The Wise Novelist

Twenty-Two Years – Never Forget

My friend, Pete Sheridan, texted me last night to ask if I was watching 60 Minutes. Evidently there was a special broadcast about 9/11. He shared that it had moved him to tears. As of the time I am posting this, a dozen more Riverdalians added to that sentiment on my FB feed. I’m sure that number will swell into the thousands by day’s end.

We all know where we were the morning the Twin Towers fell.

I was on the subway heading south in Manhattan to work when the cars came to stop and the announcement came across the PA system telling us that the subway system was being shut down and would we please all exit the station in an orderly fashion. I had no idea what was happening until I got to street level. The first images that registered were two African American women, wearing a patina of grey dust, holding each other, crying. It was surreal. Someone shouted the first tower had fallen and the second was on fire.

There was no cell service and I could not find a working pay phone. Every cab was taken and pretty much at a standstill as check points were implemented and bridges closed. I started walking north.

My wife and I had gone for a run that morning in Van Cortlandt Park. It was a clear, crisp, autumn day and I was in no rush to get to work.

Lisa had dropped me at the subway and was home taking care of some chores when her sister, Michele, called her from Florida and told her to turn on the television.

Luke was in North Carolina at College. Mark and Jackie were at their schools in New Rochelle. They were safe.

The walk was strange. More of a march. We were all zombies, trying to digest the scraps we had heard on the streets as we all headed north towards the 225th street bridge, trying to get out of Manhattan. Some people were covered in dust. A lot of people were crying.

Word quickly spread that the second tower fell. That this was a terrorist attack.

I remember walking through Harlem. The residents were out in front of their buildings. Many were huddled around radios. Some sharing details with the passerby. Some were handing out bottles of water to the pedestrians heading north.

There were whispers about the Pentagon. Information came sporadically and shared piecemeal through the marching crowds like a ripple across the water of a still pond.

I didn’t hear about the plane over Pennsylvania until I got home. Such bravery.

I remember the anxiety I felt crossing the 225th street bridge. That was the final hurdle to exiting Manhattan – which at the time was the area we all felt was the epicenter of whatever was happening. I knew if I could get across that structure and into the Bronx, I would find my way home. I’d be with my family. I would be safe.

There were no planes in the sky, until two fighter jets streaked south along the Hudson. The sound of their engines was surprisingly frightening.

Lisa was frantic when I walked through the door. She had been crying. She had sat in front of the television all day, waiting for word, fielding calls from family and friends. Trying to keep it together.

She filled me in. I had no real details. It was overwhelming.

I think my brother John picked up the kids from school.

Over the hours and days that followed I learned that my neighbor, Bill McGinn, Tommy O’Hagan, a childhood friend, and Orio Palmer, a high school classmate, all FDNY heroes, had lost their lives in the towers that morning. One of Luke’s childhood friends, Chris Kirby, was working construction at the top of one of the towers when a plane hit.

It was six-degrees of separation as everyone was touched by the loss of a friend or family member. Posters went up all over Manhattan as families searched for their missing loved ones. Everyone seemed to be suffering from some level of PTSD. There was a certain helplessness, a malaise, that settled in.

It was horrible. And I was one of the lucky ones.

I cannot tell you how long it took for us, as New Yorkers, as East Coasters, as Americans, to return to any sense of normalcy. I’m not quite sure we ever did.

But what I am sure of is that we must never forget what happened that day. It was the day my generation lost their innocence. We finally understood what the generations before had felt during the World Wars that threatened the world’s existence. We finally understood what the people of Hawaii felt when Pearl Harbor was attacked. We felt vulnerable.

We must never forget that feeling.

We must never forget those that died that tragic morning. Everyone of them a hero.

We must remember that we are only as safe as our collective vigilance provides. Stay vigilant.

We must never forget. Full stop.

So this morning I hope to find a station that I can watch the entire reading of the names at Ground Zero. I will listen to all of the names, and pray for their souls, but I will focus on hearing Bill, Rocky, Orio and Chris.

Before we left New York, Lisa and I made sure we made our pilgrimage to Ground Zero, and stopped at the museum. I know we were not supposed to take pictures, but fuck it. These were our friends, our neighbors, our classmates, heroes all.

It’s through these photos that I keep the memory of these brave heroes alive.

We all have our photos.

So this morning, you fine, five readers take a look at your photos.

And let’s make today a great one, in their honor.

Never, ever, forget.

5 Responses

  1. Pitch perfect, Tommy as our lost friends, family and heroes deserve. There are still hundreds of first responders, former downtowners and Operating Engineers, Steamfitters, Ironworkers, et al who are sufferingand dying from 9-11 illnesses contracted in the months they lived snd worked on The Pile.
    This is annually my worst day in the calendar. Doubt that will ever change….

  2. You’re entirely correct Tom:


    May all of who ‘Crossed the Veil’ on that Infamous Day & those who perished from its aftereffects enjoy a peaceful existence on the other side of the Veil.

    Your 1st hand account of that Horrific Day – brings solace to the families & friends of those who perished.

    Thank you Tom.

    I will NEVER FORGET.

  3. Amen to all the previous comments on this vividly described horror. Your impeccable literary illustration will be saved as we Never Forget. 22 and counting. Thank you for sharing Tom.

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