It was a brisk, sunny Tuesday morning on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when it began for then-26-year-old Jen Daly.

"I woke up around 7:30 and got ready, like I always did," said Daly, a Boxford native and former soccer star at Masconomet Regional and Cornell University.

"On that day I wore a pink buttoned-down blouse, black slacks and black heels, typical business attire. I left my apartment for work at about 8, but first I had some dry cleaning I wanted to drop off," Daly recalled. "I usually stopped at the dry cleaners about once every two weeks."

That simple, routine act saved her life.

The 15-minute chore meant Daly was not in her cubicle at Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc. on the 96th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m.

That is when American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the tower between the 93rd and 99th floors.

"I'd usually be at my desk between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m.," Daly said. "I should have been there."

Instead, Daly was at Chambers Street subway station waiting to transfer to a local train when she heard there had been an explosion and everyone started leaving the station.

Daly began walking the seven remaining blocks to work. She noticed how quiet it was.

"There never is silence in New York. Never," she said. "New York is about everyone being in a hurry to get somewhere."

Then she understood the delay at the subway station.

"There was a fire near the top of the north tower, where I worked," Daly said. "My brain was all over the place. My office was on top of where the fire was. In my head, I said, 'It must be a fire. It's OK. They'll just get everyone out.'

"But then I heard someone say a plane might have hit the tower," she recalled. "That seemed logical; a small plane could hit a building in New York City. Then I heard somebody say that it might have been a big plane. Whatever it was, I remember thinking I couldn't imagine someone doing that on purpose."

Daly kept walking. Then she heard the second jet hit.

"I saw a fireball coming from the south tower. Debris was falling from the sky, papers flying around everywhere. It was clear we were under attack by somebody."

Daly turned around and ran but stopped after a few blocks.

"I was hyperventilating," she said. "Some people were watching people jump from both of the towers. I was sick to my stomach."

But she couldn't look back. "I was worried that I might know somebody that was jumping."

The rest is a blur. She remembers running and crying, crying and running.

"I must have looked like a wreck because I remembered people helping me along the way," Daly said. "I had my computer bag, which was very heavy, unlike the Apple laptops of today. I remember a few guys carrying it for me at different times."

She wanted to contact her family to let them know she was OK. They knew she worked high up in the north tower. But cell service was dead.

A couple on the sidewalk offered their landline phone. "I remembered sitting on their sofa, and they gave me a plum and a drink."

She called her mom, telling her through tears that she was OK and en route to her apartment four miles away at 92nd Street and Riverside Drive.

She resumed her march north. She was in the Tribeca section of Manhattan when her brother-in law called.

"I told him where I was, and he said 'Get away from there!' I felt better knowing they knew I wasn't in the building."

Daly was at 34th Street when the first tower crumbled.

"The north tower, where I worked, was gone. I cried."

Marsh & McLennan occupied offices on the 93rd to the 100th floor, spanning the impact zone of American Airlines Flight 11. All 295 employees and 63 consultants in the office that morning died.

One was Stacey Sanders, Daly's best friend.

"We just had so many great times together at work and outside of work," Daly said. "Stacey was very amusing. She made me laugh a lot."

Sept. 11, for Daly, has become a time to remember Sanders, a Weston, Conn., native who attended Phillips Andover before going to Yale.

"For years, it was really hard. I would see people at the store or on a train and think, 'It's Stacey,'" Daly said. "I can't explain. I know she's not here. I know Stacey died. But I've read that these things happen when people disappear out of thin air from your life."

A few months after 9/11, Marsh & McLennan opened a satellite office in New Jersey. It was a difficult transition with so many of her peers not around. Daly said the "funk" lasted for months.

"I remember when everything first happened. I lost a lot of weight," she said. "My mom worried I had an eating disorder, I had to walk myself through each meal ... chew, swallow."

She couldn't shake the feeling she wasn't safe.

"I imagined somebody might try to shoot me from their car," Daly said. "They were irrational fears. But I didn't feel safe in our country."

On a trip home to Boxford soon after 9/11, Daly recalled hiding under the covers in her old bed when she went to sleep.

"You take feeling safe for granted," she said. "Heck, before 9/11, I felt safe in Manhattan."

Daly remained in Manhattan and lives there today. But she left Marsh & McLennan and attended New York University's business school, graduating in 2005.

Today, she works as a brand manager for Kraft Foods, overseeing Dove soap and Suave deodorant.

At 36, she still struggles with what happened a decade ago.

"I don't watch the old footage. It's still hard," Daly said. "For years, I couldn't go to the site. I couldn't look at the hole. ...

"One of my friends from college is a forensic pathologist who worked at (ground zero) for years, and they were always finding pieces of people," she said. "I couldn't go down there."

But the tears of 9/11 stay with her.

It's one of the reasons she comes back to her family's home at Seabrook Beach, N.H., each summer to stay with family members.

"I get emotional this time of year, especially when I talk about it," she said. "I like being around my family this time of year."

She knows some feelings will never go away.

"I still do wonder, 'Why me? Why did I survive? Why did Stacey die? Why did her family have to endure what they had to endure?' I'm over a lot of the irrational things, but those thoughts will probably always be with me."

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