11 September 2008


The morning of September 11, 2001 was gorgeous. It was sunny, warm, and not a cloud in the sky. I even remember what I was wearing - black dress pants, a red summer sweater, and black sandals. My hair was shorter then, cut chin length. I was a complex director at St. John's University in Queens, NY. I had a standing Tuesday morning meeting with my Assistant Complex Director. We were chatting and going over some things for our next building meeting when my office phone rang. It was another Assistant Director, Emily. "Nichole, turn on the Today Show, you aren't going to believe it." I remember I replied, "What, is NSYNC on or something?" Emily said, "Just turn it on." Sharlene and I hurried into my living room and I turned on the TV. The first plane had just hit the tower and smoke was billowing out of the ugly, gaping hole. We stood there speechless for a few minutes until we saw the second plane hit.

My stomach turned to ice. "We need to get to the main office. NOW," I said to Sharlene and we quickly made our way to the main housing office. By the time Sharlene and I got there, they had just broken in with news about the Pentagon. Something was horribly wrong. St. John's had a campus downtown and we were just getting word that they were evacuating. The Hall Directors and the rest of the housing staff were huddled around a little tv in the main office, staring at the images on the screen. Then the first tower crumbled. I watched as the floors slid gracefully, almost as if it were slow motion until there was nothing there but smoking debris and ash. It was only a matter of time before the second tower collapsed.

My instincts kicked in then. I had to go back to my office. They had shut down the tunnels and the subways. No one was driving anywhere. We had students making their way to campus in their pajamas an students who were in Manhattan for internships. My residents had family and friends who worked in the Towers. I needed to make sure they were all accounted for. As people were still trying to figure out what was going on I had the presence of mind to call my mom. My timing could not have been better. No less than 10 minutes after I called Mom and told her to spread the word to my family that I was okay, did the lines become jammed. Our servers were in Manhattan - we had no telecommunications, no e-mail, and the cell phone lines were down.

The rest of the day seems kind of hazy. I had tasks to do - I found all my residents, I made arrangements for some of the Manhattan residents to bunk with residents in my building, and I ran all over campus. The thought never occurred to me change into more comfortable shoes. I was just working on auto pilot. There are some images from that afternoon. I remember standing in the student lounge on the sixth floor of my building. I could look out over the bridge to Lower Manhattan. I could see the smoke rising from where the towers once stood. I remember carrying pillows and extra blankets to the gym for our commuting students who couldn't leave campus because the trains and buses weren't running. I didn't sleep that night. I stayed in my office, in my pajamas, with my office door open. I could keep an eye on my residents that way. If this was incomprehensible to me, I could only imagine what was going through the minds of the 18 and 19 year olds.

It's been seven years, but it feels like yesterday. I only stayed in New York for a few months after that. I had been in Ohio for two years and New York for three months and after 9/11, even New York seemed too far away from my family, even though they were only three hours away in Providence. Sometimes I still can't wrap my head around it - that whole day and the aftermath - but I know that I was able to provide support for my students
and I was where I needed to be that day.

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