Telling the stories of our family has taught me that it is important to tell the stories of our present also. Hopefully someday someone else will come looking for our stories.
September 11, 2001 started out like any other day, until it wasn’t. It was my mom and dad’s wedding anniversary and even though my dad was gone we still celebrated it. It was also the 1yr anniversary of finding out that our first baby was on the way.
I got up that morning and did the laundry, the dryer had stopped working a couple of days earlier. With a 3 1/2 month old there was a lot of laundry. My husband, Jason had gone out of town for training for his job. I had a basket of wet laundry and was headed out to hang it on the line when the phone rang.
It was my sister calling to say that something was going on in NYC and I better turn on the TV. Jason was in lower Manhattan that morning, specifically he was on the 61st floor of the South Tower. I turned on the TV just in time to see his tower being hit. At the time I only knew he was on the 61st floor but I wasn’t sure which tower. We live almost 300 miles from NYC and he was supposed to be there for 3 weeks of training with Morgan Stanley, it was his 3rd day in the city.
My sister knew he was in NY but didn’t’ realize he was in the WTC, immediately said she was on her way over. I called his regular office in Buffalo, I will never forget the tone of the person I spoke too. She just kept saying they didn’t know anything and they had been trying to call the switchboard for information, and she kept saying she was sorry.
There were a lot of phone calls for the next little while – I called his mom, I called my office to say I wouldn’t be in – they hadn’t heard yet. Then I called my mom. I held it together pretty well until I heard her voice and then I fell apart. She said she was on her way.
It is is such silly details that we remember during crisis. I remember holding the baby who was by now crying right along with me trying to decide what to wear. I mean really, what is the appropriate outfit for such a situation? I have no idea what I actually put on. My sister arrived and was followed by my neighbor from across the street. She had been watching things unfold on tv and kept looking at our house and trying to convince herself Jason wasn’t in THOSE buildings. When she saw my sister, she knew he was.
Before long, the house was filled with people. The thing I remember most were the telephones. My neighbor had her cell and her cordless, my mom (who lived next door) had her cell and cordless and the phones were constantly ringing. As the news spread, the calls kept coming. I started carrying our cordless phone around because I couldn’t distinguish all the ringtones. My neighbor took over caring for Baby James, she made a bottle and got him dressed. I just couldn’t function, I just kept thinking – how could I ever tell him about his dad, how could I teach him to play hockey, throw a spiral, be a good man?
They kept telling me not to watch the tv, but I thought maybe I would see him. The absolute lowest moment came when the South Tower came down, by now I knew that is where he was and I thought if he is trying to get out there is no way…
His class had just stopped for a break and all the smokers headed down to have a cigarette outside. Jason was standing and looking out over the river, he could see the Statue of Liberty. When the North Tower was hit they heard an explosion and he saw paper and broken glass in the air. They thought something internal had caused a fire. Morgan Stanley had a good evacuation plan in place. After the 1993 bombings they came up with their own plans. They had people on each floor who told them which stairs to go down and that no matter what they heard, they were not to come back into the building.
So they started walking, still having no idea what happened, they heard the announcements telling them that the South Tower was secure and to back to their offices, he saw people turn around. He saw the firemen on their way up the stairs. He and another person helped a woman who was getting too tired to walk, they carried her heels and and her bag for her. When he was at about the 40th floor his tower was hit. The lights went out and the building started to shake, he said a prayer for James and I and then just kept going.
When he finally got outside he stood and looked at the devastation. He will never tell me all that he saw that day. He saw unspeakable things. As he stood there trying to figure out what was happening, he heard a rumbling. He didn’t know what it was but knew it wasn’t good. He was about a block away when the Tower started to come down. He started to run and was one of the people covered in ash. He had a very small burn on his hand but was otherwise unhurt.
The phone I was holding rang a little before 10:30 and his number was on the screen. I didn’t say anything to anyone and answered it. In the most calm, casual voice, my sweet husband said “Hi Honey, I thought you might have the TV on.” It was literally the only call he was able to get through while he was in Manhattan. The scene that unfolded in my living room is something I will never forget as long as I live. Our mother’s hugging each other and everyone was crying. It was the most joyful, devastating moment I have ever been a part of. To be to happy amongst so much destruction was haunting.
Jason literally had NO idea what had hit him. He asked me if I knew what had happened, that he had heard something about an airplane on his way down the stairs. He was standing in the middle of it and didn’t know what was happening. We only spoke for a few minutes and he was trying to figure out where he was and how to get to his hotel.
I was a travel agent at the time and called my office. They booked car rentals at all the major airports for him. The next day he was finally able to get to Newark and get a car, he brought several people from our area with him and dropped them off along the way.
We had a gathering at our house on the Friday night after. I think almost everyone we knew was there. I just remember the amazing feeling of love in the house that night, everyone was still reeling and it was honest and raw. No one was afraid to say “I love you”. I can remember one neighbor saying it in a way it made her think of “It’s a Wonderful Life”
For the first few years he was busy trying to convince everyone he was fine, he would answer questions about it but would never, ever bring it up. On about the 5th anniversary he finally started talking about it. The 10th anniversary was probably the hardest. Our 3rd son had just been born after a tough pregnancy and scary delivery. We went to a 9/11 exhibit. It was tough to see and it was the first time our older boys really started to understand. They had a lot of questions. Jimmy obviously didn’t have any memory of the day, for Thomas and Sean it will only ever be a story.
There have been a lot of bumps in the road in the days and years since that Tuesday morning. He isn’t the same person who walked into the South Tower that morning, but really none of us are. There has also been so much joy and so many milestones that we have shared together. Baby James is now 15 and a pretty good hockey player, as is his brother Thomas, and we have Sean, our sweet 5yr old. His due date was Sept. 11, he came earlier than that and has taught us to savor those sweet early years all over again. There is not a day that goes by that we don’t give thanks. Life isn’t perfect, it is messy and busy and pretty amazing.