Steve Golding 9-11-01 -
His account of that day.
The following is the accounts of September 11, 2001 as seen through
the eyes of Steve Golding as he pulled up to work that morning in the
Financial District below the World Trade Center. Our deepest condolences
go out to Steve and his friends who have suffered such a tragic loss. To
see their friends die before them by such a shocking event. Please tell
everyone you know they should read this.
OK, here goes. I've worked in the city (Manhattan) my entire adult career. I worked for Frank B. Hall Insurance Brokers in the Financial District; the former HQ of TWA in Midtown Manhattan before the airline was taken over by Ichan; and for the Helmsley Organization in Midtown before moving to their Chelsea location. I've worked hard and climbed the ladder so to speak. For the last 3 years I have been driving into work, having attained a perk--my own reserved parking space.
I live in Brooklyn. Born and bred. Having paid my dues, I do not start work until 10 AM every day now. And so it was on September 11th. I had just come out of the Battery Tunnel and made my left hand turn onto the West Side Highway and rolled up to the second stop light. I was running a little late. The light turned green and I started to go, passing the twin towers on my right hand side. In Front of the Trade Center Marriott. Just as I got in front of them, the ground shook and then I heard an explosion. I thought to myself what the hell was that and I checked my review to see if it was a gas pipe that exploded. Then debris started raining down on my car.
I gunned it and got about a block and a half away before all the emergency vehicles started coming; many of them coming toward me the wrong way. Traffic snarled. I knew that I wasn't going to get any further. I pulled off the road and I took the car to a small garage and left it there. I walked back to the West Side Highway because its a main artery with a straight shot to my job at 23rd & 5th.
I look back toward the twin towers. There was smoke rising from one of the towers. I walked toward it, in disbelief. People were jumping. A lot of people were jumping. I saw some of them land. I felt sick. I thought some dimwit had run either a helicopter or small plane into the twin towers. I saw the second plane coming. It never dawned on me he was going the wrong way. I thought to myself that he was flying too low and wondered why. Then he turned into the second tower. He made his wings go one way and then the other. He went through it. The nose stuck through the other side for a nanosecond before you saw the biggest explosion that you would ever see. You instantly knew you were under attack. This was no accident. This was no dimwit. This was inhuman. You were in total denial. It was not happening. I was home, asleep, and having some sick dream.
I made it up to the site in minutes to see if I could help. A cop told me if I wanted to truly help, I would move north, away from the scene. He was scared but calm. I started away. But every few feet I would turn and look, not believing it really happened. I started listening to peoples radios that were still in their cars, or others who had transistor radios.
The South Tower, the second one hit, came down. I just stood there for a minute, an hour, a day. My mind was saying get the hell out of there, but my mind wasn't communicating with the rest of me. It was like a movie. A bad one at that. It looked like the whole top of the building slid a little and then someone turned on a faucet and debris started pouring out of it as it slowly disappeared.
Plumes of smoke/debris were coming at me. Huge. Never saw anything like it. I took off. I went down one road and there was that plume coming straight for me, I turned and went another way but it was still coming at me. From all ends. I must've turned down a small alley-like-road where the buildings stood end-to-end because no matter what door I tried to seek shelter, it was locked. The Plume was overtaking me.
There was an older lady screaming in the middle of this alley/street and the monster was about to get her. I grabbed her and shoved her to the back end of a DHL van that was parked. I threw my suit jacket over her head. "Lady, we're gonna be alright. Take 3 deep breaths and hold it." I curled up by the Van. The debris hit.
It was humid, sticky, hot. It was white-grey-black in less time than it takes to read this line. I was holding my breath but I hadn't closed my eyes. They felt like fine grade steel wool, 0000 strength were in them. I couldn't see. I had my hands out but couldn't see them. I must've looked like I was imitating Helen Keller. I couldn't hold my breath anymore. I let it out and gasped for breath. My mouth was immediately filled with the foulest tasting stuff you couldn't ever imagine. For the moment I couldn't breath. I threw up. Cleared my mouth and took another breath. I threw up again and then pulled my shirt over my face and then breathed. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Or suffocate. For a long while I just leaned there, trying to regain some composure.
I kept blinking my eyes. My vision was blurred but I started to be able to see through the darkness and I felt my way around. The lady was gone. So was my jacket. I laughed. It was a new suit. Oh well. maybe it helped her live. I hope so.
I was pushed this way and that way by cops, fireman, people with colorful vests on. I was walking through body parts. Shoes with feet still in them. Arms, clumps of matter. The paper was everywhere, more than I have ever seen and I've been to my share of ticker tape parades in this city.
I don't know when the north tower came down. I just know that it did by the sound and the activity and the second plume of debris. I was covered in ash. It didn't dawn on me until later that some of the stuff I was covered in was the remains of incinerated bodies. I have showered many, many times trying to get clean again. The thought that some of the hijackers remains covered me is more for me to be able to bear.
I got down to Broadway, near City Hall but not quite on Park Row. There's a park attached to City Hall. It's about 3 blocks from the twin towers. I got near the tip of that park when I was grabbed by a female EMT. She kept screaming at me to look at her. She had a flashlight and was trying to put it to my eyes. She was wearing a mask. She washed my eyes out. Her partner took tweezers and while she held my head he removed stuff from my eyes. My left eye was blood red. My right eye was almost swollen shut, but I didn't know it. I don't know if they used saline or water but it stung like hell whatever they used. Very much like one of the pictures except that there was no ambulance there; they were just working. I don't even know where they kept their supplies.
They worked on me for a few minutes or a year. I don't know which. After each time they worked on me, they would shine the light and ask me to tell them how many fingers they had and who was the President. I told them they each had 10 and the President of what? They said it's good I had a sense of humor but that they needed to know what I could see. How many fingers were they holding up. I got it wrong the first couple of times and they went back to work on me. My eyes now started to feel a little better but stung like hell. They felt like sandpaper instead of steel wool. When I got both questions right, they told me to get to NYU Hospital or if I was feeling up to it my own doctor. They gave me a bottle of water. I left.
I made it to my office but scared the hell out of everyone there. I looked like I was badly injured. I washed some of the stuff off my face but it started to cake into mud. I had to get home. I left. Manhattan was closed down. There were thousands upon thousands of people in the streets but there was no subway, no bus. My car was in a garage that might no longer be standing for all I knew. I followed the crowd, helping some who were giving up and just sitting there. We managed to come out of the cloud that was covering the Brooklyn Bridge.
When we got out of the cloud we stopped to look back and could see nothing. A photographer tried to snap my picture as I leaned against one of the steel cables of the Brooklyn Bridge, lighting a cigarette believe it or not, and looking back toward Manhattan. I slapped his camera away and it fell off the bridge. He didn't even curse me out. I mumbled sorry and I moved on.
I got into downtown Brooklyn. Trying to make the subway was useless because hundreds of thousands of people were going into the subway. I knew it would be chaotic. I walked further downtown and a gypsy cab beeped his horn. As in transit strikes, I asked how much to go to Sheepshead Bay, maybe 15 miles away. 140.00. Deal.
I got home and looked in the full length mirror. I looked scary. The thought crossed my mind that had I been the cabdriver I wouldn't have picked me up and I certainly wouldn't think that I had the 140.00. I wasn't even mad at him. I took a shower. Long. Hot. I scrubbed myself. I let the water run on my eyes. The stinging felt great.
I turned on the news. I grabbed a drink. A stiff one. Why did they do this to us? My phone rang and it was family to make sure that I was OK. I could not make calls. I felt very isolated. I listened to the news almost all night. I caught a couple hours of sleep and drove into work the next day using my nephews car. I didn't get into work until noon.
I started tallying the friends that I had at the trade center. 16, 17, 18... 30. My cousin. As strange as it sounds, I was able to make some calls from my office. I called my cousin Charlie's house. Carol told me she hadn't heard from him since right after the first plane hit. He called to tell her that some idiot ran a plan into the tower and that he was evacuating. He'd call her when he got out. That call never came. He had worked for Euro Traders.
The same with my friend Elkin. (His picture is in the montage.) A friend of Elkin's called his own wife. She heard Elkin's voice in the background. He was saying, "We have to punch through this wall; we can't get through the door. Make sure she calls Cella to tell her I'm OK and getting the hell outta here." His friends wife called Cella and relayed the information. No other call came. He worked for Carr Futures and he leaves his wife and 3 year old daughter Nicole. He loved being a daddy.
Over the next few days things were very chaotic. That guardsman that you see in the montage with his M-16 pointed to the ground, he was stationed at 23rd and 5th which is my building. For the first few days you could not go further south than 23rd Street. Then they moved it to 14th Street. You look down the block and you see the shell of the twin towers (the photo with the arrow pointing to the shell). Since I have dealt with the government on the POW/MIA (Prisoner of War/Missing In Action) issue for the last 30 years, my aunt and uncle decided that I was the one who would deal with the city on Charlie. I brought his toothbrush and hairbrush to the Armory and filled out the 8 page questionnaire.
Then I found that more friends, firefighters, had been taken as well. My friend Bronco had come to my office a week before the attack. He was wearing this fire-retardant sweat shirt and I told him it was a cool shirt. The Thursday before the attack, he came back to my office and tossed a shirt at me. Just like his with my name on it. He was lost on Tuesday. I haven't been able to wear that shirt yet.
My sister's kids swim in Ray's pool and his kids swim in my sister's pool. About 8 years ago they had a block party that I attended. Ray was the organizer of the block party. He and I hit it off. From that time on whenever it was time to plan the block party he would always call Terry and ask her "What's your brothers schedule," and would plan it accordingly. When our own homegrown terrorist McVeigh had bombed the OKC building, I knew that Ray went with the NYC contingent to help. What I hadn't known was his last name. Downey. He wasn't just one of the guys that went, he led them. He was a Battalion Chief and I didn't know that that Ray was the Ray Downey that they flashed all over the news until I saw his photo.
I was going to Charlie's house almost every day and his kids, Stephen and Emily (6-8) would ask me if I was going to bring daddy home. It broke my heart. The following Sunday I went to Chelsea Piers and told the person in charge of the volunteers over there that they had to let me do something because I was going crazy at Charlie's house. I ended up giving food to the rescuers. At one point in the middle of the night I took a break. I went toward the water and looked back toward the smoke that still was billowing from the trade center. I lit a cigarette.
A firefighter came and stood next to me but I hadn't noticed him until he said, "You got that 10,000 yard stare going on." (A reference to those in a warzone.) We started talking. After a while he asked me if I wanted to go down to ground zero. I told him that my badge (color coded) would be spotted and they wouldn't let me further. He took off his coat and draped it around me and then handed me his helmet. We walked down together. Seeing it, I don't know how I possibly survived.
The fires burned for 20 days at full force. The city was covered in smoke and ash. The smell has hung over us to the point that we are almost used to it now. And part of that smell was incinerated bodies.
As the war on terrorism started, I knew that the focus would change from responding to an unwarranted attack on freedom to those who believe that the United States is using this as a way of controlling oil. In fact, you wouldn't believe some of the e-mail I am getting. I knew that American resolve may wain in the face of indigenous Afghani suffering and I knew that I had to create something to help sustain our resolve. I built the first draft of my memorial on Charlie's computer. Some of the language I edited out when I started getting e-mail from kids.
And let's talk about that for a moment. 8,000 children in grades pre-K to 5 had to be evacuated from schools in the shadows of the twin towers. Another 6,000 JHS kids, grade 6-8. Another 15,000 grades 9-12. I don't have the data on college. However, I can tell you that the Board of Education claims that 10,000 public school kids lost one or both parents. There's no data on the private or parochial school kids. So how many of those that had to be evacuated and bore witness to the attack went home to be comforted by their parents to find that one or both of them died in the attack?
My personal death toll reached 1 cousin, 36 friends. Of them, 20 are "missing." Pulverized or incinerated. My hope is that they never knew what hit them. I know that Charlie did and I know that Elkin did. We buried a piece of Elkin's jawbone. Charlie has never been found. We have to live with their horror and think about their last thoughts as they fought to find a way out of that hell. This has come close to breaking me and I am usually a strong individual. For the last 7 weeks I have been going to funerals and memorials. I just got back from the Memorial at Ground Zero. I am thinking that this should be my last for my own sanity.
I still have that sensation of shaking inside. My hands are steady and I am still seething, still angry and still hurt. I suppose with time that sensation of shaking will subside because I know, also, that we will overcome this blow that we took. But I don't want to overcome it to the point that we forget. Overcome it, but not forget it. And that's the whole reason why I did the page and continue to maintain it.
And that's my story. As much of it as I can tell or as much as I care to tell. There are images that I will never forget; the husband and wife holding hands as they jumped into oblivion, the other jumpers. The guy that was shimmying down the grid used by the window washing apparatus, we were all cheering him and then some debris hit him and he fell headfirst. He's one of the pictures, hands behind his back. I only hope whatever hit him knocked him out first. Those that jumped turning not to flesh and blood but grey-brown matter. The plane going into the building and being swallowed. The tower coming down as if someone turned on a faucet and drained it from existence. The emergency personnel running, driving, dashing up to and into the World Trade Center while the rest of us were doing everything we could to get away. Look at the picture of the lone firefighter running up the stairs while a sea of people were going down.
I guess we should be thankful that more than 30,000 people inside the buildings were saved. Another 15 - 20,000 saved from the other buildings that came down. A 57 story building also came down, but you hardly heard about it. And there were the hundreds of thousands of us on the ground that surely would have perished had those buildings fallen over rather than imploded straight down. Like I said, I guess we should be grateful, but all I feel is numb and seething and anger and hurt all at the same time.
Every day when I get to work, I look where the twin towers used to stand proud, magnificently thinking that any moment I will wake up from this horrible dream and we will be back on September 11th.
With the anthrax scare going on, I know that our lives have been forever changed. So in a way, those bastards did what they hoped to do. And now that they got our attention, let's hope our resolve is sustained for the long and difficult road ahead. Terrorism must be wiped off the face of this planet.
And there it is.