It’s been 10 years, and I think I’m finally ready to begin to tell my story. And with all of the focus on the day and the 10 year anniversary this year, I thought I would start here.
My favorite quote from or about 9/11 is: “The world didn’t change on 9/11. We were just forced to better understand it.” I believe it was Rudy Giuliani who said it.
(Note: this was originally posted in 2011. Aside from some minor grammar tweaks, it has not been modified)
Prologue – You don’t get to be happy Daddy.
I don’t think I have ever told anyone this part of the story.
When my son was very young, my greatest joy was putting him to bed. I’d read him a story, sing a song with him, and we would play the “emotions game.” The game went like this: I would name an emotion, (happy, sad, scared, surprised, angry, funny) and he would attempt to make the facial expression for it. One evening he told me that he wanted to do it to me. And he started to name emotions. From then on we would take turns saying an emotion, and the other would make the face. After a while, though he had settled on one emotion for me. Sad. Every time it was his turn he would say ‘Sad, Daddy.’ And I would make a boo-boo lip, and he would laugh, and the next time he would again say “Sad, Daddy.” And I would make an even bigger boo-boo lip and pretend to cry. And this went on each night. Finally, one evening, I asked him, “Can I be some other emotion? Maybe Happy?” And, his response really struck me, even at the time. I remember thinking how prophetic it sounded, even coming from the mouth of a 22 month old. And as much as I tried to put it out of my mind, it stuck with me. He said it so clearly.
His response to me was, “No, Daddy, you don’t get to be happy.”
This happened the first week of September, 2001.
Part 1 – Getting to the Trade Center
So I took a job in New York. Even though I lived in Florida, the vast majority of the work that I was doing, for years, had been in New York City. I rode the initial Internet boom working for a Web development agency based in Florida. In 1999, I was employee 25, and we grew it to over 250 employees in four offices. I ran the financial services practice, servicing large Wall Street firms. Basically, my clients were Investment Banks, and at one point I counted as clients 6 of the 10 largest financial services firms in the world. They had money to spend, and we built incredible websites, intranets, client portals, and applications that helped them get their message out and do their business. My practice was the largest in the firm, I was mostly responsible for us opening a New York office, right in Times Square overlooking the MTV studios where they taped TRL Live, in the same building where Good Morning America was taped. The web sites and applications we were building for my clients were becoming larger and more complex. At one point I had 50 people working for me on my projects. Clients were spending up to a million dollars to have their sites built (they were massive sites). I was traveling a tremendous amount, had clients in New York (investment banks and financial firms), and Silicon Valley and San Francisco (VC firms), and lots of places in between (insurance). There was one instance where I flew from West Palm Beach for a lunch meeting in Silicon Valley, and then flew home the same day, with a massive check from one of my clients. I was in New York so much that the owners of the agency rented out an apartment so I wouldn’t have to schlep clothes back and forth, and pay for hotels. In a very nice building. Believe me when I say that times were good.
And then, over the course of a 3 month period, beginning in December of 2000, it began to change. The Dot Com Bubble had burst earlier in the year, but my clients weren’t dot coms. They were the largest financial institutions in the world, so I thought everything would be fine. But in January of 2001, the practice’s billings went down by 50%. February was another 50% drop. And March looked even bleaker. When I spoke to the other practice leads, they had similar stories, although not necessarily as drastic as mine. I went to the 2 owners of the agency, and basically said that something serious was going on and we needed to retrench, and reconfigure the firm. Their response was along the lines of “It’s not the economy. It’s you. You just need to get out there and sell more.” And while I agreed that sales were a good thing, two things had happened: 1. The financial firms had stopped spending, except for absolutely essential projects; and 2. the services that we were selling were not necessarily what my clients were buying. And the 2 owners refused to see that something drastic was going on.
I made the decision at that point that I was going to go find another job.
During the course of the previous year or so, as the projects we were taking on were beginning to integrate with some heavy back-end systems, I started partnering with a technology consulting firm, Alliance Consulting, on some of the opportunities that my clients were throwing our way. A good friend of mine, John W. was running the consulting practice (they did about ½ of their work in technology staff augmentation, and about ½ in technology consulting projects). I’d known John since the beginning of our careers, when we had worked together at what is now Accenture.
I had just left a meeting with John where we had pitched some work together to one of my clients.
After the meeting, John caught a cab to the airport, and I took the subway down to the Word Trade Center, and crossed over the footbridge to the World Financial Center, where some of my clients had offices. After meeting with them, I went out to the Marina, (I remember it like it was yesterday) and it was an absolutely gorgeous day – blue sky, no clouds, not too hot. I remember turning around and looking back at the two towers looming over me, and made a decision.
I took out my cell phone, and called John, who was on his way to the airport, and said, “John, you guys should hire me.” There was a pause, and he said that I should go back to their offices and meet with Eric Bennett who ran their New York office. And I did just that, I went to their offices, and met with Eric, and began the discussions that led, a few weeks later, to me giving notice to my agency, and at the beginning of June, 2001 started a new phase (or so I thought) of my career. Those discussions would alter the course of the next decade of my life.
For Alliance’s offices were right at the top of the World Trade Center, on the 102nd floor, three stories below the Windows on The World restaurant, and right in the middle of Cantor Fitzgerald’s offices, from whom they sublet half the floor. The minute I walked in there, I knew I was home. This was where I belonged. No doubts, no hesitations. We were Masters of the Universe. And Eric turned out to be the most incredible person I have ever known, without a doubt, and who also ended up saving my life when 9/11 happened, just by being who he was.
During the course of the negotiations to have me come work there, one thing happened, that I look back now and am amazed at. Once we had agreed to just about everything – salary, position, an apartment and a travel budget (I was still going to live in Florida and commute up each month), responsibilities, I was sent a non-compete agreement that was draconian, to put it mildly. And I told Eric, who at this point I already trusted and admired an immense amount, that I couldn’t sign it without changing it. His response to me was “But Murray, it’s a standard document, and you know that I wouldn’t ever enforce any of the provisions in there.” And I knew that was true. But I responded, “Yes, Eric. But it’s not you that I’m worried about. 3 months after I start, you could get hit by a bus and die. And then they could hire some prick to replace you. It’s that prick that I’m worried about enforcing it.” And he agreed, and he changed the agreement so I could sign it. Aside from the method of transportation, I didn’t realize how prophetic those words were going to be.
One other thing happened that turned out to be a fateful decision. Once I had an offer in my hand, my wife and I discussed whether or not we should sell our house and move to New York. At the time we had 2 kids, who were almost 4 and almost 2, and were planning on having a third. I said, “What if something happens, and this job doesn’t work out?” We had a relatively low mortgage on a beautiful house in Florida in a great area with great schools. And we would have to trade that for a house in Westchester (or somewhere like that) with a huge mortgage. And then if something happened we would have uprooted the family, and be saddled with a huge monthly mortgage payment.
So we decided that we would see how the first year went. And then make a decision on moving at that point. Which is why I negotiated the apartment and travel each week.
So I started commuting to New York each week. I would take the 6:30 AM Delta flight from West Palm Beach every Monday morning, and be in the office by around 10 or 10:30. As I had a tremendous amount of frequent flyer miles, I was pretty much guaranteed a first class seat. Over the course of the next couple of months, I would begin to recognize others who were also commuting up each week. It was also the same set of flight attendants, so they knew us. As hard as I try to, though, I cannot remember any of their names now, 10 years later, but we all knew each other by name, and knew where each other worked, whether we were married, had kids. We were like a little, private club where we would meet for 2 and half hours every Monday morning, and over coffee and a bad omelet we would discuss the weekend, our families, our jobs.
At Alliance, we had a mandatory meeting every Tuesday morning where everyone in the office was required to attend. It started at 8:15 AM, and it was something that you did not want to miss, or be late for. Not that anything bad would happen to you, Eric didn’t work that way. But he inspired such loyalty, that you would just make sure that you were there.
Every Friday afternoon I would head to the airport and be home in Florida around dinner time. It was hardest on my wife, Jolie, as she was basically a single mom during the week. But I had a job, when a lot of my colleagues were now losing theirs. So we settled into the routine, we made the best of it, and made it through.
My office was an interior office, but there was a lot of glass – so pretty much from anywhere you had an incredible view. The offices looked east and north, with the main conference room at the Northeast corner, which had an amazing panoramic view of New York City. On clear days you could literally see forever. On cloudy days, we were very often in the clouds themselves. At that point I had been working for about 15 years and had an office full of memorabilia from those years. I had lived and worked in Atlanta, Chicago, London, Miami, New York (in the mid 90s, where/when I met my wife), and West Palm Beach, and had traveled a lot. I had pictures of my kids prominently displayed, and every single business card I had acquired during those 15 years were in a box on my desk. One of my clients from the mid 90s (when I had a small technology consulting firm) was a company that made software for Departments of Motor Vehicles. One of their clients was the State of South Dakota. As part of their appreciation for our work in getting the new version of the software completed for them, the SD DMV made me an official “Unofficial” South Dakota license plate, that said GATORS on it – it was one of the most appreciated gifts I had ever received (at least from a client), and it was almost as prominently displayed as the pictures of my children. I had a small collection of Revolutionary and Civil War bullets that my father had given me, that he had gotten from someone and given to me when I was a kid. I doubt he even remembers that. I had cups and mugs from places I had been or had worked. As most of my clients for the previous 10 years had been the large Investment Banks, I had ‘Tombstones’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tombstone_(financial_industry)) from the projects that we had completed for them. Typical office with a whole bunch of memorabilia.
On September 4th, I flew up to New York. It was a Tuesday morning, as Monday was Labor Day. When I got to NY I realized that I had not yet made my reservation for the following week. My wife had asked me if it was at all possible for the following week for me to fly up Tuesday morning instead of Monday, as there was a meeting at our daughter’s school that she wanted to go to. But she said, it was not a big deal if I couldn’t, it wasn’t that important of a meeting.
So I went in to Eric on Wednesday or Thursday that week, to ask if it was ok if I missed the mandatory Tuesday morning meeting the following week. As I went in to his office, I said to myself that even if he said yes, but showed even the tiniest bit of hesitation, that I would fly up on Monday and be there for the weekly meeting the following day. So I walked into his office, and with all of Manhattan and New York laid out behind him, I asked if it was ok to miss the meeting, without giving him a reason. Just the simple question. And Eric leaned back in his chair, and said in his ebullient way, “Of course you can. Go home, spend Monday and Monday night with your kids.” Remember, I was only working there, at this point, a couple of months. In my mind, almost anyone else would have said no, or asked why, or said a hesitant yes. Eric was only 29, and did not have a family, and was already an area vice president for the company, responsible for the flagship office (hq was in Philadelphia). He was just being who he was. And that is why I wasn’t in the office 5 days later.
And as I left for home on Friday, a strange thing happened. I said goodbye to everyone (I usually left in the early afternoon), stepped out of the office, and stopped in the hallway before heading to the elevator. And had this conversation with myself: “You should really go figure out where the fire exits are at some point, just in case.” And I said back to myself, “Let’s make sure to do it when you get back next week.” I’m pretty sure it was just a coincidence, but I just had a feeling that it was important to know where the emergency exits were. Of course, I never got the chance.
Part 2 – That Day
I arrived at the airport about 30 minutes before the flight was supposed to leave. I didn’t have any luggage, just my briefcase (I had an apartment where my clothes were). I breezed through security, and basically got right on the plane. Seated in first class, I think I had seat 3C. I didn’t recognize anyone, as those people were already in New York, having flown out the day before. I took my seat, the plane took off, all was normal.
As was normal back then, the cockpit door was open during the flight. From where I was sitting, I could see the pilots doing their thing, and spent part of the flight watching them.
The pilot came on the speaker and announced that we were passing Washington, and would soon begin our initial descent into New York. About a minute after that, the door to the cockpit was closed, abruptly, quickly, and loudly. The flight attendant’s phone buzzed, and one of the flight attendants picked it up. I could see her knees buckle a little, saw her blanche, and then start talking to the other flight attendants who were upfront in hushed tones. I knew something was wrong, but had no idea what.
The pilot came on the speaker and said something to the effect of “Uh, folks, we’re going to go into a holding pattern here for a while. There’s been some things going on in New York, and we’re just going to circle here for a little bit.”
Everyone looked at each other, but no one of us knew what was going on. And we all continued reading our books, magazines, newspapers.
It never dawned on me to even look at my watch. But I’m assuming this happened right after the second plane hit.
A few minutes later the pilot came back on and said, “Folks. We are being diverted to a holding pattern off shore. Not really sure how long we will be there for. We’ll let you know when we hear something.” At the time, the only way to communicate from a plane to the ground was via the skyphone. So everyone got their credit cards out, swiped them, and tried to call someone to try and find out what was going on. There were only 2 channels to call out, so we had wait our turn. And one by one, people on the plane were getting bits of information. One person said a plane had crashed at La Guardia. Someone said that two planes had crashed into each other at Logan. One person said that someone had flown a small plane into one of the twin towers. For some reason nobody seemed to be getting the accurate, full story of what was happening on the ground.
And then it was my turn on the skyphone. I tried to call my wife on her cell. But it went to her voicemail. I then tried to call the house, and the answering machine picked up. I tried her cell again. Still no answer. Left a message that something was going on, and I wasn’t sure what time I would actually get to New York. And then hung up the airphone.
At about this point, the pilot came back on and said: “Folks, there has been a terrorist attack in New York City, and we are being diverted to Atlanta. Not sure when we will be on the ground. We will be circling here for a while, and then heading down there, where we will also probably be circling for a while.” And then we circled. And circled. And circled. And then we flew to Atlanta, and circled some more. Looking out the window, we could see 20 or 30 other planes all around us.
At no point did any of us, as far as I could tell, think to turn on our cell phones. And we still did not have any idea of what had actually happened. It was around 11 am, I think, when the pilot came on and said “Folks, we are going to begin our descent. We’ll be on the ground shortly.”
Finally, we landed.
And then we sat on the Tarmac, for at least an hour, maybe longer. There were other planes all around us, just sitting there.
I turned on my cell phone, and tried to call home. Still no answer. I tried to call my wife’s cell. Straight to voicemail: “Hi, it’s me. We’ve been diverted to Atlanta. There’s something going on in New York, don’t know if you’ve seen anything on TV about it. Not sure what it is. But New York’s airports are supposedly closed. I’m going to try and catch a flight to Philadelphia, and work out of that office this week, and meet with some of the people there that I haven’t met yet. Call you back when I know what my plans are.”
I was CLUELESS. No idea what had happened, or what was actually going on.
As I hung up my phone, all of a sudden it started binging, and binging, and binging, as 16 voicemail notifications popped up. Which was a lot for me, for what should have been a 2 and a half hour flight. And I still had no clue. Remember, this was before smartphones. So there was no Internet access to speak of.
I then called my friend John W., who worked out of the Philadelphia office, and was now my boss, 2 levels up, and left this message: “Hey John. It’s Murray. My flight to New York has been diverted to Atlanta. I think something happened in New York, and they closed the airports there. So I’m just going to catch the next flight to Philadelphia and work there this week, and meet some of the people that I haven’t met yet. Call me back if you have any issues with that.” And then I called Eric’s cell, and it went straight to his voicemail, and I left a similar message. Of course, he was already gone at this point.
No idea of what had actually happened. Remember, we were still on the Tarmac.
And then the phone started binging again, as 15 more voicemail notifications popped up.
And then it rang before I could check any of the voicemails, and it was my wife.
And I launched straight into (without giving her even a chance to say anything) “Hi. I’m in Atlanta actually. Something is going on in New York, and I’m going to catch the next flight to Philadelphia and work out of there this week. I’ll just buy some clothes when I get there. We’re still on the Tarmac here in Atlanta. What’s up with you? How are the kids? Can you pick up my dry cleaning?”
And the entire time, she’s trying to get my attention. I finally stopped long enough for her to say “Murray, shut up. Stop talking.” I did, at this point, realizing there was something in her voice that I had never heard before. Fear, Terror, Anguish?
“Murray, do you have any idea what’s been going on?”
“No, I heard a small plane hit the trade center, a plane crashed in Logan or at La Guardia. Something like that. Why what happened?”
“Murray, listen to me. 2 planes hit the Twin Towers. They’re gone. The Towers are gone.”
Literally rolling my eyes, I asked her “What are you talking about?”
“Murray, stop. Listen to me. The World Trade Center was attacked. They are gone. They fell. They are gone.”
“What are you talking about? They’re not gone. You’re exaggerating.” Thinking that she was, in typical female fashion, blowing something out of proportion. (Huge apologies, but this was what went through my mind). What she was saying was so far outside the realm of possibility, that it was just not at all possible. There’s just no way. I just didn’t or couldn’t understand what her words meant.
“What do you mean by ‘gone’?” I asked her.
“Murray, listen to me.” She started crying on the phone. “The Twin Towers are no more. They flew planes into them, and they fell. They aren’t there anymore. Thousands of people are dead. Murray, are you listening to me? They are gone. Do you understand what I am saying?”
It was at this point that I started to understand what she was saying. When people say ‘my heart stopped,’ you can’t really understand it until it truly happens to you. But my heart stopped at this point. As her words sank in, I don’t think my heart beat for a while. I said, in a very tiny voice, quietly “Everyone I work with is dead?”
“I think so,” she replied. “I just don’t know.”
We probably talked for a few more minutes, but I don’t remember anything else of our conversation. I do remember, though, that as I hung up the phone, first class was silent. The flight attendants were looking at me, as were, I’m assuming, the rest of the passengers sitting around me, all of whom had been listening to my conversation. I remember that the woman who was sitting next to me literally shift in her seat, to move as far away from me as she could. I heard a huge buzzing in my ears, and I’m assuming that I’m crying at this point, as one of the flight attendants came over to me, and very sweetly asked me if I was ok, and what could she do. I believe that I asked her for some water, and some Tylenol, as I think I had a sudden, tremendous headache. Until the plane started to move towards the gate, it’s all a blur. I really don’t remember anything or can even tell you how long we sat there on the Tarmac. And then my phone rang, and it was my Mom. And I remember I literally said “Mommy, everyone I work with is dead.” I was 37 at the time, and I don’t think I’d called her Mommy for 25 or 30 years. But I just regressed once I heard her voice.
And then I started listening to my voicemail messages. The vast majority of them were from the emergency team at Alliance’s HQ in Philadelphia. They were basically along the theme of “Murray, we know you’re in the office. And we’re calling everyone who’s there. If you get this, you need to gather everyone in the north conference room. We hear they are going to try a helicopter rescue attempt.” Or “Murray, if you get this, you need to go to one of the outer offices, and put something in the window so any rescue attempt will know that you are there.” Or “Murray, if the smoke gets too bad, you need to decide to smash open a window so you can get some air. Only do this if there’s no other choice. Put some towels or clothing under the door to keep the smoke out.” (I tried to save them, but AT&T had a policy of deleting old voicemails after 30 days, at the time. So they were gone – I often wonder how many other voicemails from victims and survivors were also deleted.)
You see, nobody, except for my wife, Jolie, knew that I wasn’t there. Everyone, and I mean everyone, including my parents, my siblings, friends, and everyone at Alliance in Philadelphia thought that I had flown out the previous day as I normally would have. It didn’t even cross my mind to mention it to anyone.
Hundreds of planes had been diverted to Atlanta that day. And, I believe, they were unloading them 1 or 2 at a time. Our plane pulled up to the last gate at the end of Terminal E, which was the furthest from the airport itself. I gathered my belongings, and went down the gangway, into an empty terminal, aside from the passengers who were on my flight. The first thing I saw was a National Guardsman with the largest weapon I had ever seen, and a couple of Atlanta SWAT members who were escorting everyone to the escalators to the train to go to the main terminal.
I still had not seen what had gone on in New York, at this point. The CNN Airport tvs were still going, so a handful of us had stopped and despite being urged on by the police, watched the replay of the Towers falling. As I saw it for the first time, which was about noon, at this point, I dropped to my knees and began to cry again, silently, silent tears running down my face. I remember it being so quiet, which was the opposite of the noise that is usually found in a major airport. And that’s what I remember, is the silence of that moment.
I spent the night at a friend’s house in Atlanta, and got the last car at Hertz, and made it home to my family the next day.
Part 3 – Other Stories
There are so many stories that go along with all of the above. My wife, Jolie, has said that I should write a book. Maybe one day I will. The title that I have in mind is: Survivors Guilt.
Other stories that would take pages to write:
- What my wife went through, from the moment my father called frantically asking her where I was, as she was dropping our daughter and son off at pre-school, to the moment I made it home. And the friends who took care of my wife and kids, and my parents until they knew that I was safe, and the reason I couldn’t get in touch with her each time I called.
- My parents “knew” that I was at my office in the Towers, until Jolie convinced them that I had left for New York that morning and couldn’t possibly have been there yet. What my mother went through, who was affected by the day’s events tremendously. And the advice that she gave me that got me through my darkest days over the next couple of years.
- My sister was at a conference in Marseilles, France, and spent many hours in her hotel room trying to get in touch with my parents to find out where I was and if I was ok.
- A friend of mine from college happened to be stuck in Atlanta also, and how we found each other, and then drove home together – if it wasn’t for him, I’m not sure I could have made that drive by myself.
- How my phone call to John saying I was going to catch a plane to Philadelphia literally was like someone coming back from the dead for everyone in the Philadelphia office – they all thought that I was dead. That night, the Alliance president told me that that phone call was the one bright spot in that horrible, dark day.
- And then of course, the aftermath. Going back up to New York the following Tuesday, and trying to help Alliance New York rebuild. Believe me, it was tough to leave my family and get on that plane. One of the people that was part of the Monday morning club, who I didn’t even really know came up to me and he gave me a huge hug and was crying that I was still alive, knowing that I had worked in the Trade Center. He said he was talking with his Fiancee all week wondering what had happened to me.
- The story of going back down to my apartment with my brother in law to get my clothes out. As it was only a block away from what was then being called Ground Zero, it was in the red zone which had very restricted access. And what the idiot tourist said to me.
- The incredibly insensitive thing that the head of the Palm Beach County Red Cross said to me.
- How they hired someone to replace Eric who turned out be the prick that I had (presciently) foretold, and who ended up firing me on the phone as I was in a car heading to the airport just before the holidays that December.
- And there are some somewhat humorous stories that happened afterwards, that are better told in context, over a beer.
- How I suffered from a crushing survivor’s guilt, probably bordering on if not going into post traumatic stress, and withdrew from my wife and family, reaching a point where I put my fist through a wall in my home office. I would accuse my wife of all kinds of things, including wanting me to have been in the Tower. Oh, those were some dark days.
- And the joy of having that third child, who took her time coming to us. We call her our F-U child.
- How some people I knew who were supposed to be there, weren’t or were delayed that morning, and survived. Or some who were there, weren’t quite in the office yet and made it out – one is an incredible story.
- And then there are the stories of people that I knew who had no business being there, and were. And perished in the Towers.
- The story of my wife’s uncle and cousin, both of whom worked on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. One was locked out, and one was locked in as the Towers fell, and each didn’t find out until later that day the other was safe.
- How the staff of an investment bank in midtown spent the weekend clearing out an entire floor of their office space, and offered it to any company to use. We moved in on Tuesday morning the following week to a full, working office space with computers, phones, a network, everything.
- Flying up that Tuesday, and going from the plane to a cab to the new offices and directly into a counseling session with the other survivors from our office. I remember being so scared to walk in the room, not knowing what their reaction would be to me, who was still a relative newcomer, who had survived, while people they had known for years had not been as fortunate. I know how strange that sounds, but the survivor’s guilt was already setting in. They were thrilled to see me, by the way.
- How one comment that I made to Eric Bennett’s mother and sister at his memorial services, helped them come to terms, in some small way, with his death. And the story of how I found out that I had had that impact.
Part 4 – What Happened At The Tower
I learned afterwards, that the fact that I wasn’t going to be there led to Eric telling one or two others that they could show up late, or not at all. And the fact that they weren’t there meant that some others also didn’t have to be there, and also were counted among the survivors. We had 22 people who worked daily in our office, all of whom were supposed to be at that meeting. Of these, only 7 were there that morning. Those 7 were not so fortunate as I was, and a story could be told about each. Each was an incredible person, and left behind a gaping hole for me, and for the other survivors who knew them so much better than I did, and, of course, for their family and friends. They will always be missed.
If you want, you can read more about them at http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2001/memorial/lists/by-employer/page2.html.
In my mind, I’ve tried to imagine what it must have been like for them to have gone through what they went through that day, and I’ve realized that I can’t even come close to imagining it. But I keep coming back to, in my mind’s eye, the image of my office, and it always zeros in on the pictures of my children. And the fact that pictures of my children were part of that conflagration haunts me. I know how lucky I was that day, and that’s all that it was. I got lucky. There wasn’t some deeper meaning. It’s not that it ‘wasn’t my time.’ It was luck, and circumstance. That’s all. And every time I’ve looked at my children over the past 10 years, I say a private thank you for each moment that I have had with them, and that they got to have with me.
As I look back on the past 10 years, I realize now that what my family went through was no worse than what thousands and thousands of families went through, and many of them had it far, far worse than we did. I try not to sweat the small stuff, but it’s sometimes hard to not get caught up in the day to day. But I keep trying to remember how lucky I truly am.
This summer, I went with my daughter, who is now almost 14, down to Ground Zero. And we went to the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. When we entered, they asked if I was a Police Officer, Firefighter, or Survivor. I said I was a survivor, and they gave us tags to wear as we were looking at the exhibits. I think I was finally ready to truly face it. One of the exhibits is a wall of the victims’ pictures that I assume were donated by the victims’ families. And right there, fairly prominently displayed, was Eric Bennett’s picture. And when I pointed it out to my daughter, and explained the importance he played in me not being there that day, we both started to cry. And we were standing there in the middle of the exhibit holding each other and I asked her why she was crying, and she said, “Because I love you Daddy.” And I said “I know you do. And I love you too.”
About 3 years after 9/11, I was putting my son to bed. And we hadn’t played the Emotions Game in a really long time. He turned to me and said, “Daddy, do you remember that game we used to play, when we would say emotions and you would make the funny faces?”
I said, “Yes, why?”
“Because I want to play it tonight.”
“Ok, but you never let me be anything but sad.”
And he said to me (and I swear this is true), “Well, you can be happy now, Daddy, if you want to be.” And that was the beginning of my path back from the darkest of days. And I realized that it truly was my choice.