QU law student reflects on 9/11 attacks

David Hutter

Justine Giordano was getting ready for her second day of work as a press assistant in the office of New York Gov. George Pataki when she heard a deafening sound the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Standing in the living room in her downtown Manhattan apartment, she initially thought the sound had come from an accident involving a nearby construction crew. But she then peered out the window and saw hordes of pedestrians looking up at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. What she saw next horrified her: fire engulfed the top of the North Tower.

“I was staring at it and shock waves went through my whole body. The whole experience was surreal,” said Giordano, who is now a first-year law student at Quinnipiac. “And I just started screaming.”

Initially, she was unsure whether the fire was the result of an act of terrorism or whether there had been a tragic accident.

Her roommate awoke to the yelling, thinking Giordano had merely overslept and was now going to be late for work. Stunned and unsure of what to do, Giordano was staring in horror at the North Tower when she witnessed what she quickly learned was the second airplane crashing into the South Tower. At that moment, her darkest suspicions were confirmed: that terrorists were attacking the United States.

Upon this realization, she left her apartment building, which was a mere four blocks from the Twin Towers. She jumped into a friend’s car and quickly headed north on the West Side Highway. At the same time, a barrage of fire engines, ambulances and police cars raced past their vehicle in the opposite direction, she said.

“I remember looking back and seeing a plume of dark smoke growing larger by the moment,” she said. “Everyone was just walking around the streets, expressionless.”

Arriving in Midtown, Giordano recalled the scene on the streets as strangely tranquil. That is, until, she overheard a woman crying uncontrollably while talking on a telephone. The woman kept repeating: “It’s collapsed; the tower’s collapsed,” Giordano said.

After checking in at her workplace, she took a car to her mother’s house in the Byker Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, where she spent the night.

Over the course of the next three weeks, she and her co-workers stayed in a “safe house,” which was located near the Empire State Building. During this period, Giordano’s feelings shifted from the initial shock of the attack to the pain regarding the deaths of thousands of people and finally to anger at the perpetrators of the attack.

“The magnitude of what was happening clouded the personal experience and the personal pain and loss until some days later,” Giordano said.

Among the 2,973 people killed were two of Giordano’s friends. Eleven alumni from her high school, Poly Prep, also died in the attacks.

In the three weeks after the attacks, Giordano worked long hours and counseled many people whose relatives were killed in the attacks.

Around Oct. 1, she returned to her apartment for the first time since the attack. The scene in downtown Manhattan overwhelmed her.

“It was a war zone. There were men in military uniforms everywhere,” she said. “I had to walk between tanks in order to get into my building.”

All displaced residents of downtown Manhattan had to show postmarked envelopes to authorities in order to be allowed to return to their residences. Giordano, like all of the displaced residents, was allowed into her residence only to retrieve her belongings.

Months after the attacks, the routine of daily life in midtown Manhattan where Giordano was staying seemed to return to normal, at least on a superficial level, she said.

But one could never escape the reality of the aftermath of the attacks.

“The most painful thing of all was looking at all the pictures of all the missing people,” she said. “. I couldn’t believe all the people from various parts of my life whose pictures I saw displayed.”

The terrorist attacks have caused Giordano to come to terms with the painful emotions she experiences whenever she thinks of them. Moreover, she realizes that human life is ultimately ephemeral.

“Before this event, I had not ever had my heart broken. I very rarely cried about anything,” she said. “But now, I do not mind crying. . I had two friends in those buildings; I had never thought they’d be hurt,” she said, her voice trailing into a whisper.

The passage of five years since the attacks has helped alleviate some of the pain, said Giordano, 27. But the date of Sept. 11 will never be just any other day on the calendar.

“Time definitely helps. At the same time, each anniversary heightens the pain. The shock obviously is not as intense but the pain is still intense,” she said.