I have a confession to make.
I stopped watching the 9/11 memorial tribute on television years ago. I no longer watch the news or read the paper that day either. I never have been to Ground Zero nor do I ever plan to.
It isn’t because I don’t want to remember, on the contrary, it is because I've never forgotten.
If you ask me what I had for dinner two nights ago, I'd be stumped but ask me anything about September 11, 2001 and I can recall it in vivid detail. From the pajamas I wore, to the sound of my then fiancé waking me to tell me a plane had hit one of twin towers, to racing into the living room and being glued to the television for hours.
Like many, my fiance and I initially assumed it was an accident. We thought maybe it was one of those helicopters that take tourists around to see the New York skyline or perhaps a small plane whose pilot had somehow lost control.
I thought immediately of my own father who worked on Wall Street a few blocks from the World Trade Center. I looked at the clock and realized it was about the time he would be showing up to work. Desperate I ran to the phone and punched in his home phone number. He answered groggy, I’d woken him. Turns out he’d overslept that day. “Dad, turn on the news. A plane crashed into the World Trade Center,” I said not even believing the words as they came out of my mouth. “What? Hold on”, he said as I heard the bedsheets rustling in the background as he scrambled to look for the remote control. Suddenly, I was hit with the sound in stereo— the reports from my television in the apartment I had just moved into just day before from downtown along with the TV in my father's bedroom.
We sat on the phone in silence for several minutes, taking it all in. Then I heard him hurriedly getting dressed as I watched the tragedy play out from the safety of my living room. Suddenly he said “ I've got to go to work”. “ What are you talking about”? I said as I heard his front door slam behind him as he headed to the elevator. “You can't go” I urged. “ I overslept and Steve the driver is downstairs waiting for me to go to the office. I'll be OK’, he said and hung up.
I put the receiver down and sat frozen on the couch watching the destruction unfold before my eyes. Reporters and cameramen caught debris floating through the air and then the reporter said” Wait, that is not debris. Those are people jumping from the towers’. My stomach flipped. Tears began streaming down my face. People were willfully throwing themselves out of the towers! The clear blue skies of that weekday morning were turning into black fog and chaos had erupted in the downtown streets as I sat watching, helpless.
15 minutes later my phone rang. It was my dad. By now the news was reporting it was a suspected act of terrorism. Police were closing streets and my father and his driver were turned away and he was headed back home. His own office building was closed as windows were blown out from the explosions. Now a second plane had hit the second tower and a collective shock wave traveled around the world. This was no accident.
My thoughts immediately turned to all my friends that worked on Wall Street as the news began reporting the companies that were based in the towers. There was my childhood friend Andy who just a year before had proudly given me a tour of his office high in the sky at Cantor Fitzgerald. He made a point of walking me over to the windows to show me the view and we remarked how it was as if he worked in the heavens. It would be days before I would learn that Andy had been in his office when the towers hit.
Soon after I would learn that Lance and Mike who worked for my dad’s Wall Street firm for years had both recently started new jobs at Cantor Fitzgerald as well and were at work when the buildings collapsed.
Then there were the countless firemen I worked with each year during Fleet week who were on call. These were the heroes summoned to bravely rush into the towers while everyone else rushed out in the other direction. All of them, now gone.
I think of all these guys often, not just on 9/11.
I choose to remember them the way I knew them best, alive and happy. The final time I saw Andy he was dressed to the nines on the dance floor at our friend Noel Ashman’s party. He was grinning from ear to ear as he kissed me hello. Later that evening, I remember kissing him goodbye never imagining it would be the last time I would ever see him. That it would be the last time he’d be smiling and dancing with not a care in the world, his whole twenty-something life ahead of him.
I remember seeing Lance a few months before in my dad's office. He was casually sipping his coffee and looked up with a smile followed by his regular “Hey Jen, what's up”? We’d made typical small talk and he’d showed my photos of his wife and baby girl. He was so proud of his girls.
I’d bumped into Mike one Saturday night at the Outback Bar on the Upper East Side with my friends. Mike who was a well-meaning nerdy type had gotten stuck in the men's room when the doorknob had fallen off and we all teased him for a good part of the night. He was a good sport about it and bought everyone a round of drinks.
I can still picture the friendly faces of the firemen as they arrived to celebrate Fleet Week at the Intrepid Museum where I worked for three years.
I think of all these men and the countless other people that tragically perished that morning often. All they did was show up to work that morning, without a clue of what was in store for them. Although fifteen years has passed, that day is still so fresh in my memory I don’t need to watch the news footage or tune in to hear the victims names read aloud.
I remember my friends throughout the year, not just today. It’s the little things. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting a whiff of someone's cologne on the subway during rush hour that makes me look around for Andy, or it’s the guy walking in front of me with the same haircut as Lance or I’m sitting in a restaurant and I see an awkward yuppie-type that reminds me of Mike and I smile.
Today on September 11, 2016 I went about the activities of a regular Sunday afternoon. I went to the dry cleaner and couldn’t help but notice the tailor's American flag t-shirt. I stopped in to buy a bagel and heard the news in the background reading the victim’s name. I walked to the Brooklyn promenade just a few blocks from my home to get some exercise and I came upon a crowd of people in silent prayer, staring across the river where the freedom tower now stands. I can’t help it but when I look at the skyline I still see those towers.
I found a quiet bench in the shade to eat my bagel and look into the clear blue sky and think of how much time has really past and yet how it seems like just yesterday.
Life goes on and all those who perished live on in our memories, frozen in time. I realize it doesn't really matter where I was for I am still here , it only matters where they were because they are now part of the tragic story itself. Standing in line waiting for their morning coffee, picking up their phone to do the first trade of the day, sitting in their seat on the plane home returning to loved ones, heading out of town on a flight for business, suiting up at the firehouse for the fateful last call of duty.
As I walk down my street today I notice they are crowded however they are eerily silent. There are no cars honking, no cell phones ringing, even the people sitting outside out the sidewalk cafes are eating quietly. I only hear the clanking of silverware hitting plates.
We are the lucky ones who are here to tell the story for those who no longer can.
Goodnight in Heaven Andy, Lance and Mike and all the other loved ones who died that day. You will never be forgotten.