WILKES-BARRE — Linda Armstrong still copes with the horror of 9/11.
The memories of being in Manhattan when terrorists flew two commercial airplanes into the Twin Towers remain all too vivid. She remembers cowering under cover, not knowing what would happen next.
Linda, who has operated Dress for Success for five years in downtown Wilkes-Barre, remembers the debris, the dust, the screaming, the fear, the reality of death.
Those are the kinds of memories that stay with a person for longer than 14 years. Those are visuals that never fade.
Linda has coped with all of that since 2001. She has also coped with other traumatic occurrences that seem to happen during the week of Sept. 11.
An earthquake that shook the walls at her former location of Dress for Success on South Street, for instance. I was there for that one. I was interviewing Linda about her 9/11 experience for a story on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy. It was a week after someone threw a rock through the front window of her business.
When the ground and the walls shook that day, I didn’t react the way Linda did.
She was genuinely concerned. She bolted for the door while I stayed behind with photographer Clark Van Orden.
But then again, I wasn’t in Manhattan when airplanes shook the world.
That interview was in September, 2011, the same year Wyoming Valley experienced massive flooding. Towns like West Pittston were devastated. Linda’s house on Lacoe Street was destroyed.
It’s not surprising when you hear Linda talk about Tuesday’s water main break at Market and River streets and yet another 9/11 week event. Her new store at 38 W.Market St. is just down the street from the break.
When water service was restored, a problem occurred in the floors above her. Water leaked everywhere. Linda’s store walls, floors and inventory were damaged.
Linda now needs a site for her store while the building is being repaired. She said clothes are not what is needed right now. She needs a temporary spot and a truck to transport her merchandise.
If you want to help, call Linda at 570-270-4949.
I sat with Linda Thursday and we talked about this apparent 9/11 curse. It can’t be just a coincidence. These things always happen to her during this week. As if going through the 9/11 terrorist attacks wasn’t enough, Linda has to commemorate each anniversary with yet another near-catastrophic event.
Don’t think she compares 9/11/2001 with subsequent events over the last 14 years. She will never forget the day when she got off the bus at Rector and Church streets, across from the World Trade Center.
She realizes the effects the terrorist attacks had on America and its people. She shares a common fear with everyone who was in Manhattan that day. It’s a horrible nightmare she has lived with since.
But those other events — the earthquake tremors, the flooding in 2011 and Tuesday’s water main break — affect Linda personally. While 9/11 took away her innocence and her sense of security, those other events took away a big part of her life. They drove her from her safest places.
Linda told me a story about 9/11 she had never told me before. During the mayhem following the planes hitting the twin towers, she ran away from the attack area and was headed to the Brooklyn Bridge. Thousands of people were fleeing, all with the fear that the country was under attack and harboring the worry of what might happen next.
When she reached the bridge, Linda met up with a few other people and she ran with them. A woman, Linda said her name was Carol Ann, sat down from exhaustion. Linda and two men stopped, but the woman told them to go on without her. One of the men left while the other man, Mike, stayed with Linda and Carol Ann.
Linda and Mike took Carol Ann by the arms, helped her up and assisted her as they walked over the bridge. Linda said F-14s were flying overhead. It was like a scene from a war movie.
“It was a very emotional moment,” she said. “In that split second, I had to decide whether to keep running or to help another human being. Mike and I decided to take Carol Ann with us.”
Linda has been helping women ever since — more than 500 since she opened Dress for Success five years ago.
And through it all, she has remained a force in helping others — mainly young single mothers, mostly in their 20s and early 30s with two or three kids, who need nice clothes to wear to job interviews. Some are welfare recipients, not by choice, but of necessity and most want to be off welfare and back in the workforce. Others are women who found trouble and were incarcerated. They get out of jail and need many things, not the least of which is employment.
Tuesday’s water main break nearly broke Linda. She thought, for a moment, that maybe Dress for Success wasn’t for her.
But like she learned on the Brooklyn Bridge in 2011, great things can happen at a moment’s notice.
Dress for Success is Linda’s calling. This is how she copes and how she finds purpose.
Every day, Linda Armstrong helps more women cross the bridges in their lives. She takes them by the arm and leads them to a better day.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.