On Sept. 11, 2002, we are still thawing those memories, struggling to make better sense of what happened and how we are changed by it. Over the past year, we have taken our first steps in a new balance between despair and hope. A national denial is through: we realize we live in an uncertain time, even as we work to rediscover certainties in our civic life, in our faith, in our constitutions and in our Constitution.
To honor the events of Sept. 11 and the year that has passed, Gambit Weekly asked 11 people in our community to tell us what the events of the day -- and the year -- mean to them.
Sculptor, UNO Professor
My brother was a firefighter killed on September 11. That morning, my wife called me on my cell phone. She had seen an Internet story that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. This was before it was even on the news, as I was dropping my kids off at school. I was concerned. Greg works lower Manhattan; another brother, Stephen, works on the Upper East Side as a firefighter as well. I called both of them; they weren't home. I left messages saying, "If you're working, be careful." Then I called their cell phones, no answer. They don't bring their cell phones into a fire. I hadn't spoken to them in about 48 hours before then.
That afternoon, I was sitting at home, waiting for the phone to ring. Stephen called me up and said, "Have you heard from Greg?" Greg was missing. And of course, a year later, Greg is gone. His body has vanished, exploded into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Stephen was off that morning, he was jogging in the park. He got to the World Trade Center about 11 o'clock that morning, working until he collapsed around 6 that evening. He then spent seven months down there working recovery, picking up flesh, bones, jewelry, fingers, feet. Stephen, quite courageously, looking for his baby brother, would pick up these boots, moving the flesh aside and seeing whose name was inside. They never found Greg. They found his flashlight -- which still works -- but nothing else.
I made a sculpture for the Ogden Museum when they said they were doing this show, America Then, America Now, in December. I had two photographs. One, my father took in 1969 before Greg was born, when they were building the World Trade Center. In the background you see the towers going up, when it's only 10 or 12 stories high. The picture is of me and my brother Paul when we were 4 and 7 years old. You can see a sign that says "Coming Soon, World Trade Center." You can also see that pit ... that pit we're all familiar with now. That deep, deep 16-acre hole of the World Trade Center.
Greg was born two months after that photo. 31 years go by. The twin towers fall down, and Greg is gone. My brother Paul and I are at a memorial service, and my brother Stephen snaps a shot of us in front of the walls of the twin towers, which had that ruinous Gothic cathedral feel to it. I realized I could use these two pictures as the bookends on either side of the twin towers' life. Before it stood and after it stood, which also parallels my brother Greg's life, because he wasn't there for the first picture nor the last.
Between those two photographs, I put a piece of steel that I got from Ground Zero from one of the firemen. Somebody brought home that piece of steel September 12, knowing that I'm a sculptor and steel is part of my thing. The steel is twisted ever so gently to imply a great force did that twisting. So I made this very simple white shelf for it, hung it on the wall and called it Before and After the Life of My Brother Gregory Saucedo. It's his absence that I wanted to express, because that's what I feel -- the absence. The absence of the towers, the absence of my brother.
Businesswoman, community activist, member of Sikh Society of the South
I am of Indian descent; I was born in Malaysia, and I have been living in the United States for 18 years. I have been traveling since September 11. I must have taken at least 10 trips since then, and there's not a single time I've been allowed to just pass through -- not a single time.
In the beginning, I thought everybody was screened. Then I saw it was not everybody, and they did it to me quite often. I've been in this country since 1985, and I travel extensively, and never, never, never have I been searched like this before.
Many times, I said I don't understand why they are pulling me out -- is it because of my name or because I look Asian? None of my family was ever pulled out before. But on my way back from Hawaii I was traveling with my husband and my older son, who is 15 but he's tall for his age. While they were waiting in Dallas, one of the officers asked my son to follow him. My husband wanted to go with them, and the officer said to my husband, "No. You sit there."
I have stopped carrying extra bags. I make sure there is nothing in my purse they can consider a sharp object. I don't wear a belt anymore because it set off the metal detector, and they have asked me to open my belt, to lift my shirt and show them what's underneath there.
In a way it is good for the safety of everybody; they definitely need to be screening. But if it's me all the time, that kind of irks me.
There is harassment to my community all over the United States, and a lot of it has to do with the turbans (that, along with beards, are traditionally worn by Sikh men). One Sikh gentleman was shot dead in Texas. When Sikhs travel sometimes they are asked to remove their turbans, and even if it's a doctor or lawyer or other professional, they want them to take them off. Now they have passed a law that you don't have to remove your turban. But that's the stories that you have heard now and then.
After September 11, I spoke in The Times-Picayune about harassment to the Sikh community, and I got some letters from people in my community, very angry at me for being in the limelight, because women are not supposed to be. But you have to speak out. I really feel that is the only way we can educate people, especially in schools. I have two kids that go to school, and in the beginning my kids were harassed in school because of the way they look, because people don't know the difference between Muslims and Sikhs.
My older son got very upset, and he almost punched one of the boys who was saying those words, and he came home and told me. I told him, "No, just keep your cool -- if they continue harassing you, just go to the principal."
I'm with the Each One Save One program. I volunteer to go to schools and counsel the children, especially Asian children. I don't mind talking to kids in school and explaining to them that it's not the religion that is bad, it's just that there are bad people. Look what happened to Timothy McVeigh -- all Caucasians are not like that. And if one black man shoots someone else, it doesn't mean all black people are bad. We should give people the respect they are due and try to respect all differences.
Public Relations Manager at Ritz-Carlton New Orleans
I can remember the lush Czech countryside as we drove back to the bustling city of Prague. It was Sept. 11, and I had taken a belated honeymoon. Prague was teeming with tourists. When we returned to our hotel, we entered the revolving doors and people were running and yelling. A tall, blond gentleman told us, "America is under attack."
I did not understand the man, but my husband followed him. I rounded a corner and saw my husband and 30 Americans sitting, standing, crying and repeatedly dialing their cell phones. Everyone was in their own little world as they sat fixated on the television. It was as if time had stopped, since the images kept repeating, and the commentary stayed the same.
My husband grabbed my hand, and we proceeded up to our room in our own state of shock. We turned on the television, still in disbelief, and my husband proceeded to try to call our parents in the U.S. The television coverage was interrupted by a blue screen; it said, "Mr. and Mrs. Schroeder, please proceed to the front desk, urgent message, U.S. Embassy." I started sobbing uncontrollably. At the front desk, someone handed me an urgent fax from the embassy. It said to remain calm, keep a low profile and that they were closing their offices as a "standard procedure."
Back upstairs, my husband began to talk to me about the implications of what had happened: Nothing would be the same, from our daily way of life to the world as we knew it. He was angry and shaking and in a mad rush as a parent to get home. We sat, staring at CNN Europe for hours ... and started planning our way home.
We had two more days in Prague, so we ventured out. We passed the U.S. Embassy, by accident, and stopped for awhile. The scene was compelling and odd. The embassy was lined with flowers, like the ones that lined Buckingham Palace when Diana died. Armed guards with semi-automatic weapons were omnipresent. A little farther down the street, guards were conducting searches of every motor vehicle and were using mirrors to look underneath each one for explosives. We remembered the "low profile" comment and kept on walking. I felt paralyzed with sadness. I just wanted to go home.
Our original flight home was scheduled for the 13th, but no planes were allowed into U.S. air space, and the news said that it could be days or weeks. We traveled from Prague to Amsterdam on the 13th and spent all of our time calling airlines. We needed to get to the U.S. After four days, four time zones and three modes of transportation, we came back to our home, our family, our dogs, our friends and our jobs, but everything seemed different.
I remember coming into the Ritz-Carlton hotel the next day, and everyone was kind of grabbing me and hugging me. I was one of two of 800 people who work there that were out-of-pocket on 9/11. I starting trying to talk to people, and I couldn't; I just kept breaking down and crying. Everyone from the general manager on down was just hugging me. That was so distinct to me -- that I mattered.
I've seen a lot of changes. I was afraid to travel. I had to go to New York not long after that. I was very afraid, panicked, nauseous. I smile at the screeners when I go through airport security and they ask me to take off my cowboy boots. I don't mind the heightened security.
Dr. Elmore Rigamer
Psychiatrist, Expert in the Psychological Effects of Terrorism
After September 11, parents needed to be reassured about what they tell their children, particularly about occurrences for which there has been no precedent in most people's lifetime. War on American soil is visible evidence at home that people hate Americans, particularly in nations whose corrupt regimes we support in order to obtain fossil fuels. September 11 brought home to children that some people do not like us. And not only do they not like us, they want to kill us, even if it means killing children.
I feel a sense of vulnerability since September 11. You know when it dawned on me most, emotionally? I took my grandchildren during the first week of December to Disney World, and we all had to stand in line to get checked, even the kids. It was one of those symbolic issues. Now because of my work, I'm in airports three days a week so I'm used to it. But my grandchildren, who are ages 4, 3 and 2, were put through security checks the way we adults were. That's the way they do it in Israel; anyone is suspect.
The other thing is this sadness about us. I used to live in Vienna. I was visiting friends there in April. The Viennese who live in the American sector, they love America. They still remember CARE packages. They said that it was odd for them to feel sorry for Americans. America was always this great giant. Not that the U.S. could not do anything wrong, but it really couldn't be brought to its knees. For them, September 11 was sort of like realizing your parents are human, that they have clay feet.
We Americans are a very resilient people, and I think we're showing that. These ceremonies, memorials and observances, and doing something to help each other, helps with that grief and fear. I don't think you can go through even New York City and say there's an unusual number of psychological cripples because of September 11. Even people who have lost family members have formed groups to help each other. Yes, they are sad, but are they incapacitated? Absolutely not. If anything, they feel a sense of triumph over the terrorists, that the terrorists are not going to win. And I think a lot of America has felt that in some ways.
I think the downside of this terrorist threat, of our extreme vulnerability, is xenophobia, the abrogation of rights, not following the Constitution, that there's no room for respectful disagreement. That really bothers me a lot. I'm glad the courts are taking on the Department of Justice and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, in terms of the illegal holdings of suspected migrants.
Today, my patients in New Orleans are more worried about the stock market than terrorism. Psychologically, the things that you cannot do anything about, you tend to minimize, normalize or deny. What are you going to do about terrorism? You may not travel abroad. You may not travel on September 11. But there isn't that much you can do.
I think healthy ways to commemorate September 11 are prayer, being part of a community event and focusing on individual profiles of the victims like The New York Times did. I would rather have children focus on that rather than the evil aspects of bin Laden.
Vice President at The Blood Center
My first thought was that our CEO was headed out of town on an airplane, so I was concerned about his safety. I got on my cell phone and called here, and most of the people here were not aware of what was going on. I asked them to go to the television and see what was happening.
When I got here we had a quick 30-minute meeting because we knew the severity of the attacks. I got in touch with the military, with Keesler Air Force Base, to see if there was any way that we could get any blood into New York, and I also contacted Blood Centers of America and the American Association of Blood Banks to see if there was an assessment of how much blood was going to be needed.
We took our management teams and distributed them in fixed-site locations among south Louisiana and Mississippi, to ensure there would be enough people to handle crowd control, because we knew there was going to be a flood of people. From that point we dispersed everyone. And then our doors were open.
By 11 a.m. we had 500, 600 people in our lobby -- it was phenomenal, the outpouring of people. In our location at Tulane Avenue we drew 300 units -- an average day for us is 10 to 12 units. We had people sitting in the hallway for six or seven hours.
The next day was a mirror image of the day before; they poured in at all of our fixed-site locations. Once we knew the need for blood in New York was not going to be as great, we started getting these people to come back at another time when we would need the blood more.
Our staff was absolutely amazing. I was actually shocked at how upbeat and outgoing they were, and how they just took it all in stride. They stayed on their feet for 10 and 12 hours.
I was actually over there registering donors, to try to alleviate some of the workload of our staff. We had people from the accounting department in there registering donors and filling out donor cards. Everyone was in there, including our president -- he was passing out donuts and pouring coffee.
We did not get to go home and see our families from Tuesday until Friday. A lot of the staff had families who came here to help out, serve refreshments -- whatever they could do. Our former public relations manager was about 11 months pregnant; it was she and I dealing with the media, and I was trying to coordinate with the military and coordinate what was going on in New York. We had other managers and directors out on the field -- everywhere you looked, it was packed.
In three days, we drew about 3,800 units. We stocked hospitals as fully as we could. We stopped mobile operations, we cut back on the fixed-site locations and minimized our operations for the next two, two-and-a-half weeks, and scaled it back dramatically to make sure we could use all of this blood.
What amazes me the most is we've been suffering blood shortages all year, and the public doesn't seem to understand that when we don't have people donating all year, we have a crisis in the community every single day. The incident with the ship that hit the Riverwalk, the Mother's Day bus crash -- those type of things happen. They're not as large a scale, but they are things that happen within our community that are tragic, and we need people to understand they've got to get out and donate on a regular basis; they've got to donate three times a year, four times a year. The real heroes were the ones who went and donated blood before the attacks.
Piano Player at Pat O'Brien's
I was wondering if we were going to work, but we did. There was no question at all. Pat O'Brien's basically trusts us to handle whatever situation we're in. Nobody said anything to me; we just kept on going. And that's the way that room is: whatever's happening in the world, whatever's happening on the football field, whoever's celebrating or memorializing, that's what goes on in that room.
It was difficult, the most difficult day I can remember at Pat O'Brien's. You just didn't know how to feel, and everybody was in shock.
Most of the people in the audience were tourists that were stranded here. They wanted to be with each other. It was like a support group. There were a lot of people from New York, and they wanted a couple of drinks or a cup of coffee. Everyone was very distraught. One man from Boston, he was stranded here and stayed the whole day. From what I understand, he stayed most of the night. Then he came back the next day, and he stayed the whole week. He probably just got up and had his breakfast, and then came and sat at Pat O'Brien's, and just sat there and talked.
My heart was wrenched. We do a lot of singalongs, but some of the material I said, 'I'm just not going to play this, because it's too happy.' People really wanted to hear patriotic songs. It started this patriotic thing in there, that just built and built and built and continued the weeks and months that came after. People wanted to hear "Proud to Be an American," "The Star-Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful," "God Bless America," "Amazing Grace," "New York, New York." People cling to these things, the songs. They're one of the few ways everybody can communicate -- we can all agree on certain songs. They're like hymns. We always did get requests for those songs, but even six months after 9/11, it's amazing to see such a show in patriotism, where everybody stood up and sang.
Everybody talked to everybody. Everybody from out of town had a story, and everybody around them was willing to listen. At some points we weren't really playing, just talking to people from the stage and discussing the events going on.
We get military people who come in before they're going out or while they're in training, and they'll come in and have a couple hurricanes, or they're spending time with their family before they leave. It was like that during the Gulf War, too, with a lot of servicemen coming and going. In fact, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon ('Round the Ole Oak Tree) is still a big song. People would go up to the servicemen and shake their hands and tell them thank you for protecting our country. There was a lot of that.
At the end of the day, I just felt like, we got through this day. The days after that weren't easy, either.
Rabbi Robert Loewy
Congregation Gates of Prayer
I can't say my first thoughts were ministerial. I think my first thoughts were much like anyone else's. I was driving my daughter to school, and we were listening to one of her teeny-bop stations. They broke through with the news.
I think part of my reaction -- once I got past the human reaction and the loss of life -- was some political concern. My concern was, first, for the United States and then I couldn't help but think, "Now we're experiencing what Israel has experienced." Terrorism in Israel has been something that we as a Jewish community have always been sensitive to and, of course, we've become more so because of what's happened in Israel since 9/11 in terms of the increase of the so-called homicide-, suicide-bombings. I also was concerned -- and fortunately unfoundedly so -- lest America look at this event and say, "See, this is what comes from supporting the democracy of Israel."
Then came how to deal with a congregation. My first thought was, "I know people are going to want to come and pray." Because in times of need, in times of crisis, that's what people very naturally do. We were in the proverbial foxhole.
First, we planned an interfaith service because I thought this isn't a Gates of Prayer issue, this is a community issue. We have a longstanding connection with our neighbor across the street, St. Clement of Rome. So it was a very natural call, and their response was, of course, very positive. Actually, we expanded our usual twosome to include the other synagogue on West Esplanade, Shir Chadesh, which has a connection with St. Matthew Methodist Church, and so the four of us got together. That was certainly what was needed.
People often ask the question, "Where is God in all this?" The answer that I give, to use a term my rabbi used to teach me years ago, is that God is not a cosmic bellhop who's just jumping at our every ring. We as people of faith believe that God gives us free will. And, with free will, we have to bear the consequences when some choose to use it for purposes of evil. Where was God? God was with the firefighters and with the police and with the emergency personnel and with the volunteers, with everyone who stepped forward to give blood, with all those who reached out to others.
"Hazim" (not his real name) and His Attorney
Illegal Immigrant Facing Deportation
Hazim: The brake tag had expired, so the police stopped us. There were three passengers. I was a passenger in the back seat. Mohammed was driving. The policeman called in his license number. He asked about our immigrant status.
When he spoke to me, I lied. I said I came here and I have a visa. He asked me for a home phone number and then called and asked for my visa. We sat in his car for about an hour. Then the policeman called the Border Patrol and said, "Meet me halfway." When they came, they asked me questions, and I told them everything.
They took me first to Jefferson Parish Prison. Then to Tulane and Broad -- Orleans Parish Prison. I stayed in jail 11 days. My wife couldn't come to see me. For the first three days, I couldn't call either. I was released on $7,500 bond.
Attorney: I've seen many stops like this since September 11. Most of the stops are in Jefferson Parish and in the rural areas. Or in Mississippi.
Every aspect of government thinks they're involved in the war against terrorism. People are now having problems having married without immigration papers. I had a case where a whole town would not let this lady marry a Middle Eastern man. The judge himself called the Border Patrol, and they came and took the man away while the couple was trying to get married.
These people have the public's backing to do all this. You will not find a sympathetic ear.
Hazim: In 1999, I came here illegally; I crossed the Mexican border. My wife is a legal resident of the United States. Back before 1990, I was living in Kuwait. The other Bush was president. He sent in troops for the Gulf War. The Kuwaitis made all the Palestinians leave. A big number went back to Jordan. But there was no life there for us.
I met my wife in Ramallah in 1995. We were married there. She came to visit me several times after that. We would talk on the telephone every other week because it cost so much to call -- 71 Jordan dinars, or $1.35 a minute. And I was only making $135 dollars a month.
My oldest daughter was already born by the time I entered the U.S. The other two -- both sons -- came afterward.
My wife tried to apply for me in 1996. But it was denied. I thought, "They don't accept me legally, so I'm going to go in." Now I'm facing deportation.
After 9/11, people back home told me, "Be careful; take care of yourself." They were worried about me. The event changed the life of all Middle Easterners here. It probably hurt the Muslim and Arab population of the United States more than anything else. We're in a bad position.
Lt. Col. Brian D. Perry Sr.
Attorney, Retired NOPD Officer, U.S. Army Reservist
I volunteered to go to Bagram in north central Afghanistan so I could kind of control my destiny. I wouldn't want to be assigned to just some clerical job.
I arrived in Afghanistan in November. There were still special operations forces searching the caves for terrorists and the bombing of Tora Bora. I was in combat; I just didn't shoot anyone. The main thing that happened when I was there was people stepping on land mines. And they still are today. Every single night we were there, somebody or something was blown up by a mine. A kid. A dog. A lot of kids were missing an arm or a leg. We would fly the kids to a hospital in Germany.
When we first got there, we bought Afghan sweaters and scarves and hats. We didn't want to look like Afghans; we just didn't want to look like soldiers. If we went some place, we had beards and long hair and our guns were hidden. We could be French, we could be aid workers, but by the time anybody figured out we were American soldiers, we were outta there.
Going into Kabul and going through some of these checkpoints set up by the Northern Alliance and different people we didn't know was kind of dangerous. We had an armored Jeep Cherokee. But they had these big anti-aircraft guns that would have gone right through us, like butter. So there were times when we were speeding through these checkpoints and they wanted us to stop. We were ready to fire. We never knew who was who.
My NOPD training helped, definitely. There were New York City detectives over there both as reserves and in their capacity as detectives. My unit was really a hodgepodge organization of people from different agencies, including the FBI. Once they learned I was an ex-New Orleans policeman, I really became part of the group. We had common ground.
As Bagram grew and grew, we bought about 30 bikes from China just to get around the base. I had a little bicycle to get some exercise during the day. It was a green little junky bike. I used to ride it around outside the gate, which was kind of dangerous. It brought so much attention; kids surrounded me. And those little kids had guns, too. They were 12 or 13 years old and they had AK-47s. One kid offered to trade me his AK-47 for my bike. I said no thanks.
The Northern Alliance wanted to set up a perimeter with their machine guns so I would be left alone to ride my bike, but that didn't seem like a good idea. We ended up giving away the bikes to the kids when we left.
I was in Bagram for the whole five months I was there, from November to May. There are beautiful snow-capped mountains and beautiful blue sky. At night, you can see every star in the sky. But the ground was real foreboding, full of mines, full of debris ... a lot of tanks and vehicles that were blown up. It was a clash of differences, like optimism and pessimism.
Alvin Reed and Sara Newman
Doorman (Reed) and Manager (Newman), Hotel Monteleone
Reed: I came to work that day -- September 11th -- and I asked to go home. I'm a doorman. And I wasn't in a smiling happy mood. I couldn't do it.
After that day, a lot of hours were cut. But our hours at the Monteleone weren't cut as badly as hours at other hotels. We have conventions, but we have some visitors who come here every week. All the conventions were cut; all the flights were cut back. The hotels were empty. They didn't need housekeeping. They didn't need all those people -- for what?
Newman: We never cut anybody from the hotel after September 11th. We didn't do any layoffs whatsoever. We cut hours, but we did not cut a single person. We tried to give people vacation or holiday pay, so that people were still being paid and on the payroll.
Housekeeping was hit the hardest. It's our largest department -- usually 6,000 hours a month. In October, it was down to the bare minimum. Probably in half, 3,000 or 4,000.
We -- all the hotels in the city -- were on a hiring freeze for about six months. It was lifted in early spring, after Mardi Gras. Our hiring freeze at the Monteleone lasted longer. That's the difference between a family-owned hotel and the bigger ones. They will lay off more quickly. But then they can hire more quickly, too.
Reed: My wife works at the Marriott, and she was cut back to two days a week. We have a 5-year-old daughter. We had to watch our budget. Because we didn't know if my hours were going to be cut.
Everybody was hurting. The taxi drivers out here, everybody. It's a tourism town, a convention town. Everything came to a halt.
I talk with everybody. That's my job. So I share this with a lot of people. Just how those people (in the World Trade Center) were up in their office, taking a sip off their coffee. And they look out the window and see what's coming at them.
I believe in God. I have faith. I walk on faith. September 11th took all my fears away. Because that's how fast we can leave this earth. Life could be cut short at any time. That lady shot coming home from choir rehearsal the other night -- that's another example.
I'm talking to you, and I'm talking to you from my heart. When it gets here, September 11th will tell. Right now, people are back to their normal things. Like the president says, we got to get on with our lives.
I come from a family of New Yorkers that dates back to the 1870s; we're Brooklyn born and bred. I graduated from New York University, came down to New Orleans in 1989 to attend Tulane's law school and have worked here ever since.
My father, 65-year-old Jordan Newman, worked eight years in the north tower of the World Trade Center as an attorney for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. I was never that crazy about how the towers looked, which to me was like two big electric razors. But he always got a charge out of being in the neighborhood. The building was such a lively place, filled with activity. He liked working there.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, my mom drove my dad to the bus station like she usually did, then went to her job as a second-grade schoolteacher at P.S. 225 in Brighton Beach. They were both happy because fall was approaching, and they were planning on visiting my sister and me for Thanksgiving. They had been thinking about changing the ticket to come here early, and Mom had been bugging Dad to go ahead and make the change. He finally relented and replied, "OK, I'll do it today."
The airline had a ticket counter in the lobby of the north tower. On the way in, instead of going straight to his office on the 68th floor, Dad went to the lobby to make the change. As soon as he picked up the tickets, there was a tremendous explosion and people started running out of the building. He went outside, looked up and saw this amazing ball of fire.
That morning, I was fighting a head cold, a pretty bad one. I'd gotten up a couple minutes before 8 a.m., New Orleans time, and called in sick. I turned on NPR, and they said they had an unconfirmed report that a commuter plane had hit the World Trade Center's north tower. I thought, "It's 9 a.m. there; Dad must be at his desk."
I flipped out. I ran into the living room and turned on CNN and saw the World Trade Center on fire. I grabbed my phone and called his office. His answering machine in his office picked up. I hung up. I called both my sisters and told my sister Roxanne up in New York to get Mom out of class. Mom really had her wits about her, because she called her answering machine at home to see if Dad had called. Before both towers collapsed, Mom called me and said, "Look, don't worry, I got a message from Dad, he said there was some sort of explosion, and he was leaving." The message was five minutes after 9 a.m., New York time.
We were relieved -- albeit momentarily, because soon after both towers collapsed. So then I'm thinking, "Was he on the street? Was he waiting for a cab or a bus? Did he really get out? Was he out when left the message? Was he down in the subway station? Where did he go?" I had this horrible concern that he was still there. As the second tower fell, I thought, "I can't believe this is happening, and this is it. Our life with our father is over, our life as a family is forever changed."
Mom had given me the code to check their machine. Within about 45 minutes of the north tower collapsing, I checked it, and after his message came one from an old law school friend of my father's who had worked in the same office with him at the World Trade Center but had since retired, calling to ask if he was OK. After hearing this, I was thinking, there's going to be a flood of these. But the next one was my father saying, "Hi, it's Jordan, I'm across the Brooklyn Bridge, and I'm going to try to catch a bus home."
It turns out that when my father -- who is an avid walker -- heard the explosion and went outside, he simply started walking away from the towers. He kept walking, rarely looking back, until he crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. It wasn't until later when he called me, at about 11:15 a.m., New York time, that I told him of the magnitude of the disaster. I said, "Dad, the towers are gone," and there was just silence on the other end of the line.
Did 9/11 change my father? I can't say. I really don't know. I think we're lucky that it didn't, maybe. I don't think he likes to dwell on it. One time last week while visiting, I toured Ground Zero and commented the next morning how it looked like a vacuum. Without looking up, Dad said, "It was worse when it was filled with debris."
And that's all he said.