Feature writing

Special feature

9/11 Ten Years On: The Survivors – Marcy Borders

The Times

September 3, 2011


Ten years have passed since September 11, 2001, but what has happened to some of the people caught up in that momentous day? In this special feature, we meet the survivors, such as the dust-covered bank teller and the businessman whose images came to symbolise New York’s remarkable spirit.

We speak to the retired fireman who went to the site to help and ended up standing next to President Bush, and to an injured young woman and the marshal who carried her from the ruins of the twin towersBrian Clark and Stanley Praimnath recount their escape from the southern tower, two of only four survivors from above the point of impact. Howard W. Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, reveals the emotional cost of losing 658 employees, including his brother, and four widows describe grieving for their husbands.

Vivid, shocking, upsetting, inspiring: their stories embody a day that remains impossible to forget. 


Marcy Borders, 38, from Bayonne, New Jersey, became known as “the dust lady” after her picture was taken following the former Bank of America’s assistant escape from the northern tower. After becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs, Borders attended rehab earlier this year.

“This is the most clear-headed I have felt in a long time. I got out of rehab in May. I was there a month, after becoming addicted to alcohol, cocaine, crack and marijuana. I didn’t care about myself or anyone else. I couldn’t deal with life. I had become a garbage can. I dropped to around 90lb. My life wasn’t getting any better. I wanted to end it. I have two kids – Noelle is 18, a senior in high school, and Zayden is my 3-year-old son – and I made a conscious decision to save my life for them.

“I hadn’t been right since September 11. My life had been in tumult, on a spiral. My partner Donald, Zayden’s father, was a huge support: he doesn’t do drugs and he tried to help me even though I was horrible to him. Now I go to Narcotics Anonymous meetings every day.

“Before September 11 I was spontaneous, outgoing, ambitious. I was 28, making good money ($32,000 a year), working as an assistant in the legal department of the Bank of America on the 81st floor of the northern tower. I’d been in the job a month and felt I was moving on up.

“That morning I was at the copy machine when it happened. I heard a whoosh and the building rocked back and forth. I started seeing paper falling outside the windows, chairs and computers and eventually people. I saw cracks in the wall, which made me worried the building would fall. I was scared out of my wits as I passed people on the stairs. Sometimes it seemed I jumped whole floors. It really beat up my legs. It felt like it was the end of the world and I had front-row seats.

“Three minutes after I got out, the southern tower fell. The smoke caught me and threw me on all fours. I breathed in and my mouth was coated. It was so quiet, like everyone in the world was checking to see if they were still alive. I couldn’t see my hand in front of me. I was saying, ‘I don’t wanna die,’ when this shirtless guy put me inside a building. I never saw him again and I want to thank him for saving my life. It was at that point that ‘the picture’ was taken. Eventually I walked uptown, then got back to Bayonne, by ferry, that evening. I thought we would die, that the boat would be hit by a missile.

“The first I knew about the picture was the next day when a friend of my mother’s called. I asked my mother how she knew it was me: ‘It’s your nose,’ she said. I was in newspapers all over the world, even Arabic ones – I started to think Osama bin Laden would come after me. I was just thinking crazy. The picture made me angry at first. Didn’t the photographer think about helping me? How could I be famous but still poor? They called me ‘the dust lady’. I didn’t like that: it would be better to have said ‘the woman who was covered in dust who didn’t know what to do’. People dressed up as ‘the dust lady’ at Hallowe’en, which upset me.

“After September 11, my life went downhill. I was afraid to get on subways or go into state buildings. The last time I had been in a place of work it almost killed me, so I wasn’t interested in work. I had no income. My mother helped me. I drank to the point of blackouts. The drugs came about a year before I went into rehab. I didn’t care. I lost control. Despite my behaviour, Donald stayed. I’m glad he did; if he hadn’t, this place would have turned into a crack hotel.

“My number one goal is to get back to work – so if anyone’s hiring, please help me. I’m not going to let anything else screw me up. As a legacy, I’ve written 60 pages of a book, which I’ve called The Dust Lady After the Dust Has Gone, and am looking for a publisher.

“I’ve kept the clothes I wore that day, unwashed: a black fitted top, cream fitted skirt and high boots. I’m not sure if they’re a good- luck talisman, in that I survived in them, or a bad luck one for having worn them that day. Maybe I’ll clean them and wear them the first day I return to work.”