Ann and I have just put the four children to bed that we brought into the world after Osama bin Laden tried to ruin it. Watching the news recaps, tributes, and the name ceremony a short drive south today was painful for us, not because because we lost anyone (our loved ones were, fortunately, all spared), but because of the abject terror of that day 10 years ago. We were in Manhattan that morning.
Our wedding was scheduled for September 29, 2001. Ann’s parents were on a plane due that afternoon from Korea. And on our short drive from her apartment to her office on the upper east side, we could see the north tower billowing thick black smoke in the distance, like a big cigar sticking up. By the time we parked and went upstairs to her office, everyone was watching TV. We saw the 2nd plane hit the south tower, live on TV, a cab ride away. The shock of the event, the malfeasance and planning that had obviously gone into the operation, was chilling. News reports were alarming- other planes were hijacked- the Pentagon was hit- the port authority was closing the bridges and tunnels-and soon, we would not be able to leave Manhattan. Ann wanted to remain at her office in case her parents needed to reach her. I couldn’t see us separating. We English majors are too familiar with irony to let that happen.
With the disaster so close, the news of war trickling in and the unknown hanging over our heads like the sword of Damacles, I appreciated, for the first time, what my father must have gone through when he served in the 2nd World War and Korea. What would they hit next? The subways? The water? I put Ann back in the car and we went downstairs. In the lobby, we saw the south tower fall on TV.
We crossed the 3rd Avenue Bridge into the Bronx and started home to my mother’s house in Ossining. I specifically chose that bridge because it wasn’t a Port Authority crossing, and wouldn’t be closed. There were no cars on the road as I drove home. I felt like I was in an apocolyptic movie. But it was real, and it was absolutely terrifying because it was in our midst. And we didn’t know what would happen next. I felt certain that they would sabotage the trains. They seemed more vulnerable than planes.
The stories we heard on the phone with friends were not TV network news. People were jumping from the towers with flaming clothes. They jumped in groups. My brother lost a client who was trapped above the impact whose last call to his wife was that the floor was getting very hot. He was never found. And after the towers fell, you could see the cloud for miles while sirens blared in the distance. Ann’s aunt in Chinatown, a few blocks from what was already being called “Ground Zero,” was unreachable because the phone infrastructure was severed. And there were a bunch of channels on my mother’s TV showing a test pattern. I will never forget the fear we felt, the metallic, cold terror of what the next moment would bring, and the great effort to get my mind around such an unthinkable tragedy a brisk walk away.
All loved ones were accounted for by the end of the week. My in laws stayed in a high school gym in Minnesota after they were grounded. Ann’s aunt was fine. We were all OK physically. It took all we had to resume our plans and not let evil deter us from our lives. I could go on for pages, but we got home safe, and we got married 18 days later. On July 16, 2002, Luke was born. He was the first of 4 candles we lit against that backdrop of darkness. Ann has said that if we met at 23 and not 33 that we’d have 4 more.
Ann worked through her pregnancy at her job in Manhattan, and I drove her every day. She never rode a train again. Once we were parents, we sought to live and work in Westchester. The rest is history.