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'We Were Both There, But We Didn't Know Each Other Yet': A Couple Reflects On 9/11

A black and white photo of the Manhattan Skyline is covered in smoke behind a plaque that reads "Skyline and the Harbor". Teresa Celemin took this photo on September 11, 2001.
Theresa Celemin, Courtesy
The Manhattan Skyline is blanketed in smoke behind a plaque that reads "Skyline and the Harbor".

I'm Teresa Celemin.

I am Matt Smith. We're here in Hinesburg, in our home that we just moved into about four years ago from the New York area, right across the river.

This story is part of VPR’s 9/11 remembrance project, featuring the voices of Vermonters reflecting on how their lives were changed by 9/11.To find the full project, go to www.vpr.org/911.

It's funny because we were both there, but we didn't know each other yet. We met about five years afterwards. I was in Jersey City, basically right across from where the World Trade Center was.

A reflection of the twin towers smoking against the surface of the pond.
Theresa Celemin, Courtesy
The reflection of the twin towers bounces off of a pond moments after being struck.

I was listening to the radio, and I think this is like what happened to a lot of people: we heard a plane had hit. I just assumed it was a small plane and the pilot had a heart attack.

In my building, there was a rec room at the very top with these floor-to-ceiling windows, and I ran up there and saw the smoke coming out of the building.

I was like, "Wow." I didn't think it was gonna look like that.

I was living in Newport in a high rise. I went to the waterfront — there was a nice boardwalk, or, you know, promenade or something like that. It was just filled with people and just filling up more and more. Nobody knew what was going on.

You know, obviously, we had no idea what was to come; that they were going to collapse. That was just in nobody's reality.

One of the things that's always stuck in my mind is: there was this one guy in the crowd on the waterfront, who was just laughing hysterically. And I was very angry at him. I told him that I was angry at him. And he said that his wife was in the building. And that was like, right when it came down.

"This one guy in the crowd on the waterfront, who was just laughing hysterically and I was very angry at him. I told him that I was angry at him and he said that his wife was in the building. And that was like, right when it came down."
Matt Smith

I still remember his face.

It's interesting, you and I didn't know one another on September 11, but we were both impacted by it.

My relationship to New York City after 9/11 changed, where I think I let fear take over me and the fear turned into anger.

Anger, for a lot of my life, was my go-to emotion.

So I feel like I changed. I became more aggressive. I made bad decisions, in a lot of aspects of my life. I drank a lot.

I just feel like I wasn't a nice person after that.

The twin towers are engulfed in flames as people stop and watch from across the Hudson River.
Theresa Celemin, Courtesy
People stop and watch the towers from the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.

I don't think I immediately thought, "I have to get out of here!"

It took a long time. What was it — like 16 years later, it took for me to get out, like physically and mentally leave the city and escape?

It just felt like Vermont, finally, was gonna be the place I could get away to safety.

Before we moved here, we lived in Weehawken, [N.J.] and we bought a house that was, I would say, literally on top of the Lincoln Tunnel.

If 9/11 hadn't happened, I don't think I would be thinking about anyone blowing up the Lincoln Tunnel. That was always in the back of my mind. Just ... too much, after a while.

The Manhattan skyline is reduced to a massive cloud of smoke after both towers collapse.
Theresa Celemin, Courtesy
The Manhattan skyline is left vacant moments after both towers collapse.

The transition from New York to Vermont was harder for me, just through the lens of, you know, employment and you know, making sure that I can land on my feet.

In hindsight — just quitting my job and moving up here without anything, I may have done it differently, but I'm happy.

This anniversary, I've thought about what would I feel like 20 years after this, because I've got these pictures that I haven't shown anyone. I've always thought, well I'll show people on the 20th anniversary.

I don't think I would have ever thought I would be here in Vermont with this just complete sense of relief.

That's great. I'm always gonna feel like a New Yorker, but I love Vermont and I love living here.

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