On this day fifteen years ago I remember how blue the sky was. I was driving to work with my boyfriend Keith (now husband) and I remember looking out the window thinking, “Never in my life have I ever seen a sky so crisp and clear.” I noticed the jeweled tones of autumn sprouting among the sea of green trees and it took my breath away. The morning of Tuesday September 11, 2001 was the most beautiful morning I can remember.
I remember our car passing under the canopy of trees and the sky moving from my view. The details of the last few minutes of our commute escape me. I assume Keith and I began discussing our plans for the day as we waited in line for our turn to make the left toward my office. As he did every day for the last year he delivered me safely at the door and continued the rest of his commute.
The work day began with the usual chit chat about how we spent our evening, and how we will have to spend another gorgeous day inside the office. I barely had enough time to power up my computer before the phone rang. It was Keith.
“You’re not going to believe this but a plane just flew into the World Trade Center! We’re under terrorist attack!” I could feel the panic in his words.
“What? How did you hear this? Where are you?”
“I am driving to work and I heard it over the radio on the morning show.”
“Are you sure? Those guys are notorious for pulling off some tasteless pranks.”
“No. These guys cut through the song and sounded scared.”
There wasn’t a clock tick between the end of his sentence and my co-worker shouting, “Oh my God!! We’re under terrorist attack! The World Trade Center just got hit!” Her husband, a NYC cop on duty at the time, called with the news and assured her he would be OK.
It wasn’t long after that, that our Internet went down and our land lines were a constant busy signal and the cell coverage was sparse. Everyone became frantic to connect with their loved ones working in the city that day. Someone noticed AOL messenger was still working. We were frantically sending Instant Messages to everyone we could think of near the Trade Center.
“Where are they?”
“I can’t remember if this is their day off.”
“Oh my God my uncle works on Wall Street!”
For the next several hours we remained in our offices desperate for info, desperate to know our loved ones and our co-workers in the industry were safe. I was living hundreds of miles away from my own family and I wanted them to know I was OK, but I would not get to talk to them until hours after I returned to my small apartment where I waited for Keith to make the long, chaotic commute back home.
It was 3:00 p.m. before I finally found myself in front of the television and saw for the first time the horrific explosions. The fireballs billowing out of control before the first tower toppled like paper dominoes. I was frozen. I didn’t even know which emotion I should feel first. I was grateful I was safe. I was grateful all of my future in-laws were accounted for, but I was scared. I was horrified. For the first time in my life I felt gutted. I fell limp against my couch and I just sobbed.
The next few days were difficult to get communications out to family, but as soon as I connected with my mother it became her job to spread the word that I was OK. I was only 38 miles away from ground zero and I was safe. But there was no going home as travel on and off the Island was prohibited. I was so thankful that all of my local friends and co-workers and Keith’s family were all OK, I never gave it a thought I might still know someone personally who was lost in the devastation.
“I heard Michelle and Jennifer were working down there in the towers. Everyone is saying the twins were working in the twin towers,” my sister said.
“No, I just saw Jennifer a few months ago when I was home and I remember she said they both just moved back from Manhattan. I think they are OK.” I replied. But my sister was sure she heard they were both there. News, and gossip, travels fast in my small hometown. I immediately sent off an email to my friend Amy who is Michelle’s best friend.
“Yes, Michelle was working there that day. Her family is in NYC right now searching for her.”
Even though the words were right there in front of me and from a pure source, I couldn’t believe them. She wrote, searching for her. I couldn’t begin to let my mind think about what that might even mean.
I don’t know how long the search went on for Michelle. I don’t remember when they declared she was among the missing. I kept holding onto hope that she had amnesia and was just sitting in a hospital somewhere waiting for her family to find her. But they never did.
Michelle and I grew up together in the same small town and saw each other mostly at school. We didn’t spend the night at each other’s houses, or spend much time together outside of school. Nonetheless she was a constant player in my childhood. We lived through embarrassing fashion trends and cheered each other on in gym class. We shared homeroom and friends and made fun of our teachers together. When we graduated in 1993 we shared our freshman year of college at the same school.
“My roommate is pissed because I got pen on her new comforter,” Michelle quipped with a laugh.
“I don’t really care; there are bigger things to worry about.”
“Michelle what is that thing in your closet?” I asked. “Oh that’s a hookah,” she said with her casual matter of fact tone. I was too embarrassed to even ask her what a hookah was. So I just nodded like I knew.
I transferred to another college at the end of my freshman year. I didn’t see her much after that, unless we ran into each other at the grocery store during one of my visits home. Even then it was just a quick, “Hey girl!! How are you?”
In 1997 Michelle and I were bridesmaids in our friend Amy’s wedding. Amy and Michelle were super close in high school and even shared an apartment for a time after graduation. They knew everything about each other. In a small town where everyone knows your business Amy became synonymous with Michelle. It was expected Michelle would be her maid of honor.
Michelle and I were part of the biggest bridal party I have ever seen. The day of the wedding there were eleven girls dressed in matching burgundy, hand sewn dresses running in all different directions. Michelle somehow got us all in line and gave us our cues and wished each of us luck before we made our way down the aisle. I remember feeling so nervous that I thought my legs were going to melt into the carpet when I tried to walk. I walked as slowly as I could and took my place in the front of the church. Michelle was the last one in line, just before the bride. As she took her turn down the aisle and made her way toward us, she looked each one of us in the eye and smiled. We couldn’t help but smile back. It was like she was sending each of us a tiny beam of her confidence.
“My absolute favorite part was when I looked down the line at each of you and every one of you smiled back at me. It was just awesome,” Michelle told us at the reception. Her face widened with a warm smile.
We danced the rest of the night. We drank and got silly. We watched our friend Amy throw her bouquet and her new husband toss the garter. We commented on how great the cake was and how beautiful everything turned out and how Amy and her mother are so amazingly crafty. It is the last time I remember seeing Michelle. After that night, our lives went in separate ways again.
I always remember her as lighthearted and always kind. In the weeks following the discovery that Michelle was gone forever it felt surreal. How would I never again run into her on the street? I thought of her family day and night. I thought about her twin sister. And I realized I could never let another day go by and not say I love you to anyone. I could never go another day without giving kindness away, or giving a smile to someone who just needed a little steadiness in their day. I could never take simple moments and coincidences for granted again.
To this day I still see Michelle laughing, smiling and upbeat. I am so grateful for the moments our lives intermingled. I am so grateful that I got to witness her spirit. Michelle has a twin sister, Jennifer. I grew up alongside them. Now I have twin daughters. I sometimes wonder what my conversation with Michelle would have been like when I ran into her on a trip back home. I would tell her,
“Can you believe it? I’m a twin mom now- two beautiful girls!” I’d say with joy.
“Make sure you let them know girls can do anything boys can do! And don’t be afraid to let them get dirty!” she would say while laughing.
I’d laugh too and get lost in the warmth of her smile. Then we might catch up a bit on how life has been since we are older and wiser and we understand the value in taking the time to connect. I imagine we’d end our conversation with a hug and say, “See you on Facebook!” before parting ways again.
Instead, I’ve spent the last fifteen years sharing her photo and looking toward the heavens and thinking, “the sky has never seemed as crisp as it did on September 11, 2001.”
The Whatever Mom is a twin mom learning to let go of perfection. She shares her real life struggles with parenting through her blog and contributes her time and talents as a writer to Hudson Valley Parent and Masshole Mommy. When she isn’t writing you can find her chugging coffee, folding laundry and not judging other parents. Don’t forget to subscribe via email so you never miss a blog post again! You can also find her work featured on Mamapedia and The Novice Mommy.