Lara Lundstrom Clarke's life was saved by a Sliding Doors chance encounter with Gwyneth Paltrow on September 11, 2001.
It was one of those pristine blue-sky New York mornings, and Lara Lundstrom, a 24-year-old account manager at Baseline Financial Services, decided to rollerblade on the Hudson before work. She knew if she was quick, she could get in some sweat time and make it to her job on the 77th floor of Tower 2 of the World Trade Center by 9:00 am.
After a quick shower she donned her work attire, an Ann Taylor Loft grey skirt and blouse, slipped on a pair of low kitten heels, grabbed her purse and ran out the door. Of course making it in time for her 1/9 train meant she had to jaywalk across 7th street to Christopher Street station. No problem, she’d made a habit of that.
“It was one of those mornings that felt good, you had a little skip in your step. What the heck - I always cut across 7th Avenue. Then all of the sudden a silver Mercedes SUV came barreling down towards me.
"I stopped and they screeched to a halt. Then it developed in to one of those classic who-goes-first situations. It got ridiculous. Then I made eye contact with the Mercedes driver. OMG it was Gwyneth Paltrow.
"I knew she lived down the street, so it made sense. She waved me across, I crossed and she continued on her way. At least if I was late for work I had a story to tell.”
She raced to the subway, hurtled down the stairs to the platform only to watch the doors of the 1/9 slam shut.
She had no idea she had just experienced her own real life Sliding Doors moment, the movie starring Paltrow about a chance romantic encounter that depended on whether or not she caught a subway train.
"At that time I was annoyed at everything that had made me late that day, including Gwyneth Paltrow," Lara recalls.
At 8:47am, the moment she headed up from the subway to the concourse in the Twin Towers the first plane hit. She heard a man shouting: ‘“Get down, get back in the subway, there’s a bomb." Lara, along with hundreds of others, were pushed back down underground onto the subway platform.
Lara recalls, “It was total chaos being stuck in the basement of a building. All I could think about then was my parents and if I died, what it would do to them. My heart was racing, I was paralyzed. I couldn’t even speak. 'Get me outside, I need to be outside.'”
Eventually they were let out into Vesey Street, where a female police officer was yelling out directions and telling her to get away from the Towers.
“I looked up and there was a big gaping hole in the WorldTrade Center. I stood for a minute and then I realized what I was seeing, and there were people jumping. It was horrible because you could see them hanging on to the outside of the building, praying they wouldn’t have to do it.”
It is a sight that haunts her to this day.
At 9:02 in the morning, as Lara walked up Church St., a tremendous rumble and explosion caused her to look back.
"That was the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life - my office exploded.”
While Lara did not actually see the second plane fly into the building, she saw her floors rupture into a ball of flames. Still unsure of what she was witnessing, Lara fell to her knees, started dry heaving, certain that everyone she knew and loved in her company was dead.
It was only towards the end of the day, thanks to the Internet, that she learned that the majority of her coworkers had miraculously survived. Given the fact that the plane’s wing sheared through her office, it was astonishing that just four of the 170 staff on duty perished.
Since that terrible day, Lara has lived with two dreams: one recurrent nightmare where she perishes in the towers, the other where she thanks Gwyneth Paltrow for saving her life. It was her true-life Sliding Doors moment, an encounter that saved her life. "If I had made that train I would have been at my desk on the 77th floor of 2 World Trade center," says Lara. She has now written that letter, reminding the Oscar-winning actress of their chance meeting on the street and the dramatic impact on her life.
Lara's letter to Gwyneth Paltrow
Lara’s colleagues who perished that day.
Ruth Sheila Lapin: