Sarah: A few minutes after 8 am on my birthday – Tuesday September 11, 2001 – my fiancé and I were on the A train heading to Lower Manhattan. The day before, I had seen a wedding ring that I loved at a Broadway jewelry store in the Financial District. I wanted to show it to Jeff.
Jeff: I needed to work that night at my home in Boston, so I wasn’t crazy to get up early to shop. I wanted to sleep, then hit the road. But how can I say no? It was Sarah’s birthday.
Sarah: We were on a crowded train during rush hour. “We need to get down to Fulton Street,” I said to Jeff.
Jeff: During a stop, I looked out the window on the platform and saw a “Fulton Street” sign. Too late. The doors were closing. We had missed our stop.
Sarah: The next stop was only in Brooklyn. We got off and waited a few minutes for a train to Manhattan. It was on this trip that we heard someone say, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center. No one even flinched.
Jeff: Like everyone else, we imagined that it was probably a small plane. It’s not an everyday incident, of course, but things are happening in New York City and people are taking charge.
Sarah: Coming out of Fulton Street subway station, we saw shards of glass all over the street and sidewalk. We looked up at the sky and saw one of the World Trade Center towers in flames.
Jeff: We went out into the street to get a better view, and we saw that the other tower was also on fire. It troubled me. How could a small plane do this on both turns?
Sarah: All I could think of was, “How are the firefighters going to put out those flames up there?”
Jeff: It was so disorienting – the fire, the glass, the sirens, the people bustling about, watching. But when I turned to Sarah, she just pointed me in the direction of Broadway.
Sarah: I still wanted us to go see the ring. What was happening had not yet taken hold.
Jeff: We started walking, and I immediately noticed that we were the only two people on the crowded sidewalk going in that direction.
Sarah: Just then a cop pointed at us and started waving us the other way. “Move up! His tone was serious, so we joined the crowd heading north.
Jeff: We were just walking, no rush. It was like we were just pulling away from the rescue gear that should be coming this way.
Sarah: We had traveled three blocks north when we heard the excruciating roar of the first collapsing tower. It looked like we were being bombed.
Jeff: We haven’t seen it. We just heard it and felt it in the change of energy among the crowd.
Sarah: Everyone around us started screaming and running. Suddenly, a cloud of gray-black smoke came rolling towards us from where we had just been. I thought we were going to be swallowed up. My feet froze. Jeff grabbed my hand and helped me run.
Jeff: We walked slowly, because the sidewalk was crowded. Yet the people behind us were running ahead of us in panic. I was afraid we would be trampled, so I pulled Sarah up against a store front.
Sarah: As we stood there letting the frenzy of the people go by, I remember seeing a woman standing in the street and shouting, “Don’t panic!
Jeff: The gray-black cloud didn’t reach us, and after waiting a minute or two and it wasn’t a mad rush on the sidewalk anymore, we started following the crowd up town.
Sarah: We arrived at a metro station, but the police were blocking the entrance. So we continued to walk past a home appliance store with TVs in the windows showing news footage. The vans were screaming their radios and we began to understand what had happened. Tour 1. Tour 2. The Pentagon. A field in Pennsylvania.
Jeff: We were several blocks further north when the second tower fell, so we didn’t even hear the noise. But then we got to Broadway, and I remembered that I could still see the Twin Towers if I looked south from here. I glanced this way, expecting to see only one tower remaining, but both were gone.
Sarah: The buses were running, but they were crowded. Thus, the horde of New Yorkers moved to the upscale neighborhoods on foot. I was grateful that I chose my Birkenstocks that morning over heels.
Jeff: Everyone had a cell phone in their ear, but most had no service. A young woman was dressed for a day’s work, possibly in one of the towers’ financial offices. She had a flushed face and was crying as she clutched her cell phone.
Sarah: As I watched people try to contact their loved ones, I realized that no one even knew we were downtown, so no one would question us. What if Jeff wanted to surprise me that morning with a birthday breakfast at Windows on the World?
Jeff: Whenever Sarah mentions this, I feel justified in being a tight-fisted unromantic. Maybe he saved our lives.
Sarah: The other “what if” that makes me wonder: what if this cop hadn’t been there to redirect us to the top of town? What if we were still there when the towers fell? I think about this cop a lot and wonder if she’s okay.
Jeff: Somewhere around Madison Square Garden, we passed a souvenir shop and there was a crowd gathered around a display of postcards. They were grabbing all the cards from the World Trade Center.
Sarah: As we were walking, it suddenly occurred to me that Jeff’s car was parked in a place that, due to the parking across the street, had to be released by 11am. so.
Jeff: I had the exact same thought in my mind: a $ 75 bill! It took both of us a few more blocks to figure out that every cop in town was downtown. No one would issue tickets today.
Sarah: Finally, after walking for almost three hours, we arrived at my brother’s apartment, where we were staying. We hugged my sister-in-law and my niece, who had been picked up from elementary school. Soon my brother came home from his office downtown. We tried to call the rest of our family.
Jeff: As soon as I got a signal, I called the Boston Globe, where I worked, to tell my boss in the sports department that I wasn’t going to show up that night. When he heard where I was, he quickly transferred my call to the news desk. I gave them some details of what I had seen.
Sarah: We heard that bridges and tunnels were closed. Were we going to be able to get out of town?
Jeff: We decided to leave right away and try to get home. We were the only car on the West Side Highway, and as we passed the George Washington Bridge, we noticed that it was empty except for the police cars. It was a tense and silent coming home.
Sarah: Less than a month later, we got married in the upstate on my parents’ farm. Some of our friends and family canceled because they were afraid to fly. Some took the plane anyway, saying the terrorists would not stop them from doing what they wanted to do.
Jeff: Our wedding day was October 7th. During the reception, some of our guests learned that the United States had just invaded Afghanistan. Everyone decided not to tell us so as not to ruin our big day.
Sarah: I didn’t go back to Lower Manhattan to buy this beautiful wedding ring that I fell in love with.
Jeff: As we were fleeing the destruction of Tower 1, Sarah told me that she would just carry a tablet of Coke to get married.
Sarah: Instead, I got married in my grandmother’s wedding ring. And about a year later, I bought a beautiful wedding ring in Silverscape, right after we moved to Northampton.
Sarah Swersey and Jeff Wagenheim.