My story is not unique. It is not comparable to the tragedies that so many faced on this day, and I would never want to represent it as such. But it is mine, and it is real.
Driving to work this morning, the cloudless sky reminded me of a day exactly two years ago. The weather was warm in Atlanta, and I was heading to work early as we had our monthly office meeting at 9am. A brisk September morning, I distinctly remember letting my left arm lazily fall out the window as I willed myself to wake up during the two-mile journey into work. I dropped my bag off in my office, grabbed a notebook, and walked downstairs to the theatre for our weekly meeting.
Much was on my mind that day, as I was heading to New York on Friday the 14th for an interview at Sotheby’s, a much-anticipated opportunity to finally get paid for my writing. I was looking forward to the interview, and also looking forward to spending time with my Dad, who worked a few weeks out of the month in New York. More specifically, worked at the World Trade Center.
As I groggily walked into the theatre, I glanced at the agenda that was being projected on the massive television screen, silently hoping that the meeting wouldn’t run as long as usual. I made my way to a seat on the aisle, and as I began to sit down, my coworker swapped the agenda to a live feed from CNN of a tragedy that had just begun to unfold. A plane had hit the World Trade Center.
My memory from this point is jumbled…I remember leaving the theatre, shaking as I tried to walk up the stairs into a conference room. I remember seeing my CFO and telling him that I had to leave the meeting, that I had to get in touch with my Dad, because he was in the World Trade Center. I remember sitting in what we called the War Room, a small conference area complete with a hand-made Lego table with our company’s logo inscribed upon it, and trying to remember my phone number. Any phone number. The head of sales and our soon-to-be President noticed me in the room, shaking and crying, and I remember them sitting with me and offering a collectively calm voice of reason as they told me to call the phone company and cut in on the line to my Mom in Ohio. Above all, during this sense of panic, I remember a busy signal at my home in Ohio and my Dad’s cell phone going directly to voicemail.
For anyone who has ever gone through shock, it’s something you’ll never forget. The complete abandonment of your senses is the most frightening part – I liken it to a person with Alzheimer’s who knows that they should be remembering something as simple as a phone number or a name but just can’t find the facilities to do it. You exist in a daze, with mere seconds lasting hours and hours lasting seconds. It’s a mishmash of confusion to the greatest extent.
I somehow ended up at my desk, and finally got through to my Mom, who was surprisingly calm and being strong, reiterating that we didn’t yet know anything and that he may not have made it into work yet that day. She advised me to be calm and assured me that we would hear something, anything, soon.
I called my Mom’s best friend Stephanie, who asked me which building he was in. I told her I thought it was the North building but I wasn’t sure, and that his office was somewhat high up as he had just recently taken photos of the stark architecture against a clear blue sky. A sky eerily similar to the one on that day where the world changed. Still thinking that this was a freak accident, I was hopeful that perhaps he was in the building that had not been hit when Stephanie told me that there were two planes, and that both buildings had been hit. I think this is when I broke down.
As an only child, my parents have often been the center of my world. The very thought of anything happening to either of them breaks my heart even in anticipation. Seeing them grow older has shown me the stark reality that we are not invincible and depicted the role that death plays in life. Thinking that I had lost my father that day paralyzed me with fear, with regret, with desolation.
I continued trying to get in touch with my Dad, but the cell phone lines were down. Dialing the number over and over again, it was all I could do to maintain a glimmer of hope that he was alright. When my phone rang and I heard his voice on the other end, I again burst into tears. He was alive.
From our brief conversation, I found out that he had gone downstairs to the Mezzanine level with his friend Bron to get his morning cup of coffee when the first plane hit. His description of the events are catastrophic, as the impact nearly imploded the level below the street where he was at. Climbing up and out of the Mezzanine, he and Bron convened upon the street and tried to figure out what to do.
He witnessed it all first-hand. He saw the unimaginable sight of people jumping to their deaths. He was there when the buildings collapsed, running for his life. And miraculously, he made it back to the hotel, relatively unscathed, at least physically. He was one of the lucky ones.
Life changed on September 11th for all of us. Many lost their fathers, their mothers, their sons & daughters. Children lost their parents. Wives lost their husbands. And even those who the attacks didn’t affect directly were changed on this day. We all lost our innocence.
Numerous stories have been done on the aftermath, how the families of the victims are coping and living and moving on. Very few, however, have been done on the families of the survivors. How the event molded some families together and how it tore others apart. How the survivors viewed life in the aftermath, some embracing life with gusto, others realizing it was too short to continue on unhappy. I was not there, did not see people jumping to their death at my feet like my father did, but I can attest that having it touch me so closely, the affects have still been many. I still wake up in the middle of the night to find tears streaming down my cheeks. I can barely remember what life was like before, when my family was intact, when a tragedy such as this was only found in a Tom Clancy novel or starred Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis on the big screen. When the feeling of protection was taken as a de facto standard in this country, when terrorism was something we only saw on the evening news on the Gaza Strip or in other, far-away lands. When a cloudless blue sky didn’t remind me of that day, two years ago, where my world changed forever.