TIME

9/11 Survivor: I Said I’d Never Return to Ground Zero. I’m Glad I Did.

A rose is placed on the names inscribed around the North Pool of the 9/11 Memorial during tenth anniversary ceremonies at the site of the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2011.
Justin Lane—AFP/Getty Images A rose is placed on the names inscribed around the North Pool of the 9/11 Memorial during tenth anniversary ceremonies at the site of the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2011.

Rudy King is a 9/11 survivor and Information Officer for the Port Authority

'There is something incredibly special about the World Trade Center campus'

It doesn’t seem like 15 years ago that I prayed for my life getting out of Tower One on that dreadful day, the day that seemed like the end, before I could say good bye to those I loved.

Like a movie, I can still remember emergency personnel telling everyone to clear away from the towers and head toward the bridges. As I made my way up Dey Street, I heard the city scream, and suddenly a strong gust of loud and hot smoke filled with debris and glass came barreling towards us. The force of its wrath moved cars, knocked people down and snatched me off my feet. Shards of glass pierced my scalp. I couldn’t breathe. I hit the ground, and I asked God to make this as painless as possible.

On that day it was a different fear—a thought, mind, body and soul experience. There’s nothing I can compare it to, no matter how much I have tried to give it clarity or reasoning. It’s like a tattoo that has become part of my skin and is forever part of me.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago at all. It’s like timeless thoughts that you have no control over but that exist and can become confusing if you drift too much in that moment. Sometimes it’s sad, sometimes it’s scary, sometimes it’s silent, but it’s forever present.

I’ve come to face the reality as a survivor that my near-death experience will always be present in my daily walk of life. I often ask: “Why was I spared?” The thoughts pop up when I’m alone, or when someone speaks about 9/11, and especially during this time of the year when the world reflects and takes the bandage off the gash that sits in my soul.

It could have been my name engraved on the reflecting pools that the world comes to visit, trying to embrace and become a part of the World Trade Center spirit—taking pictures, videotaping, posing for selfies, some in tears, some with smiles—all hoping to connect in some capacity. I was there, where the world stopped, grieved and for a brief, brief moment united humanity.

Fifteen years later there is something incredibly special about the World Trade Center campus—a place that I said 12 years ago that I would never return. Though there was a tragic event that took place here, there is an energy that is vibrant and electric, especially in the children. The children’s smiles are like therapy to person like me who often wonders: “Why me? Why was I chosen to be so connected to something that has so much significance to the world, that has so many faces, meanings and expressions?”

There isn’t a day that I don’t think about my colleagues, the families and those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. You will never be forgotten.

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