I wrote this post last year on the fourteenth anniversary of a day that I, like most New Yorkers, will never forget. Like many others, I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard that a commercial plane had struck the North Tower. I was in the car on the way to my office with the radio on. Those poor people on the plane and what an awful time when so many people were just starting their work day, I thought as I stopped at Dunkin Donuts for my normal dose of morning caffeine, what a tragic "accident". When I came out with my coffee and got back into the car, the guy on the radio was talking about a plane hitting the South Tower. Did I hear it wrong the first time? Then he said it again. A second commercial plane had hit the South Tower. I knew that it was no accident. I sped to work and ran into the dispatch office. Everyone was huddled around a small television watching the twin towers burning. My heart sank. I watched in disbelief hearing sirens and watching fire, police and EMS workers do what they do - race toward and into the buildings.
My Husband, a Volunteer Fireman Headed to Ground Zero
I called my husband a volunteer fireman with identical twin brothers six years older than he one a NYC police officer and one a fireman. I asked, "Did you hear? Are you watching?" He had heard, but had no television at work so he was not watching. The reporters were talking about people jumping to their death. Nothing could be worse than this. And then it happened, the South Tower crumbled before my eyes. Although I was miles away, I felt like I couldn't breathe. I saw the first responders run into that Tower moments before. I immediately called my husband again and told him what happened. He hung up saying that he needed to call his brothers. I then called my sister-in-law, my cousin whose husband and brother, my cousin, were firemen. Neither had been able to get in touch with anyone. I knew so many firemen, police officers, EMTs and paramedics that it was impossible to call everyone. I watched with tears streaming down my face wondering who was under there, who was gone. Then, about a half hour after the South Tower crumbled, I watched the North tower disappear also.
My husband called me this time to tell me he was going down there. All the volunteer departments were needed. I told him not to go. He had to. I need to find my brothers he told me as he hurried out. Then he added that I should call my dad to go pick up the kids from school. My kids were 5, 9 and 12. I called my Dad and he went to get them, to bring them home where they might be safe. When he got to the school, there was a line to pick up kids and many had already been picked-up. None of them knew what was going on; only that one by one kids were being called down to the office and not returning. Even though they didn't know what was going on, they knew something was wrong and my daughter, the youngest, was crying when my Dad took her home. I left work and went directly to my Mom's to see my kids, to hug them. They were watching the television. My mother had her rosary beads in her hand and tears rolling down her face. I hugged everyone so happy that they were all safe. I tried to answer the kids’ questions although I really didn't have any answers. My mother had her beef barley soup on the stove. We usually didn't see that until the first big snowstorm of the year. This was worse than a snowstorm and was definitely worthy of beef barley soup, her ultimate comfort food.
The Deep Impact of 9/11 Has Been Felt for Many Years
My brother-in-laws were safe and accounted for, as were my cousin and my cousin's husband. As the night turned into day, we learned that many others, familiar faces at the hockey rink, the little league field and around the neighborhood, were not. Some were confirmed dead, others missing. My husband was there with so many others doing whatever they could to find the missing. As the days went on and the rescue mission turned into a recovery mission, we knew that the ones we had hoped would be found alive were also gone. On the third day, my five year old daughter asked us if we could watch something else on television referring to the non-stop images of Ground Zero. We had not even realized that she was watching.
I cannot tell you how many memorial services and funerals we attended in the days, weeks and months afterwards. For a while, I hated the sound of bagpipes. In the years to follow, I have always attended a few remembrance services on September 11. I have never not been in New York on this day and as a New Yorker I can tell you that my city is different on this day. It is quiet. There is a sadness in the air and people are kinder. They remember. I remember.
This year will be different for me. My nephew is getting married in Massachusetts on September 11. I know, bad enough that he picked 9/11, but he is marrying a Red Sox' fan. That's a joke; I love her. Seriously, I think everyone was a bit shocked when he announced the date, none more so than his father. His father, my brother-in-law, was a member of FDNY's HAZMAT team on September 11, 2001. At that time, the HAZMAT team had 39 members on its roster. They lost 11 of those 39 members when the South Tower collapsed. The HAZMAT team shared quarters with Squad 288 in Maspeth, Queens. Squad 288 lost 8 firemen that day. Between the two, a total of 19 were lost. That is the most lives lost from a single firehouse on 9/11/2001.
After hearing the date I couldn't help wondering why anyone, especially a New Yorker, would pick this date for their wedding date. I have an old friend whose birthday is on September 11th and I remember thinking how awful it must be every year to have your birthday on that date. With birthdays you don't get a choice; with wedding days you do. Why this day?
A few months have passed since I learned the wedding date and I have come to some realizations during these months. My nephew was a kid in 2001. He had just started high school. His memories of that day would be very different from my memories. His Dad was a NYC fireman and he lived! The date that he will never forget came the following January when he lost his sixteen year old brother. That tragedy made 9/11 pale in significance in his life. And then I had another thought. Maybe my nephew was wiser than I was giving him credit for. Maybe he wanted to bring some happiness to that date. Maybe he wanted to celebrate that his Dad lived. Maybe he does not want those that attacked us to control how we feel and what we do on that date forever. Maybe we have room for both the sadness and happiness on that day. We will never forget what happened. We will never stop mourning those lost that day, but this year and hopefully for many more years we will also dance.