For the nation at large, September 11th is and forever will be a date that many of us will have a great measure of difficulty reliving, recalling and reflecting upon. Even ten years after the most devastating terrorist attacks executed on American soil, the physical and mental wounds from 9/11 are still as palpable and difficult to overcome as they ever were. And while many media outlets, news organizations and service groups continue to memorialize the heroes and the fallen, to the vast majority of Americans who sat stock-still in front of a television in a state of horror and disbelief; who like me could remember exactly what they were doing when breaking news came down the pipeline that America was under attack; who were hundreds, even thousands of miles removed from the tragedies in Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and New York, these memorials can often resonate as solemn tributes to thousands of innocent, yet faceless countrymen.
That is why I wanted to dedicate this blog post to my sister-friend, Charlice Noble-Jones. Having met Charlice (whom I affectionately refer to as “Chuck”) in the months following the attacks, we immediately discovered an easy kinship and camaraderie between one another. She was the Director at the Developmental Center my children were attending, was personable but about business, had a sharp wit and even sharper mind. But as our friendship grew and she began to share with me the journey that led her from Wall Street to child development, I discovered a vulnerable side in Chuck, and knew hers was a tale that would stay with me always.
And every year on September 11th, I do think about Chuck, and how having her face to associate with the events of that horrific day back in 2001 has helped me to grasp the still very tangible effects that the people who were there and lived through it still deal with today. Hers is certainly a story worth telling, and I appreciate her so much for reliving those moments for each of our edification.
The Fanny Pack: Chuck, why were you in NY? How long had you been living there?
Charlice: After graduating from Howard University in 1999, I moved to New York City to begin my career with Deutsche Bank at 130 Liberty Street. There was a bridge that connected our building to World Trade Center 4 and we were directly across the street from and faced the South Tower. I lived in Manhattan, in Harlem on 125th street.
The Fanny Pack: What were you doing on the morning of Sept. 11th?
Charlice: I woke up like any other morning and prepared for work. It was a beautiful, sunny, temperate September morning. I’d stayed up late the night before having meaningful conversations with almost everyone in my life that meant something to me. I went to sleep around 4am, but woke up on time. I dressed in a peach sleeveless top and khaki skirt with brown sandals. I normally wore sneakers to work every day and changed shoes at work, but I decided against it at the last minute. I ignored my instincts to charge my cell phone and left my apartment with two bars knowing I could charge my phone at my desk at work. I said my morning prayers and left my building. As I passed my Jeep Grand Cherokee on the street, I stopped and briefly contemplated driving to work that day. Deciding against it, I headed towards the subway where I took the A train to Canal Street where I switched to the E train at 8:50 am. I remember looking at my watch and thinking my timing was perfect. I had on my cd walk-man listening to Kirk Franklin and I was reading the Prayer of Jabez. I had my lunch bag and work bag with me.
When I arrived to the World Trade Center, I exited the train and within seconds two police officers were running towards us covering a man with a jacket. He was bloody and obviously injured. I assumed someone had opened fire with a gun but that the situation was under control. I continued into the shopping mall at the World Trade Center Shoppes where I always cut through to reach my building. Seconds later, people were running towards me and I had to turn to run out of the building back into the subway terminal. I still didn’t know what was happening.
The Fanny Pack: When you realized what had happened, what was going on around you?
Charlice: Once inside the subway terminal, I had a choice to get back on the train about to leave or exit onto the street. I watched the train leave and had no choice but the exit onto the street. As I emerged from underground I found myself looking up at the North Tower with a huge hole with smoke billowing out. I could hear the fire, but I don’t remember seeing it. It was loud.
I was scared. I was alone. I kept trying to get closer to work where I would be safe with my colleagues. I eventually ended up standing in front of the South Tower. I saw papers blowing in the wind. I watched in horror as people jumped from the windows one after the other. I wondered how desperate the conditions were in the North Tower that the only and best option for survival was to jump tens of stories to a guaranteed death. I hated that those people had to decide how they wanted to die…burning or suffocating to death or hoping that by a shear miracle they would survive the jump to the street.
There was a group of women next to me on the street kneeling in prayer. I looked down at them not knowing they would be the reason I would be caught at the bottom of a stampede minutes later. My pager began to ring/vibrate every few seconds with my mother, boyfriend, friends and siblings asking me where I was, was I ok, please call…911.
A man over my right shoulder said, “Look they’re coming to put the fire out by plane.” A man slightly in front of me to the left yelled, “Oh shit, that planes about to hit the building.” Before we could turn to run we saw flight 175 lean slightly at an angle and rip into the building. There was a loud, loud noise of roaring engines, an explosion and fire…heat from the fire…shaking ground.
I turned to run and fell on top of the ladies that were praying. I was stepped on and run over by people fleeing for their lives. I cried for someone to help me. I kept trying to stand but kept being pulled down by a woman twice my size. I was holding onto my cell phone for dear life and someone kicked it from my hands. I thought I would die without it and began to crawl to reach it. I crawled from under the stampede. I ran for my life. As I ran away from the Twin Towers, firemen ran past me towards Ground Zero. I said, “God bless you” to them as we passed each other.
The Fanny Pack: What were your immediate thoughts and actions amid the chaos?
Charlice: When I first arrived and just the North Tower had been attacked, I remember thinking a gas explosion had occurred or a disgruntled employee had taken a bomb into the building. I also remember wondering how the fire would be put out. I never thought a plane had hit the building or that it had been deliberate.
It wasn’t until I witnessed the 2nd plane hitting that I realized that we were under attack and that our lives, our country was in danger. I worried that the entire city was under attack as was the rest of America. I worried about my family in other cities and prayed that they were not experiencing the terror I was.
The Fanny Pack: In the moments, hours and days following the terrorist attacks, describe for me the interaction between the “strangers” you came across.
Charlice: About 20 minutes after running from the South Tower a group of women stopped me on the street and told me to stop running. They told me I didn’t have any shoes on and that I was bleeding. That’s when I took inventory. I was bleeding from my legs and arms. My clothes had blood on them. My earphones were still on my ears but my cd player was gone. My lunch bag was clutched in my hands but it was empty as was my purse. My wallet was gone. No ID. No money. The women nursed my wounds and then a stranger bought me a pair of shoes. Gold sequenced thong sandals. Tacky, but God sent. After emerging from the store the ground began to shake and I looked behind me to see the South Tower falling to the ground. I began to run again.
We became a loving city, united to overcome and heal together. We protected one another. I was proud to be an American and a New Yorker.
The Fanny Pack: Having gone to school in Washington, D.C., I know these attacks were especially difficult for you. How long did it take for you to reach and account for your friends/family?
Charlice: I did not arrive home until after 1:00 pm that afternoon about 4 hours after my ordeal began. I remember having tried every pay phone in Manhattan only to find they didn’t work. Two blocks from my home, I stopped at a phone with people telling me it was broken as I approached it. I thought, “What the hell, what is one more broken phone going to change?” I picked it up, it had a dial tone. I made a collect call to my mother’s office. She answered the phone. After talking to her I went home and turned on the TV. It was then that I learned what had happened to our Nation. I answered phone calls the rest of the night. I ate take out from my favorite restaurant. I cried and I didn’t sleep. I went to work at a disaster recovery site the next morning. I sent emails out to my entire database to let people know I was ok.
The Fanny Pack: Explain the immediate, short-term and lingering effects of that day.
Charlice: Hell. Anger. Revenge. Prayer. Anxiety. Confusion. Hopelessness. Helplessness. Thankful.
I suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I participated in ground breaking Virtual Reality Therapy. I still think about it, but it doesn’t define me. I used to think the WTC attacks happened to me, but it didn’t. It was a horrific event that happened to our nation and I was there to witness it.
I don’t know who I was supposed to become before the WTC attacks. That person never came to fruition. The person I was before the WTC attacks is gone. To this day, I leave my house knowing I may die today. I have, however, learned to make every moment count. I take chances most people do not.
The Fanny Pack: Have you been back to Ground Zero?
Charlice: Yes, I went back one week later. I worked across the Hudson River in Jersey City at our disaster recovery site for three months before relocating to our new offices on Wall Street. For 9 months, I took the A train to the E train World Trade Center subway stop. I walked past tanks and National Guardsmen with machine guns as I went to work daily. I haven’t been back to Ground Zero since 2006. I plan to take my 8 year old son to the memorial this December.
The Fanny Pack: Did 9/11 change (or reinforce) your views on war?
Charlice: [My thoughts were] kill the bastards. But I hate our soldiers have died.
The Fanny Pack: What do you think the average American should know about that day and experiences like yours that may not have been conveyed in the media over the years?
Charlice: While my story was just that, my story, there are thousands of stories that unite 911 survivors, heroes, widowers, motherless and fatherless children and parents who buried children prematurely in a common brotherhood and sisterhood. Actions of others affect us all the time. [You have to] be more aware of how your actions affect others.