What it feels like to not be scared of life

Iwona Awlasewicz // as told to Reese Igou
What it feels like to not be scared of life

September 11th, 2001: It was a beautiful Tuesday morning. The sun was glimmering without a cloud on the vast blue horizon. If I had known what that late morning would bring, I would have never taken that site for granted. 

Running late from a conference in Rhode Island, I was filled with fear that I might not make it to work on time. I called my boss, explaining that I would be late. I was almost to the building when I heard the sheer, cold, genuine fear in his voice. 

“Turn around. Go home. There is an attack and we don’t know what’s going on.” 

Around 20 minutes later, a second airplane crashed into the South Tower. I sped back to my apartment in Queens in pure confusion. I sprinted through my apartment door to turn on the television, hoping to find an answer to the spiraling questions running through my brain. But as I turned the TV on I was met with static. No image. Just static. Then, the trembling voices of journalists as they ran through the streets of lower Manhattan in an effort to cover this national crisis. Images flew through my head. The once bustling and busy city, now at a standstill. I would later come to realize the events which occurred on September 11th, 2001 were far worse than I could have ever imagined. 

I turned away from the TV and quickly woke up my best friend to tell her what was happening; she had been staying with me that previous weekend. We were both in our mid-30s, but she was married with three-month-old twin babies and lived in Manhattan. There was no way of contacting her husband with the busy phone lines, but we persisted. As tears stung my eyes, I finally got through to my mother in Poland who was watching the attacks unfold over the news. I could hear the fear in her voice, her words breaking as she spoke. I made sure she knew I was alive. As she was the only person we could reach, I asked her if she would help us try to reach my best friend’s husband. Once he was contacted, we realized what we had to do. We needed to get across the Ed Koch Queensboro bridge and fast. Owning a car in the city was unreasonable, so we took the only form of transportation I owned; a pair of rollerblades and a bike. We rode through the empty streets baffled by the absence of overwhelming noises, traffic, and people. That is when I realized something was gravely wrong. 

As we neared the bridge, we were met by an unimaginable site: there were what seemed like millions of New Yorkers standing on the bridge waiting to be let across. They were shoulder to shoulder in an almost biblical fashion like they were going to war. I felt as if I was not in New York anymore; I was on a battlefield.

The overwhelming noise of all the voices and chatter filled my ears. Overstimulation was something I was never familiar with, but at that moment, I knew exactly how it felt. I grabbed my friend’s hand to stay together, but she ran off and found an officer. She shook him violently, begging him to get her across the bridge so she could be reunited with her children. He denied her efforts and I knew that we were never getting across the bridge until the city was secure. Genuine terror struck me at that moment. I had been so strong for my friend up until that point, but now that we were stuck. What else was there for me to do? 

We found a small coffee shop and thought it might be a nice place to sit down and rest. For the first time in hours, I was finally able to see what 9/11 had done to New York. The absolute mayhem, chaos and damage that this crisis had caused had left the city inconceivable to any mind. New York was in complete ruins, a dystopian world. It couldn’t have been real, I thought. At that point, everything completely set in, and I think I went into shock because I can’t quite remember the rest of that evening as I watched the TV, listened to the reporters, and tried to wrap my mind around what had just happened. I realized that my world, my life and New York City would never be the same. Later that evening we finally made our way over the bridge and my best friend was reunited with her family, I then returned home. 

After the attacks, an economic crisis hit the country, causing people to lose their jobs within a matter of days, including myself. For what would be the next two weeks, I would not leave my apartment. I watched the TV as the city began its long rehabilitation. I sunk into what I now know was a deep state of depression. I had no concept of time, was completely numb, and had tuned out the world. After 15 days of being stuck in my sorrows, a friend called me. “Where have you been and what have you been doing?” she asked. I didn’t have an answer to her questions. Everything seemed meaningless to me. She told me to shower, get dressed, and meet her at a Buddhist temple she often visited. As I sat at the temple, chanting Buddhist prayers, something inside me came alive again; a purpose that had been lost in the fires two weeks prior. I experienced an inner strength that I had never felt before. I was pulled out of the pit in which I had buried myself.

After that, I was completely changed. I realize that I am in control of what I do with my life. September 11 taught me to not be scared of life. It turned my life around. I became a more confident, more self-assured person. I followed my passions and took leaps, trying new things I would have never done before. After 9/11, I never took another day for granted and appreciated every hour I was given, because you are never promised tomorrow.

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About the Contributor
Reese Igou
Reese Igou, Tom Tom Staff
Reese Igou is a junior and this is her second year on the staff. She is the executive spirit coordinator for Sequoit Senate and she also plays basketball and soccer. In her free time, she loves to hang out with her friends, sleep, hang out with her family and animals, read, and listen to music while cleaning her whole house.

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