Rosie And I – Part 2
Continued from this morning …
We came to a woman in front of us who was very slow. I heard several offers to help her. They tried again and again, but she refused curtly. It was a relief when, about four more floors down she paused at a lobby to get her breath and everyone rushed past her, Rosie making sure I was one of them. Rosie’s panting seemed to be worse and I worried that I couldn’t do anything for her.
At about floor fifty-one we moved over into single file as the first of a line of firemen climbed up past us. One of them encouraged us as he passed. ‘If I can get up here, you can get down there,’ he told us and that bucked us up.
We’d been jammed into this stairwell for nearly an hour when someone called back up to us ‘Floor thirty-nine coming up. That’s halfway. That’s better.’ and we all gave a cheer. Thirty-nine sounded much better than forty something, and I dared to hope that we might make it out of here safely after all. My watch told me it was nearly 10 am. Without warning there was a huge crashing noise like nothing any of us had ever heard. The fright it gave me sent me into a cold sweat and I felt chilled despite the heat. I staggered to stay upright and no one moved. I felt around for Rosie and she was standing quite still too.
Again I thought the building was finally disintegrating on top of us, until thick dust came flying up the stairs at us. It was disgusting. We were virtually force-fed cement dust and dirt and I could hear everyone coughing and trying to hit the muck out their clothes. I tried to scrape it from my face with a hanky with only partial success, and tried to wipe Rosie’s face too, but she hated it so I probably didn’t make things better for her.
We all knew it was the South Tower crashing down. Would our building collapse too? Of course it will. There was a fresh surge of urgency. We were now down where all the floors had emptied so we made faster progress and when my watch told me we’d been struggling in the stairwell for one and a half hours we burst into the bottom lobby.
But were we better off?
Not thinking too clearly I’d been expecting the smooth polished floor of the lobby we knew, but it was awash with glass and the same debris, that had rushed up the stairwell at us. It was chaotic, full of deafening noise and people kept bumping into us from all directions.
A policeman identified himself and asked me where I was going.
‘Over to the PATH station to catch a train home.’
He was guiding us out while he was talking. ‘The subway was closed after the first plane hit, and I’m afraid there are no trains to take you anywhere.’
‘No taxis either I guess.’
‘No. Where did you come from?’
‘We were on the seventy-eighth floor. It’s taken us over an hour to get down the stairs and I’m dead worried about my dog. What should I do?’
‘Your dog looks completely dehydrated to me and I think she’s on the point of collapse. This way.’ I felt fresh air on my face; at least we were away from that constant heat. ‘You must both find some cover right away,’ he continued. ‘Billy,’ he called to someone, ‘could you take these two to the hotel down there please? They must have cover immediately.’
“Billy” complained that he was unloading material for the firemen, but the policeman insisted, and I heard a young voice now closer to me say, ‘This way, it’s not far, sir.’
‘Thank you, very much,’ I said and it was heartfelt. We followed Billy quickly, although the mess underfoot was much thicker here on the roadway, and I heard another voice say as we were approaching, ‘No more, you can’t come in here, we’re full.’ Billy explained that I was blind, my dog was exhausted, and we’d just come out of the North Tower. ‘I was unloading for the firemen, and I must get back …’ he started to explain when there was another thunderous din as the tower we’d just exited crashed. It was all over in a few seconds. Someone yelled to get inside because there was a massive cloud of rubbish coming at us.
We all scampered inside, and my heart seemed to be turning somersaults. I heard Billy swear. When it was quieter I heard him quietly sobbing, ‘My mates,’ he murmured, and I had a lump in my throat too—the policeman who’d rescued us moments ago, would have been back in the lobby on duty and trapped inside. All those firemen we’d passed would have been trapped inside too. It was a fresh shock to absorb.
‘This way,’ someone said in my ear and I motioned Rosie to follow. ‘Come into the restaurant, and I’ll get your dog some water. Would you like a towel to help clean off the ash? Like a cup of coffee too? I’m the manager here, sir.’
‘That would be wonderful,’ I breathed ‘and thank you very much.’
‘You’ve come from the towers. Where were you?’ he asked as he helped us to a table and seat. When I told him he gave a gasp. That’s about where the first bastard hit. You were lucky to escape.’
I nodded. ‘Thank you again for giving us shelter,’ I said sincerely.
The water arrived in a dish and Rosie lapped it empty without stopping, so another was sent for. Several people started to gather around trying to pat Rosie, amazed at our escape from so high up in the tower, and asked how we’d made it here.
‘… and we ran out of the North Tower just before it fell,’ I finished. As I relived it all I couldn’t stop shaking, and when I leaned down to pat Rosie and she licked my hand, unbidden tears came as I remembered how she’d saved my life. Someone gave me a sympathetic pat on the shoulder and I could feel the empathy from a crowd of people fussing over us.
My name’s John Forrester by the way,’ I offered, and several introduced themselves. I went to pay the manager for the coffee and water, but he answered quietly, ‘I couldn’t charge you for that; this is the least I can do.’ and he patted me on the shoulder too.
While I tried to settle myself down, several of them told me how they had watched the drama from the beginning, ending with fire setting alight the tons of paper and dust debris after each Tower’s collapse. Although hoses from the fire station opposite the towers made short work of the flames, it left huge areas of mud behind.
Someone asked me how I was going to get home. ‘I’ve no idea. We came by train from Penn Station. It’s directly under my apartment, normally pretty easy for us to do, but the subway in this area has been closed. I understand no taxis are available yet, but I’m hoping we can stay here until one can help us.’
‘Any family we could contact for you?’
‘Not here in New York. I’m from overseas.’
‘My name’s Mike Oakley,’ said someone near me. ‘Where do you live here in New York, John?’
‘My apartment is in The Garden Towers, corner of seventh Avenue and twenty-second. It’s opposite Madison Square Garden.’
‘My car is in the basement of this hotel, John. When we’re allowed out of here, I’ll take you home; I’d be glad to help.’ and he wouldn’t hear of dropping me off at a station somewhere nearer. ‘No—I’ve been wishing I could help someone all day!’ was his firm answer.
I gained my PhD six months later, but it took years to recover from the trauma, and I still keep in touch with Mike Oakley. Rosie served me for another six years before she was retired back to her original puppy trainers. I have Bennie now, but daily I still reflect on the calamity that brought out the best of human nature confronting the worst.
There were many brave people there that day—bosses like Mr O’Connor who thought of his client and staff safety before his own; those four hundred fire fighters and police dying in those collapsed buildings trying to help their fellow man; perfect strangers who were unstinting in their offers of assistance and my fellow travellers down those hot terrible stairs keeping up good-humoured talk that made it bearable.
Like the perpetrators of this travesty, plenty of people will rubbish our way of life, be it by terrorist acts or preaching hate from many corners of the world, but it takes an emergency such as the one I travelled through to show what our status is. Our way of life is here to stay. No one can better it.
Bio: Shirley wondered how someone with the added difficulty of being blind might manage to escape from those terrible events causing the destruction of the Twin Towers.