I arrived New York on August 25, 1994. I was 21 and had dreamed of living in the US since age 12. My parents set me up with college tuition for a year and three months rent and then I was on my own! I had never worked, never knew what it was to pay my own bills, balance a check book or even buy groceries. I’d lived a loved and sheltered life in Bombay, India. I spread my education out over three years of part-time classes and took on full-time jobs to get by. I worked as a barista before Starbucks was born and as a waitress at the diner across the street from school to eat for free. It took me three years to upgrade my B.Sc. in Economics when it should have taken one. I would take the 1am train home from Grand Central station most days– after a long day of work as a waitress in a fine dining restaurant in midtown Manhattan.
Then in 1997, at the age of 24 my accounting professor connected me to his friend who was a VP and looking to hire college grads for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. My interview was the first time I stepped foot into the World Trade Center and for the next two years the 63rd floor of Tower 2 where I needed to take two elevators to get to work (I always said my commute was two trains and two elevators long) was my professional home. Those are two years of my life etched in my mind forever. Those buildings were magical to me. They had a pulse, a heartbeat and a soul. I cried when I quit– yes because I missed my friends, but because I’d miss walking into this building daily.
I moved to California to get an MBA at Pepperdine University, but couldn’t stay away. I’d go ‘home’ to the World Trade Center and pay homage to ‘my building’ a few times a year for those two years.
In 2001 I met a man who would become my husband and we went to Hawaii to spend two months together. On 9/11/01 my friend Minda called me at the unGodly hour of 5am hysterically babbling about the Towers falling. Having been jarred out of island slumber I couldn’t make any sense of her words– she said
Go turn on the TV
and my world fell apart. At first I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. The apartment had a 14″ TV and not a great cable connection– I thought we were watching a badly made B grade movie. I kept changing channels to see what she wanted me to see– every channel just showed the same thing…a plane flying into Tower 2– my building! When reality set in- I think I screamed. Jason came running to check on me– all I could do was stare in shock and disbelief. I cried for what seemed like hours. Numb with shock, we decided that instead of sitting in front of TV watching the Towers fall over and over again- we would continue with our day as planned. As it turns out- it was the day we would be doing our final dive to be Padi-certified divers. We went out– everyone else had canceled. Our 18 year old dive instructor with 500+ dives to his credit took us out and after validating our skills showed us Kauai’s marine life- manta rays, sea turtles, and incredibly colored fish. This was definitely the best and worst day of my life. I remember praying underwater, feeling so connected to Nature…my anxiety melted away, if only just briefly.
I’ve only been back to NYC once since my building fell. I couldn’t bring myself to see the hole in the ground where she once stood. Freedom Tower wasn’t built yet. I haven’t been back. I don’t want to go. Freedom Tower isn’t The World Trade Center. My last memory of WTC is one of me lying on the ground with a camera pointing upward to capture both buildings in my photo. I’m staying with that!
In my office I have a picture of the New York skyline- the one which has the World Trade Center in it. It’s above my door and from my office it’s in my direct line of sight every moment that I’m in my office everyday, 8 hours a day.
I WILL NEVER FORGET.