September 2010


The last full blog post I wrote was about 9/11… and as deeply as I feel about those events, I still don’t want to be married to man I almost lost that day.  It doesn’t mean that I love him any less or take his life for granted.  He will always be a part of my life as the father of our beautiful boys, and I will always love him and cherish him and honor him.  I just don’t think I’m meant to be his wife.  Is that wrong, on the basis of what happened 9 years ago?  Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t ever let him go, other times I just want to be free.  Mostly, I want to be in love again.

Sigh.

I’m not sure if I ever posted our story on here, so in honor of the anniversary, here goes…

My then-boyfriend Brian (now husband) and I moved in together in an apartment on Long Island, New York on September 1st, 2001.  Eleven days later, terrorists flew planes into the building that he worked in.  He is a survivor of the attacks, and while his story may pale in comparison to other stories of survival, it was still a day that changed our lives in ways I can barely do justice to.  My typed words here do nothing to describe the anguish felt all of the country and all over the world on 9/11/01 and the following days.  I haven’t told this story in a few years and have just remembered the day quietly with extra hugs, but this year feels different somehow.

9/11/01 was a picture perfect day, weather-wise.  It was a clear and crisp Fall day in New York, and it started off just like any other.  Brian took the train from our apartment into work, and I drove myself to my office job at a local cable company.  I sat down at my desk and Brian called a few minutes later to say that he had arrived at his own desk at Baseline Corporation on the 76th floor of WTC @ (aka The South Tower or Tower Two).  Ever since he got the job there, it made me nervous.  I love New York City and I always will… it’s my hometown.  Nonetheless, it can be an intimidating place to be at times although I always felt empowered by this sense of enormity.  Anyway.  Brian always called me when he got to work, knowing that I was anxious about the location ever since the terrorist attacks of the 1990’s.  So he was there, and he was fine, just eating his cinnamon-raisin bagel with cream cheese and starting his day.  Most of his co-workers had not yet arrived.  In fact, most of the building’s occupants had not yet arrived, since it was before 9am and NYers generally work 9-5 (a detail that somehow escaped the mind’s of the terrorists… had the events happened later in the day, thousands of more people would be gone).

A few minutes later, he called me back.  “That’s odd”, I thought, when I saw his number pop up on the caller ID.

He told me not to freak out.

He said that something had “happened” at the other building, Tower 1.  There was some type of an explosion.  I immediately screamed at him to leave the building, and he said he would, but that he was fine and was going to see what was going on.  He could see glass and paper and other debris falling out of the windows.  The televisions around me (I worked at the cable company, so everyone had a TV in their office) started airing breaking newscasts of an explosion at the World Trade Center.  No one knew that it was an airplane, yet.  So Brian was leaving the building, heading back to the apartment that his parents owned in Midtown, which was vacant since he moved out of it just two weeks ago.  But at this point, it was just an explosion in one of the buildings.  And then I watched, on live television,  an airplane fly into what appeared to be the floor that Brian worked on.  Boom.

I am skipping over major detail here, things that occurred to me and the people around me when we lived through the morning, but it’s just too painful to recount.  You can’t imagine.  One thing I will say, though, is that I’ve never heard my mother’s voice sound so horrible as I did up until that day.  My family all knew and loved Brian very well at this point, and knew that we’d end up married someday… and again, we had only just moved in together days earlier.  My mom was at home, watching TV along with the rest of the world.  She saw the plane hit the building.  She knew Brian was in there.  She thought he was dead.  I called her and she picked up the phone, and for a split second I had thought I dialed the wrong number.  This was my mom, on the other line, screaming like this?  MY mom, my strong-never-sheds-a-tear mother?  I’ll never forget that moment.  In a voice that was steadier and more secure than I knew I had, I told her he got out.  He got out.  I knew he had gotten out.  I could feel it.  I didn’t know, not for sure, not for another few hours, and from that moment on  I spiraled into emotions I don’t wish on anybody else, ever.

The next two hours went by without a word from him as I watched the events unfold on TV screens around me, and cried hysterically.  HYSTERICALLY.  I was almost screaming.  My co-workers and were mostly all in tears… praying aloud and hugging each other.  I wouldn’t leave my desk…I kept waiting for Brian to call me and tell me he got out in time.  PLEASE GOD, let him call me and tell me he got out in time.  It took two long and excruciating hours, but I did get that phone call.

Brian survived.

He took what was in all likelihood the very last elevator to go down the South Tower.  He made it out… not only alive, but uninjured.  Brian told me that he and a few of his co-workers milled about for a minute or two, looking out of the windows at the chaos next door.  Eventually they got on the elevator, but the receptionist that was walking with them went back in to answer the phones.  Her name was Jill Campbell and she had a baby boy who was only a few months old, and my husband was one of the last few people to see her alive.  I still can’t comprehend that.

Brian tells me that when he got down to the lobby of the WTC he heard announcements telling people not to panic, and to go back to their offices.  Return. to. their.desks.   He went outside instead, and within minutes looked up and watched a fire ball explode as another airplane crashed into the Tower.  He heard loud crashes as things fell from the next Tower.  Bodies fell.  There was an overhang built outside of the lobby, and bodies were hitting it and crashing through, sending glass everywhere.

Baseline, the company he worked for at the time, lost 4 of their employees, including their receptionist.  4 lives lost was a small consideration amidst the masses of other tragedies, but 1 life lost still meant the world to 1 family.  Nine years later, I still cannot wrap my brain around this level of pain and loss.  It’s too huge.

That morning, Brian literally ran.. BOLTED… from the World Trade Center into Chinatown (quite a long distance for those that are familiar with the city) before his adrenaline calmed down enough for him to convince a deli-owner to let him use the phone to call his family.  He was in there, he said.  He just got out and he needed to call his family and tell them he was still alive.  He called his mother and then called me.  He had to convince the deli-owner to let him use the phone… cell phones were not working.  Signals were too jammed.  He went back to the apartment that he used to live in and later on, walked through a deserted Manhattan to get on the trains back to Long Island that had finally started running again, hours after the city had shut down.  Our reunion was tear-filled and intense, and continued to be as Brian met the embraces of our combined family and friends.  He was okay.  Unbelievably, miraculously, his life was spared.

The weeks following the terrorist attacks were awful.  I had extreme Survivor’s Guilt and Brian was dealing with details of his employer relocating, healing, trying to patch up what was impossible to repair. We lived right next to JFK airport at the time, and every airplane engine that I heard for months following made my heart race.

I remember one guy had used the phone in my office to call into the military branch that he worked for, to find out his orders… he was a big guy… over six feet tall and muscular, with a close-cropped haircut.  He was visibly shaking as he dialed the phone.  I later learned he was part of the rescue efforts and pulled victims, both alive and dead, from the rubble of the attacks until the fires stopped 100 days later.  He, along with the woman who shared the office I worked in on that day and who has remained my very close friend, would call each other on the anniversary of the attacks in the years following, but now it’s been nine years and I can’t forget his name and that makes me very sad.  He was one of the bravest people I ever met.

I have several other friends who were in the area on 9/11/01 and who can attest to horror-book stories of blackness and ash and fear, of running and hiding in buildings as clouds of debris swam through the city streets.  They’ll tell you about the rats that could be seen scurrying down to the Financial District in the aftermath. Think about that for a second.  Rats.

I don’t know what else to write.  I don’t know how to describe what I’m feeling and now I’m really not sure if I should have written this or if there is any way to do justice to the events, in any means. I am humbled by the power of God and man to accomplish what occurred on that day, from the worst evil to the most amazing feats of salvation.  There are so many stories, so many miracles, so many devastations and broken hearts, and my heart and soul will be scarred until the day God finally takes us from this earth.  I will never ever ever forget.

Never forget.

I love you, Brian.