Survivor of 87th floor deals with his demons while finding hope in the future

EDITOR'S NOTE - Adam Mayblum was working for the May Davis Group investment firm on the 87th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower when the first plane hit. He escaped down a stairwell with a wet piece of his T-shirt tied around his face. The day after the attacks, he thought it would help to put thoughts into words and let loved ones know he was safe, so he wrote an e-mail to friends and family. Soon the message was being forwarded around the world, and Mayblum received thousands of responses from people he'd never met. Here, Mayblum, 36, of New Rochelle, N.Y., shares his thoughts a year after the attacks.

--- By ADAM MAYBLUM For The Associated Press

Perhaps the soldiers in the barracks in Lebanon or the heroes of the Normandy landings know what "it" is like. But, then again, they were professionals. They knew that they were in harm's way 24/7. We were professionals of a different sort. Lawyers. Bankers. Brokers. Traders. Waiters.

I was having my daily iced coffee. Light with skim and two Equals. Then "it" arrived. Hell on Earth. It was an hour-and-a-half climb down 87 crowded, hot, and smoky flights. It was fires and sparks and doors that wouldn't open. It was stepping over twisted steel and God knows what else. It was losing dear friends.

I look back at the attack as a whole event unto itself. Not the thousands of little occurrences along the way. The attack and its consequences are of such a magnitude that I still cannot fully absorb it. I think I am better off that way.

I do, however, have some demons to deal with. There are those two events that won't go away. I remember seeing my friend Harry Ramos helping people out of one stairwell while I was helping them into another. What would I have done if I knew then that it was the last time I would see him? Would he have done it anyway if he knew he wasn't going to make it home that night? Did he know that he was crossing that fine line between bravery and death? Did he even think about it? I doubt it. None of us did. But in hindsight, I get to ask these questions and he doesn't.

And then there was the third floor. Almost out. Almost home. I can almost smell the fresh air. And then there was that rumbling. That low vibration I could feel in my bones, followed by this inconceivable shaking. Then the lights went out. Pitch black except for some glow-in-the-dark paint and a flashlight.

It was, in reality, 2 WTC collapsing. However, in my world, at that very moment, I was sure it was my stairwell collapsing down upon me under the weight of thousands of people. I was going to die. All I could do was shrug my shoulders, look up at the stairs above, and wait for the pain. Then it passed. A miracle, I thought. It turns out that my miracle was also the death of over a thousand people. Almost a year later, I cannot hear (feel) a train roll by without a flashback to that moment.

I have been told that sometimes a person learns things that cannot be unlearned. I have learned that I am not safe anywhere or at any time. After all, who would have thought that the opening salvo in a war would be a 737 slamming into their office during breakfast?

This knowledge has changed me forever. I don't step out into traffic any more. I drive slower. More cautious. I guess this will fade with time, as most things seem to. On the other hand, I am more focused and driven than ever. I even learned to ski.

I just started working at a new firm. I am now the managing director of The Private Equities Group of Joseph Stevens and Co. It's downtown. Just a few blocks from ground zero. I am not afraid to be there. I will not be chased from there. It is my statement to the terrorists. I work in The Financial Capital of The World. You have not destroyed us.

If I had my way, I would rebuild the trade center as it was, if not taller. What better fitting memorial is there to those who perished that day? My friends were proud to work there. They were the embodiment of capitalism and America. From the traders to the waiters, we all knew that we were part of something special.

Life goes on. My wife and I are expecting another child in late October. Why? Because now we live a little more for today than tomorrow. Because we can't let the bad guys win. Because we love each other. Because people we knew can't. Because when I hold my son, Ethan, nothing else matters and I want more of that feeling in my life.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-08-25-02 1625EDT