The Before and After of September 11
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I left our apartment with our son James, to take him across town for his second day at a new special education school. As I stood on the crosstown bus, I was thinking about the introduction for the Summer issue of the Human Life Review, which I was in the midst of writing (we had to hold the issue to gather responses to President George W. Bush’s televised address to the nation on August 9 about the use of embryonic stem-cells lines in research). I was thinking of writing about “before” and “after” the announcement; little did I know I was truly in a Before and that the After would never be the same.
When we got to James’ school I heard some mothers talking about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Within minutes, it became apparent that this was much worse than a small plane, and something awful was happening. My husband worked on Wall Street, and had left later than usual that morning so he could drop our daughter Anna off at kindergarten; after that he would be taking the subway to the World Trade Center stop. We had no cell phones then. I left James’ school in a controlled panic, walking/running the 20 minutes to my office, hoping my husband would call me there. On the street, when I turned my head to the right I could see the smoke downtown. I overheard people talking about the Pentagon. When I got to the office my mother and sister were there, but no word from Bob. I called home. Amna, our nanny, was crying, holding baby Grace as she watched the coverage—no word from Bob. Then James’ school called because of course we had to pick the kids up (to this day I wonder why I left James there, as he was in the shadow of the Empire State building!). I hurried back to the school, increasingly frantic in my imaginings, trying not to look downtown or listen to all the people around me. In my shock I was thinking Bob still worked at his previous job in the World Financial Center, adjacent to the WTC (sometime later I remembered his new job was on Wall Street itself, a bit farther away). When I got to the school I burst into tears. The principal put me in the “quiet room” so I could compose myself. (The “quiet room” was for children to go to if they had a meltdown; I was the first person—in the school’s second day of business—ever to use it!) I calmed my tears and went to get James; we had to walk the long way home as buses were stopped. It took about an hour. We stopped at a CVS and I bought M&M’s for him. CVS was giving out free water and soda and . . . kindness. Everyone was talking kindly to each other. I told myself that I needed to be strong; if I was a widow I had to be strong for my three children.
As we approached Stuyvesant Town, where we lived, we could see scores of people in business clothes walking up from downtown, many sitting and resting in the grassy areas of our housing complex. I kept picturing Bob as one of them. When we got to the apartment, I turned the knob and it was unlocked. My heart lifted because I ALWAYS locked the door behind me when I came in and Bob never did (a pet peeve of mine). I walked in and saw Bob and burst into violent sobbing. James ran to his room, mad at me for this display and confused. Amna was in the rocking chair, still holding 9-month-old Grace. Bob said, “Where’s Anna?” I said she was at school—strange, again, that I wasn’t panicked about the kids, but they were far from the attack and I knew Anna was safe at our parish school. Bob went to get her. I went to comfort James—I have no idea what I said to him that day but certainly nothing near the truth. When Bob returned with Anna, Amna went home, and we as a family started the new chapter of our lives in a post 9-11 world.
We were lucky that we did not lose any close friends or family. Amna found out that the father of the family that previously employed her, our neighbors in Stuyvesant Town, never came home. And my sister’s best friend lost her brother, Michael J. Armstrong. The next day we all gathered at the playgrounds outside (Bob went to work in a makeshift location uptown), but we had to go in because the air quality was so terrible. Anna’s school was closed for a week because it was on 14th Street, the cut-off point—everything south of 14th was closed, only rescue vehicles allowed.
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Last Sunday morning, September 11, 15 years later, a friend on Facebook asked a general “Where were you when . . .” and I wrote the above account. I don’t think I had ever written the details down; it’s not like I will ever forget. I remember that a few days after the attack, Planned Parenthood of New York offered “free reproductive services,” including abortion, to those affected by the terror attacks. Offering death to the grieving! As contributor Brian Caulfield wrote in the Fall issue of the Review that year: “One could only wonder how deep the ethic of death can go, when the answer to thousands dead at Ground Zero is the killing of more innocent victims in the womb.” To read Brian’s own harrowing account of 9-11 and its aftermath, see “Grief and Grace at Ground Zero,” (Fall, 2001, page 19) which you can find in our archives at http://humanlifereview.com/issue/fall-2001/. A final note: 15 years later, President Bush’s decision on embryonic stem-cell research has been “vindicated” by science. Still, it split the pro-life movement. To read about the President’s controversial decision and its ramifications, go to “The Case Against Embryonic Stem-Cell Research,” a symposium beginning on page 36 of the Summer 2001 issue of the Human Life Review.