I write this against the backdrop of bells tolling for those we lost on 9/11/01. I don't think there is a soul alive who doesn't remember exactly what they were doing on that day. It is a day that will act as a marker in the lives of many.
When the North Tower was struck, my daughter was five and a half months pregnant. At the time, she worked at Penn Plaza, which sits over Penn Station. She sat in her office on the 34th floor, surrounded by windows. I was standing on the elevated platform of the 4 train at Fordham Road when my cellphone rang. It was my daughter calling and she was hysterical saying that a "drunken pilot flew into the WTC". I only half believed her, I mean really? Is that even possible? It seemed too farfetched to me. There had to be some other explanation for what she was describing.
My train pulled into the station, so I hung up promising to call her back when I got into my office. By the time I arrived 45 minutes later, the South Tower had been struck. As soon as I reached my desk, I called my daughter and was talking with her when it was announced that her building was to be evacuated. She was in a panic because she was on the 34th floor and she believed that NYC landmarks were being targeted. She was afraid she wouldn't make it out.
I had just started working at the law firm I was working at just 3 months earlier, but I decided to leave the office thinking that if my daughter was right, I wanted to be with her. With that thought in mind, I headed out of my office on 57th Street and Madison Avenue to find her. At the time, my cellphone provider was Verizon, hers was Sprint. I hopped into a cab knowing that I would probably not be able to ride over to her location, but I also knew the driver would take me as far as he was allowed to go. I figured I would walk the rest of the way. In the cab, I tried calling my daughter, but could not get through. I called my grandson's father who at the time was working in Westchester County and told him what was going on. The cab driver got me as far West as he could and upon exiting his cab, I walked against the crowd to find my daughter. I continued trying to reach her on her cellphone, but couldn't. The closer I got to her office, the thicker the crowds became. I fought against those walking in my direction to find her. Two blocks away from her office, I was stopped by the police and was told I couldn't go any further.
To my right was an Irish Pub. People were spilling out of it. I spotted Kiernan, my daughter's co-worker. He was in a daze watching the unfolding events on the television screen just inside the threshold of the bar. I broke through the crowd and upon reaching him, touched his elbow, not knowing what to expect. He gave me a hug and I could feel him trembling. I pulled away and looked at him silently. He halfway turned and pointed at a bar stool. I looked over and there was my daughter staring at the screen. I think she was crying; I can't remember. I scooped her up and we embraced. I know I cried on her shoulder. We pulled apart to look at the screen just as the two towers disappeared in a horrendouse mushroom cloud. I grabbed her by the hand, pulled Kiernan along and headed to Friday's (a restaurant) in order to gather ourselves. My daughter needed to eat, and while she did, I called Dayne's father, my ex-husband in Puerto Rico, my parents and then passed my phone to Kiernan so he could call his elderly mom in Ireland. Afterward, we headed out and once we were away from the crowds, Kiernan headed toward Queens and my daughter and I began our trek.
We ended up walking to the Bronx border, jumping into a cab the rest of the way home as soon as we stepped foot in the Bronx. The whole time we walked away from Manhattan, I never lost my cellphone service. People in the street walked around in a daze. When we stopped to rest, I would offer my phone to strangers so they could call family members. It wasn't until the next day that it hit me -- people were making international calls on my cellphone. I was sure to get a huge cellphone bill, but knowing that I was able to help people, even in this small way, made it all worthwhile to me. I was never charged for those calls. Thank you Verizon.
Two months later, Dayne was born 8 weeks early. I knew all along my daughter was having a boy, but my first thought when he was born was of the Vietnamese War and the draft. I thought we would go into a long war and the draft would be re-instated. How weird is that? The love of my life will be 10 years old in November.
My most haunting image of this day is the one of people jumping to their deaths from their office windows. Just the previous April, I had been on my first trip to Las Vegas. My then employer treated my team and I to a trip there as a reward for a job well done; allowing all members of the team to bring a guest. I didn't bring anyone because it would be a working vacation for me. I was the department head's secretary and he is a workaholic. We were putting together a trip to Singapore. I knew I would be working all hours during my stay due to the time difference. I knew I would be spending the bulk of my time arranging meetings with his colleagues overseas and other people he planned to meet with.
Phyllis, my co-worker, brought her daughter, Laura Gilly. Laura was an international flight attendant for the now defunct Tower Air Lines. She travelled all over Europe, Saudi Arabia and Asia. She absolutely loved her job. Phyllis worried about her constantly. She wanted Laura to give up flying and take a job on the ground because she thought she would be safer. While in Vegas, Laura and I would hang out, and though she loved to party, I stayed sober in case I had to go back to my suite to work.
A month before the September 11 attacks Laura took a job with Cantor Fitzgerald. She died a grisly death in the attacks. For years afterward, on every anniversary, I would watch the roll call until I heard her name. In the earlier anniversaries, I would cry for hours afterward, but this year, I turned it off after I heard her name.
I feel for all that we lost that day, especially those left behind. You can't help but relive that day on the day of the anniversary. The anguish I still see in the faces of those people is like a knife through my heart. Remembering all those lost souls is a good way to honor them, but an even better way is to go on living, helping and loving one another. It is our obligation to truthfully pass on the story of how we came together as human beings looking after one another in the face of adversity. What a beautiful legacy for the children that will come after us!
To all first responders: firemen, police, EMS and court officers who ran into both towers as people ran out, you gave your lives so others can live -- a heartfelt thank you!
To all those who worked at Ground Zero for so many months recovering body parts and momentos of lives wasted and clearing away debris: we know a lot of you are now paying with your health due to your sacrifice. Thank you does not seem nearly adequate enough to express the gratitude we all feel.
To our military, the men and women who fought and also sacrificed their lives for our freedom and safety, finally bringing down Osama Bin Laden: This country owes you a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you!