From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

Anxiously Awaiting

There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as if everything is.

Albert Einstein

As usual, I was dozing on the bus on my way to work on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when I heard someone say, “My God, look at the World Trade Center!”

We were still in New Jersey. I looked in the direction of the Twin Towers and saw smoke pouring out of all the windows of the upper quarter of the North Tower. Someone else on the bus was listening to a Walkman and said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I asked if they said which tower it was, and he said he thought they said it was Tower Two. Tower Two was not visible from the angle we were looking, so I knew he must be mistaken.

I said, “My husband works in the World Trade Center. I know that is Tower One. Of all the days to forget my cell phone.”

I was in a state of shock. I don’t know how long I sat staring, but I turned to the woman next to me and asked if she had a cell phone I could borrow. She smiled and said she had just asked if I would like to use hers, but I did not hear her. She was kind enough to dial my husband’s number and hand me the phone. All I heard was a recording that all circuits were busy. I handed her back the phone and started to pray: “Dear God, please keep him safe.”

I did not realize it, but she had continued to try to reach my husband by hitting the redial button. She finally got through and handed me back the phone saying she had my husband’s voicemail. I don’t remember what I said, but I left a message and handed her back the phone.

By this time we were in the Lincoln Tunnel, and all I could think of was getting to my office and checking my voicemail and e-mail for a message from my husband. As soon as we got out of the tunnel, I got off the bus with well wishes from everyone on the bus saying they would pray for us.

Running to the bus stop to catch the cross-town bus, I saw people’s mouths moving, but I could hear no sound. All I could think of was getting to my desk and hearing a message from my husband.

As I arrived at the Chrysler Building, I walked through the lobby and could hear the guards saying, “We are evacuating.” I kept walking as fast as I could, afraid I would be stopped from going up to my office. I reached an empty elevator and got in, praying the door would close. One of my coworkers, Verne, got on and said, “Did you hear about what’s going on at the World Trade Center?” I broke down and said through tears, “My husband works there.” I did not hear his words but felt his support as he put an arm around me for comfort.

We arrived on the sixteenth floor, and I heard my boss from his office saying, “Rosemarie, have you heard from your husband?”

I said I had not and ran to check my messages. Jeff asked if my husband had a cell phone or a beeper. I told him Eddie did not have the cell phone with him.

There were no voicemail messages from Eddie.

The first person to call was my sister, Carmel. She was in tears as she asked if I had heard from him. I told her I had not. We were both on the verge of hysteria. She said she was fine. (She worked one block from the World Trade Center.) She also told me my niece, Sharon, was fine. (She worked in the South Tower.)

My other sister, Mary Lou, called also inquiring about Eddie. I again said there was no word from him. She hung up asking me to call as soon as I heard.

I turned on my computer and scrolled through my e-mail messages hoping to see my husband’s name. No e-mail messages either.

I spotted an e-mail message from my youngest daughter, Jillian. She and my second daughter, Jessica, attend the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. It said, “Please e-mail back as soon as you get this and let me know what is going on with the World Trade Center. I tried calling you and Daddy, but I can’t get through. I need to know if Daddy is okay. Please get back to me as soon as you can.” I called her and told her I did not know anything yet.

Everyone in the office was very supportive and concerned. My boss asked the secretary next to me if she would answer my phone if I was away from my desk. She agreed and offered me a cup of coffee. My supervisor came to my desk and asked if she could do anything to help.

The fire alarm went off, and they announced on the PA system that they were evacuating the building. My mind was in turmoil. I did not want to leave. I did not know where to go or what to do. My boss started telling me what to do, and I responded like a robot. I felt like I was watching what was happening from outside my body. Jeff instructed me to change my voicemail message to say that I was not in the office due to the incident at the World Trade Center and to tell my husband, if it was him calling, that I would be at my mother’s, to give my mother’s phone number, and as an alternative, to contact my boss on his cell phone and give his number.

At that point my other daughter called, and I told her I had not heard from Daddy and that I was going to my mother’s because we had to evacuate the building. I told her I would call her when I got to my mother’s. We all just kept praying.

The phone rang again. I picked it up. I heard a voice on the other end say, “Hi, Ro. It’s me.”

Eddie was sitting in a conference room, facing a window near his office on the seventy-fourth floor of the North Tower when he heard the plane crash into the building above him and felt the building move about a foot. He saw flaming debris falling and smelled the jet fuel. He went to the nearest emergency exit and started down the stairs. He met one of his coworkers, and they stayed together. He said everyone was very orderly and acted in a calm manner. They stayed to the right of the stairs, allowing the injured people to go down past them. When they were approximately halfway down, they met firemen coming up. The firemen assured everyone that it was safe down below and to remain calm and to continue going down to safety. He was still in the stairwell on the way down when someone with a radio said a second plane had hit Tower Two. That’s when he realized it was an attack and not an accident.

When my husband reached the Plaza Level, he was not able to exit because of the flaming debris falling outside. He proceeded down the steps to the Concourse Level and walked through several inches of water, which was coming from the sprinkler system, and was finally able to exit the building. He walked to the subway station and got on a train going uptown. He was probably on the last train to ever leave from there. He did not stop to make a phone call until he was in Grand Central Station.

When I heard his voice, I went completely weak. “Eddie, where are you?”

He said, “In Grand Central Station.” I could not believe my ears. He was right across the street.

I said, “Thank God!” He said he was coming to my office.

As I hung up the phone, it rang again. It was my second daughter, Jessica, again. She told me not to go to my mother’s because she had heard the first tower collapsed, and my mother lives about ten or fifteen blocks from the World Trade Center and is in direct line with them. I did not give her a chance to finish. I said, “Daddy is okay, and he is on his way to my office.” I also told her I did not know what we were doing, but I had to evacuate the building and would call her later. I told her to tell my other daughter. I quickly called both my sisters to let them know Eddie was okay, and I was going to meet him downstairs.

When I got downstairs, I saw him standing in front of the building. I just hugged and kissed him and could not believe how fortunate we were. I was so grateful he acted as he did. Even though it seemed like an eternity, this all took place within a little more than an hour.

We decided to go to my cousin’s apartment about four blocks away. Since the bridges and tunnels had closed, we would not be able to get a bus home. When we arrived there, we again called my sister and my daughters to let them know where we were. My husband told my youngest daughter to e-mail our oldest daughter, Judie, who is in medical school in the Caribbean. We later learned she had heard of the attack and was frantically trying to contact us.

My story has a happy ending. We pray all the time now for those who were not as fortunate, for those who did not make it and for their families. They are now in heaven—the only place greater than the United States of America.

Rosemarie Kwolek

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