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Friday, September 12, 2008

I didn’t get a chance to post this yesterday, so here is the sleeveless turtleneck I was wearing on 9/11/01, when I worked in the World Financial Center, across the street from the World Trade Center.

I didn’t keep it as a memento. I just wear clothes for a really long time. I did get rid of the black Stuart Weitzman shoes and gray Katayone Adeli pants I was wearing. I felt hostile towards the pumps after walking a long way in them that day. I had never been crazy about them in the first place because they were very conservative and banker-boring. As for the pants, I decided that they didn’t fit right.

In September 2001, I was working with a woman named Mel who hated sleeveless turtlenecks. She said they didn’t make sense: “You’re hot AND you’re cold!” Anyway, she was the person I took with me when I left the building. I had two employees who worked on my floor: AnneMarie, who was at a doctor’s appointment; and Randi. When I decided to leave after the second plane hit — there was no evacuation order at the point — I couldn’t find Randi anywhere so I thought she must have left already. (She hadn’t. AnneMarie and I totally stressed over her for a couple of hours, but Randi was fine.) Mel worked on another floor. I called her and told her to meet me downstairs. She brought another woman, who was in hysterics because she had been looking out the window and had seen the second plane hit the tower.

For a while, we three milled around outside with hundreds of other people, not sure what to do, all looking at the trade center. We started seeing people deliberately jump out of the towers, though I couldn’t admit that to anyone for days. I was telling myself and anyone who would listen that those people were already dead and had just fallen out the gaping hole in the building.

Before I left the building, I had emailed a colleague in London to let him know something had happened and asked him to tell me the news. Luckily, my Blackberry* was working because no cell phones were. My colleague emailed me that more planes could be coming so we should start walking uptown, away from the trade center. Thanks to him, we were quite far away when the buildings fell down and we didn’t get caught in the clouds of debris. While we were walking he emailed me again to tell me the Pentagon had been hit and my emailed reply was, “Don’t joke with me right now, I’m having a bad fucking day.” That’s denial, people! I really didn’t believe him, but why would he joke about such a thing?

One thing you can always joke about, even in a crisis, is a sleeveless turtleneck. As we were trudging uptown, with mayhem all around us on a warm, late-summer day, Mel and I had this conversation.

Mel: Are you hot?
WendyB: Only a little b- ….. Wait a minute!
Mel: (smugly) See? Hot and cold.

*UPDATED 9/11/13 TO NOTE: In 2001, the BlackBerry was an email-only device. There was no phone function.

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35 Responses to “Laughing While Crying”

  1. Emily says:

    this couldn’t have been more appropriately titled since i definitely fit the bill after reading your conversation with Mel. thank you for sharing such a personal story that was so moving.

  2. Kitt says:

    Yours is the best remembrance post I’ve read over the last two days. You really capture the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unspeakable horror. It seems horribly wrong to want to laugh about anything that happened that day, but even in the worst of times, we can find something to keep our souls from being crushed.

  3. yoncto says:

    that’s a nice post. i liked it.
    i have a friend who went to school downtown and saw the people jumping off the towers, too.
    i read the article and almost cried ;[
    even though i was only six, i still remember 9/11 super clearly.

  4. Muriel Mercurial says:

    This is such an amazing post, I almost started crying when I got to the part about the people jumping out of the buildings. I live in California, and this was the first thing I heard when I woke up because my parents were listening to the news and calling our relatives in New York.

    I kept thinking that it had to be some sick jock.

    Good post. And nice sleeveless turtleneck.

  5. pistols at dawn says:

    Well told, miss.

  6. Make Do and Mend says:

    Gosh but love the little turtleneck story. Brilliant snippet of the day. I was sat like a lemon on the floor in the media centre at work watching it all in disbelief.
    It still seems surreal and last night I watch the 9/11 faker documentary – bizarre.
    The people jumping was awful, my friend’s little girl asked her why there were so many big birds in the sky. She’d rushed to the nursery near her work and got her after the first plane hit and walked all the way back to Brooklyn. All my british friends left the building straightaway and kept telling their colleagues to leave too because they had been so used to bomb drills in the UK due to the IRA bombings.
    Keep the turtleneck.

  7. shoeaddict says:

    Oh, how happy I am that you are ok.

  8. Sal says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Wendy. Thank God you got the hell out. Thank God, too, that Mel had the presence of mind to joke.

    It’s funny, a friend in Derby, England, e-mailed to tell me how sorry she was about the whole thing … she was the one who broke the news to me. I’d had no idea till she wrote.

  9. Deja Pseu says:

    Wendy, I can’t imagine how surreal the whole thing must have been. The thought of the people who chose to jump rather than burn to death was the thing that haunted me the longest and caused me to cry the most. In fact, thinking of it still makes me cry seven years later.

  10. K.Line says:

    Ms. B: What a great post. I have this very superstitious part of my personality. To some extent, what I wear depends on how I want my day to go. (Certain things go with certain experiences – in my strange brain.) So part of me thinks “I don’t know how I’d be able to wear that shirt again” after such an inexpressibly hideous day. And part of me thinks, “If I got through that day in that shirt, I’d reckon it was positively magic.” What a brave woman you are.

  11. BS says:

    I’m a jumble of thoughts after reading that article and your post, so let’s go with the least important.

    Couldn’t Mel’s opinion apply to ANY sleeveless sweater? Turtleneck or not? And even if hers doesn’t, mine does. I don’t hate them, but they really don’t make sense.

  12. ~TessaScoffs says:

    And here I couldn’t laugh until I saw Ellen’s Bjork’s swan dress with converse sneakers.

  13. lisa says:

    This post was really touching. Thank goodness you had serendipity and presence of mind on your side with your friend and the Blackberry messages. I can’t even imagine being faced with the grim decision that the jumpers were faced with.

  14. enc says:

    I’m just glad that the events of 9/11 didn’t take you from us. That must have been a horrible, harrowing time for you.

  15. Chloe Tejada says:

    What an incredible story. Thanks for sharing this with us Wendy 🙂
    And I used to hate turtlenecks because I would always get hot at the neck but now I love them!

  16. selinaoolala says:

    very touching, you have a lovely knack of being light hearted but super sensitive, this story should be shared!

  17. Skye says:

    Personal stories, the small details, those are always the most moving – you’ve proved it again Wendy.

    The documentary The Falling Man showed me a perspective on the people who jumped which was also very moving, the idea that by choosing that path they were taking back the last bit of control and power from those who attacked the towers.

  18. ambika says:

    Wendy, you keep making me cry! The only other time I did that after the fact about that day was reading what Sars wrote on tomato nation about the jumpers. & while reading Extremely loud & incredibly close. It's all just so unspeakably sad.

  19. miss cavendish says:

    I’m at a loss for words. To say that your experience was traumatic or that your post is moving isn’t enough for me. I do remember how I appreciated the thoughtful voices of writers in the weeks following 9/11, especially all of those in the New Yorker’s city-in-mourning issue (with the blacked-out silhouettes). I was grateful for those writers then and for your voice now.

  20. stef m says:

    i remember you were one of my only friends at the time with a blackberry and i remember hearing from you that you had not hear from p — and then it was a day before i heard from you again and i was worried (not sure if i told you that before). i have no recollection of what i wore, but i remember i was rushing to get to an early meeting at work when i got a call from my cousin asking me if i was watching the news, that a plane hit one of the twin towers and i said, “that’s terrible, but i’ve got to get dressed to get to work. i’ll call you later.” why can’t i remember what i wore? hmmm. i remember i had on my kitten heel pumps (still have them! they’re from sacco). and i walked in them to the subway and looked up to see the towers on fire and then i started to realize that this was a big deal and that we would not have the meeting at work that day. no idea what i changed into after walking back home and waiting for my boyfriend to get me but i was hot after walking 50 blocks to his place uptown. oddest off all, i remember stopping in a newsstand and seeing postcards of nyc on one of those rotating stands and there were ones showing the wtc and i thought i should buy one and then i actually did. odd impuluse, for sure. i had so many pictures of the wtc from my years of living in ny; what did i need a postcard for?

  21. CDP says:

    Incredible story. I’m sorry you had to witness that, but I’m glad that you’re OK now.

  22. Shannon says:

    I was pregnant when the planes hit, and watching Charmed in a share house. We all thought it was a joke “War of the World’s” style at first and just wanted Charmed to come back on.
    It wasn’t until days later when they released footage of people jumping out of the windows that I realized what a horrible thing had happened. It was about a week later and I’d watched the towers collapse a million times without blinking, but somehow those people jumping out made me feel so sick.

    I’m glad you got out ok.

  23. Suze says:

    Friends can make even the worst times just a little bit better.

  24. Practically Perfect In Every Way says:

    great story, thank you!

  25. WendyB says:

    StefM, thanks for that story…and for worrying! You know, the other Wendy Brandes in NYC was getting a lot of calls from people looking for me. My number is unlisted and hers is listed, so they all found their way to her. Apparently she was very concerned and told everyone to call my parents in NJ. And I’ve never met her!

    ENC, interesting you say that. I never felt I had a right to be upset about it because everything I experienced, other people experienced to a much greater degree. I was a lucky one. I was still upset about it, of course, but I always felt I had no business being that way.

  26. SnapandPrint says:

    You are the second person who was personally affected by 9/11 I have encountered online.

    The people jumping always makes me feel anxious and in shock. I wouldn’t have denied what I was seeing..I would have been stunned and horrified and probably kept repeated “People are jumping OMG.” because I am that kind of person. I state the obvious when I am shocked by an event.

    I was online talking to a friend overseas in a chatroom (it was about 4 days before college classes started for me so I was late nighting it as the last summer freedom) when someone in the chatroom told us to turn on the TV because the WTC was hit by a plane.

    I saw live the second plane hit on tv and the morning show switch to the newsroom seconds after that happened.

    I went and woke my parents who were confused and told them TURN ON THE TV.

    We were all in shock and just sat there with our mouths open inbetween my dad asking me what I had seen before waking them up.

    I really was shcoked when they mentioned people jumping on the news…it horrifed me but I understood why they would.

    When the buildings fell my mum kept saying “OMG! The people!” and then we had to wake up the exchange student and have her call her parents in Finland to tell them she was fine, Washington D.C. was on the other side of the country, because of the plane hitting the Pentagon. People always confuse Washington State with D.C.

    I now avoid reliving the day by watching specials/movies about 9/11 because my anxiety level goes up watching footage and lookin at pictures makes me feel weird/sad.

    Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  27. WendyB says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Snap.

  28. gem fatale says:

    That article was so shocking. I feel physically sick. What a nightmare that must’ve been to witness. Thanks for sharing, Wendy. It was a really touching story.

  29. Alya says:

    I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. Granted I was in another country, but I had just come back from the States and was sending emails to my friends over there to see how they were doing, and at the same time, the TV was on and the attacks were all over the news.

    It was a surreal day, and my friends in the US were also in shock and didnt grasp how serious it was until much much later..

  30. fashionista says:

    So, so sad.
    Amazing post.

  31. Diabolina 3.1 says:

    thank u for this glimpse. what a horrific day. what my mom said that day still haunts me. she said – having seen her own country ravaged by civil war – that when terrorism invades a country, it will never be the same. i think that’s true – in good and in scary ways. sigh. kiss.

  32. Shaz says:

    i didn’t realise you were so close to the 9/11 disaster. I’m happy you had a friend that emailed you and you got out on time.

    I loved the ending to this post..definitely laughing while crying

  33. etoilee8 says:

    That was a pretty scary day in my life. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful reflection. My family lives and works in and around DC. (My father’s building is less than three miles from the Pentagon). To see that gaping hole in that building, cut a hole right into my heart every time I drove past it.

  34. Alicia says:

    That must have been incredibly frightening. I’m glad you guys got out when you did.

  35. Catherine Marshall says:

    Wendy, just found your blog the other day and have been enjoying it, but this is the first post I just have to comment on. I, too, remember exactly what I was wearing on 9/11/01. I still have the cardigan, which was the color of maid-of-honor’s dress, but the shoes did not make it much past that day. The slogging through the water from the sprinklers of 1WTC did them in.

    Nice to remember old times of AnneMarie and Randi.