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Episode #23: The 20th Anniversary of 9/11/2001

I gotta tell you, I’m not sure how we ever survived 9/11. I mean how we SURVIVORS survived 9/11. In all of its horror. How unthinkable it was. How fucking WRONG it was. All the beautiful lives lost. For no reason. All the destruction. I’ve been watching some of the many movies made about 9/11 this week and I really don’t know how on the day of 9/11/2001, I just walked back home from my office in Midtown Manhattan after I guess they sent us all home. That morning, I had walked from home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan – a crisp late summer morning with clear blue skies – I had walked to my office as I had so many mornings before and I would walk so many more mornings again. I walked free from distractions – this was before iphones and before many people had any kind of cell phone and about 4-5 years before I would have my first Blackberry. When I got to my office building everything seemed normal on this morning toward the end of 2001. There had been so much fuss and worry about Y2K and what would happen in the year 2000 – and NOTHING HAPPENED then and no one was expecting or worrying about anything in 2001. On this morning toward the end of 2001, I got off the elevator in my office building and passed by a conference room on the way to my office and I noticed a couple of colleagues watching what appeared to be the news on TV. Again, this was way before iPhones and even Blackberries, so the only way to connect with the outside world was by landline, the occasional cell phone and TV. I didn’t pay much attention to the colleagues and the TV – they were colleagues I didn’t know and I couldn’t imagine why the news would be so interesting or important that morning. I don’t remember how I first found out about the first plane. Did someone call my office? Did a colleague stop by my door to tell me? Did I hear a buzz out in the hallway? I don’t know. I DO know that I called my friends downtown – Stacey and Chris. They lived on Washington between Vestrey and Debrosses and the only way that I know that i was heading in the right direction going to their place was when I looked up when I got off the train – the subway – at Franklin Street – or was it Chambers? – I looked up to see the Twin Towers. From their rooftop terrace, Stacey and Chris had a close-up view of the towers, so they were the first call I made. Chris answered and said they had been awakened by the sound of the crash – or probably at that time we thought it had been a bomb or even maybe that it had been a small prop plane that had accidentally flown into the tower. The idea that it had been INTENTIONAL – that fucking terroriest had flown a fucking COMMERCIAL PLANE into the tower was UNFATHOMABLE. Chris and I – as he stood on their terrace on Washington between Vestrey and Debrosses and I sat in my office in Midtown Manhattan over 60 blocks away – remarked about how sturdy the building was, what good old American steel could withstand. It was amazing that the building didn’t FALL OVER. Crumble. That its twin tower would soon be hit and that it, too, would fall down and crumble. And that’s when the second plane hit – the second twin tower. While I was on the phone with Chris. And that’s when we began to put it together that not only was this no bomb or prop plane accident. THIS was INTENTIONAL. These were MASSIVE COMMERCIAL planes INTENTIONALLY flown into our buildings. Our buildings where our fellow Americans WORKED – where they WORKED to support their families who were waiting for them to come home to them that evening. Their families who would never see them again. This was so fucking WRONG and SENSELESS and UNFATHOMABLE. I think I made one more phone call from my office beroe my company officially sent us home for the day. My company who was trying to account for all of its employees around the country. Who might have had a meeting at The Pentagon – as we would soon learn had been hit by another plane? Who might have been on United 93 I think it was to be from Boston to San Francisco? United 93 which was hijacked by terrorists who are overtaken by passengers who hear – from airplane phones and conversations with family members about the towers and The Pentagon – and the plane crashes instead of into its potential intended target of the US Capitol building or The White House. I think it crashes into a field in Pennsylvania, where there are no casualties on the ground. Jesus. There are casualties on the plane. All the crew and passengers perished. On all 4 planes that morning. All the crew and passengers on all 4 planes perished. Plus all the casualties in the north and south towers. And all the casualties at The Pentagon. HORRIFIC.

DISGUSTING. SICKENING. Okay, so after calling Stacey and Chris – and I’m not sure I ever actually spoke with Stace that morning, just Chris – and I think after the second tower was hit, they may have left their apartment right away, I’m not sure. I do know that they were safe and that I spoke with them every single day for the days and weeks that followed. They were displaced from their apartment – everyone south of Chambers was – and I don’t think they ever went back to THAT apartment [to live]. So, after speaking with Chris, I know I spoke with my mom. My mom who was very scared and who wanted me to leave New York and go be with her and my dad in Northern Virginia. That made no sense to me because The Pentagon had also been hit – The Pentagon which was about 40 miles away from them and only 6 miles from the home of my grandparents in Falls Church, Virginia in a development called Lake Barcroft, with a manmade lake and 5 beaches. By the way, that morning, September 11, 2001 was the morning that doctors released my grandfather, the late Colonel Louis G. Mendez, Jr. to be sent home to die, under hospice care. I remember talking with my grandmother, Nanny, about the attacks on 9/11 and she was grateful – we were all grateful – that my grandfather wasn’t coherent to understand the horror of what happened that morning. My grandfather – DaddyGrandPappa, as we grandkids called him – did eventually make it home that day, by ambulance. By an ambulance which had been preoccupied with caring for any survivors at The Pentagon, again, only 6 miles away. Six miles away is close enough that my aunt Lori – the youngest of the 12 Mendez kids, who had come from California to help Nanny set up hospice care for DaddyG in their home, on the bottom floor of the house where they had raised their 12 kids. Lori told me that she could feel the boom of the plane hitting The Pentagon. Jesus Christ. She could feel that, but I couldn’t feel either plane hit the towers from only a few miles away. Except for what the news showed me and what people on the other end of my phone in my office or my landline at home told me, it was as if nothing was wrong in Midtown Manhattan or on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The skies were still clear blue and you couldn’t see any signs of smoke or debris from the now collapsed Twin Towers. So, the other person I spoke to before I left my office that God-awful morning, was a college friend and former roommate, Lola, who was living in Northern Virginia with her husband and their THEN, 3 kids at the time. Lola couldn’t stop crying and she was going to pull her kids out of school. No one knew why these terrorists had targeted NYC and Washington, D.C. and no one knew how many more planes there were and what the next targets might be. We were all in fear from having been attacked on our own soil, and so personally attacking civilians – people just going to work to support their families. I’m not sure why I bring up Lola now, why I so vividly remember our call and her tears. She’s always been someone who can cry and sniffle and talk at the same time – not like me when I start crying, there is nothing audible except for my wailing. Maybe I’m mentioning Lola because of her brother, Richie. He lived downtown and worked a few office buildings away from mine on 6th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Richie – like so many others who lived below Chambers was displaced after the attacks for weeks if not months. Richie who wanted to – begged the police officers who were barricading Chambers Street – he wanted to go down to Ground Zero to dig for any SURVIVORS. Richie. Richie wanted to DO something. I would see him a time or two in those early days and I would talk to Lola, too. We were all just shocked and devastated. And somehow, I managed to go on with my life in those days and weeks after. In the days and weeks when I would find out that a few of my colleagues – no one I knew personally – perished. In the days and weeks when I would find out that a friend of a friend – a woman who had joining us a couple of times for happy hour – had gone *missing*. That’s what people said in the early days after the attacks – their loved ones were unaccounted for and they were ever hopeful that they would be found as a survivor in the wreckage of the towers or that they would have missed their train to downtown Manhattan and that they would turn up later at home, after having sipped coffee in a local coffee shop. I don’t think any of those *missing* people ever turned up after those first few hours or before nightfall anyway. But *missing* was all that we could fathom, because it had all been so goddamned unfathomable. And like Richie – who was never permitted to dig through the rubble of the towers looking for survivors – I had to do something, too. And that was to bake cookies for the firefighters and police officers downtown. So, I baked 12 dozen cookies – that’s 144 cookies from them and carried them in a big shopping bag. I met Stacey and Chris at the barricade at Chambers Street and sent them on their way to distribute the cookies on my behalf. That’s all I could do, all that I knew to do, except to try to comfort or distract the friends who lost loved ones that day. And no one knew more people who died in The Twin Towers than my friend and colleague at the time, Scotty. Scotty had grown up in New Jersey and had gone to school with many people who worked in the towers. I don’t know if they all worked for Cantor Fitzgerald – the firm that lost 658 people on 9/11 – or if they all happened to be working in the towers at different companies. I just remember that Scotty eventually went to more memorial services than anyone else I knew. And I say *eventually* because many families held onto hope for a long time after the attacks that they might find their loved ones.They held off holding memorial services because once the services would be held, that would mean the end of any last possible hope for survival. I did message Scotty last night on Facebook, as I often do this time of year – to let her know I was thinking of her, especially on this 20th anniversary of the horrific events. She responded and thanked me and sent the photo of one of her friends, a friend she’d had since 4 years old. I am looking now at the photo of this handsome man in a suit and tie and a smile complete with dimples. I imagine all the friends and family he left behind 20 years ago and I am devastated for them all at his senseless death and the senseless death of so many that day. I don’t know how they’ve managed to go on without him all these years and how they can find any kind of – any kind of peace with his passing in such a horrific AND PREVENTABLE way. This did NOT have to happen. This was NO ACT OF GOD. This was NO ACCIDENT. This was the intentional murder of thousands of innocent Americans. And no amount of justice is ever going to bring those innocent Americans back to their loved ones. Nothing is going to reverse the clock back to the early morning of 9/11/2001 and change the minds of those terrorists who played out the attacks. Nothing is going to reverse the clock and shut the doors of The Twin Towers that morning and to send everyone home to take the day off of work. Nothing is going to reverse the clock for any one single person that morning who had a meeting or a job to go to in The Twin Towers or at The Pentagon or anyone flying on United Flight 93 from Boston to San Francisco to decide to stay home instead. We can’t reverse the clock to change the events or to prevent the deaths of so many innocent people. All we can do – the ONLY thing we can do – is to honor them as they have been every year since on 9/11 and in the building of memorials in their honor. Today, and I will try to every single day – I will honor all the innocent victims and their families and I will honor the first-responders – and their loved ones – for losing their lives while trying to save others.

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