Haleh Nazeri's email to friends about what she witnessed in New York on September 11.
First, I want to thank everyone who has been calling and emailing me since last week. I apologize for not getting back to everyone, but to be honest, I just couldn't. What happened last week in New York is still a heavy burden on my heart, and I can't really bear to keep talking about it. I feel like I am constantly on the verge of tears, as does everyone else around me. I have been wanting to write this email, because I thought it would help me get my feelings out, and because I know you are all wondering what the hell is going on here. So here's what happened.
Last Tuesday, September 11 was the Mayoral primary in New York. Russell and I woke up and made some coffee and went out to vote. I was in a strangely good mood when I left him to get on the subway to go to work. Fifteen minutes later, I walked out of the Wall Street station on Broadway. There was paper flying everywhere — I thought it was some celebration that I hadn't heard about. Then I saw smoke. I walked north and found out that a plane had hit the Worls Trade Center. It sounded like a freak accident, not a terrorist attack, so I continued walking north, towards the WTC, to get a better view.
I stood on the street with about 100 or so other people and watched the fire with horror. Then all of a sudden I saw another plane, it was so loud and so low and so wrong. I knew before it even hit in that fraction of a second that something was terribly wrong and that my world would never be the same. When the plane hit, as you have all now seen, it created quite a bit of debris, which I saw flying towards me. The entire crowd turned and starting running the other way. People had fallen on the ground and were being trampled over, I remember thinking to myself, don't fall. But there were people all over the ground and I tripped on one of them and lost my shoe. A kind man picked me up by arm and I started running again when I tripped over someone else. The same man picked me up again, by this point, I lost my other shoe and was sure I was going to die. I didn't think it was just two planes, I thought they were going to destroy all of New York, and I wouldn't be able to run quickly enough. I finally made it far enough away to stop for a moment and realize what was happening. I was hyperventilating and couldn't really breathe. A woman kept rubbing my back and telling me it was going to be okay, and all I could think, Was it's never going to be okay again?
I ran inside my building, partly to get my sneakers, and partly not to be alone. I didn't know what was going to happen to me, and the overwhelming feeling I had was that I didn't want to be alone. I went upstairs and found my coworkers watching TV, just mesmerized. I was hysterical and kept screaming at them to leave the building. My boss, very calmly says, sure, yeah, you can go home. And I keep blubbering inbetween tears that we all needed to leave. I convince my friend to walk home with me and to get the hell away from there, which we did. We were pretty far away by the time the WTC collapsed. But my coworkers decided to stay in the building because they thought it would be safer, and they were buried by the debris. They managed to get out of it several hours later and go home, and nobody was really hurt.
The feelings that have set in since last Tuesday are quite overwhelming. Everyone feels a different emotion. Russell is very sad, and quite teary. But I'm scared. For the first time in my life, I am actually scared for my life. I came back to work today for the first time, and was terrified to be down here. Everyone keeps talking about the unsafe levels of asbestos in the air, the impending war, and the stench of decaying bodies. We used to talk about where to go for lunch and if there are any good movies out in theatres. It all seems painfully wrong. I sigh a lot, and stare off into space. I'm scared to look out of my window on the 36th floor in case I see something awful again. I think about that image throughout the day everyday — the image of the plane flying into the building and the debris flying straight towards me. I think of the kind sweet man who kept picking me up off the ground. I think about Russell, and that for those few minutes, I thought I would never see him again. I think about how innocent and sweet I was last Tuesday morning. And I think about how scared and edgy I am now.
I know these feelings will slowly subside, but for now, they are all around me. I live next to a fire station where they lost 12 of their 24 guys. Their eyes are always red and they talk about going to their colleagues homes and mowing their lawns and doing other errands for the newly widowed families. For the first few days, the National Guard was patrolling my neighborhood and asked for i.d. everytime I tried to enter my street. If the wind shifts, you can smell this indescribable stench up at my apartment. I know that one day, things will go back to normal. But that day seems very very far away.
I thank God that everyone I know is safe and well. I thank God for my wonderful family who checks up on me three times a day, and for my friends who love me so much. I'm sorry it took me so long to write this. But I feel much better now for doing it. I promise to be better about writing and calling.