red Cross and filling out forms for monetary relief for the office as we were in ‘the red zone’ and qualified for assistance.  We worked as hard as we could on every project we still had, and spent alot of time on the phone keeping in touch with friends and colleagues we hadn’t heard from recently.





At home, a pall hung over the neighborhood.  A commuter community, everyone knew a family who had lost a loved one that day.  Remains were not identified in a timely manner and many families went through unbearable days of unknowing.  Our next door neighbors as well as their relatives down the road lost 2 nephews.  A sense of mourning hung in the air- air that once held the happy sounds of kids playing basketball, lacrosse, swims in the pool,  now was cloaked in a heavy veil of sad silence.

Two things happened shortly after the attacks to make the cuts all the deeper:  the anthrax attacks, which further escalated the sense of already high anxiety; and the brutal murder of a colleague by her ex-boyfriend.  It was not a good time of life.

Details of the events left a lasting impression, some even to this day- for a few weeks after seeing the passenger jet slam into Tower 2, every time a plane flew over head (many since we live in a flight pattern) I would run outside and look up at it to make sure it wasn’t going to fall.  Sirens made me very jumpy and if one went very close by I’d cry.  The only time I ever felt safe from harm was lying in bed next to Bill with the dog and cats sleeping around me.  And to this day I HATE fireworks, not so much the sight of them, but their smell and sound.

It took awhile to get over these things.  There was a time when I decided enough was enough.  Mourning had to end, life had to go on.  It took almost a year, but I figured I had to do something symbolic to put an end to September 11 and get on with things.  So like any Jersey Girl would, I shut myself up in a room, put on Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and danced until I just about fell down.

On the first anniversary of the attacks there were signs of recovery.  9/11 is Bill’s birthday.  In the morning, a neighbor dropped off a birthday cake.  Later on that day a bunch of red white and blue birthday balloons arrived from a friend in California.  I called up friends to invite them to a birthday dinner and they all came.  It seemed we all needed something HAPPY to do that day and we all had a good time being together.  Best of all for me, shortly thereafter I heard a noise out the window.  It was the sound of a basketball being dribbled and shot through a rim.  Children were once again outside playing next door.  I breathed a sigh of relief, we were all going to be ok.

I would like to dedicate this post to neighbors Barbara, Sean, Sean Jr and Ryan Bailey and their family who lost loved ones Brent and Andrew in the attack.  And to Julie Song and her husband Nick Krenteras and their family.  Julie lost brother Daniel that day as well.

May we all never forget but never stop moving forward either.