I was sitting at my desk 27 floors up with my back turned toward my office door, sipping my coffee and gazing out at the mind-numbingly blue sky, when my phone rang. I see it in my mind, over and over as if on a slow motion playback reel. I glanced at the number; it was my then-husband.
Without a word of greeting, he told me that a friend from New York had called and said a plane hit the World Trade Center.
Shock. Horror. “What? You mean a commuter plane? A little one?”
“He’s not sure, but it must have been someone who didn’t know what they were doing. It’s not like you could miss those buildings.”
Relief “But he’s okay? And Annie and the kids? Were there any casualties besides the pilot?”
“Yeah. I don’t know.”
“Call me when you find out more.” The paging system in my office crackled to life, and I could hear people moving in the hallway behind me.
“Okay. Talk to ya.”
“Love you.” My endearment flew into the abyss.
I was wearing a royal blue silk shift that morning, with a seascape pattern. I loved that dress. I never wore it again.
I was fortunate. Although I lived and worked in Boston, and I regularly traveled the Boston-Los Angeles route at that time in my life, I was in my office, safe and distant on that fateful morning. All of my family members, friends, or colleagues were safe.
I knew people who knew people who’d lost loved ones. There were law firms in the Trade Center buildings where attorneys I had known tangentially worked, and I never heard again from one young associate with whom I had been negotiating a settlement. I still don’t know what happened to him, as the entire deal was rendered moot in the horrible aftermath. That was as close as I got to the tragedy, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Like the rest of the country, the world, I was shell-shocked. And like everyone else, I struggled with the philosophical, the whys, and the question of if there is a God, how could he or she allow this evil to happen. I knew I had to make my life count for something, and that I couldn’t let pass this opportunity to change my life for the better.
September 11 for me is more than the anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. It is also the anniversary of the day I began to know, truly and well that my first marriage was over. It was reinforced for me in the days immediately following the attacks, but that phone call began the unraveling.
In the days following, my office, like so many others, was closed, and I was at home catching up on all of the administrative duties that so often go undone when billable hours are the be all and end all. My ex was frustrated that I was home; he felt that people were scaredy-cats (a euphemism for the term he used), and everyone should just go back to work.
On the Sunday after the attacks, we watched the “60 Minutes” episode during which Ed Bradlee interviewed a woman whose husband had left for work on September 11 and simply vanished. She had three young boys, and as I watched her disintegrate on national television, I thought that is how I would be if anything happened to my husband.
My then husband’s reaction? That she should stop crying and suck it up. He used much more colorful language, but I will not be as disrespectful as he was by repeating his exact words.
As I sat staring at him, my jaw hanging open, I knew that he lacked a sensitivity chip and that he was simply not someone with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life or have children. We had been having difficulty in our marriage, and to that point, I had held out hope that we might be able to work through it and come out stronger on the other side. That moment crystallized for me I was simply on the wrong path with the wrong person, and I knew instantly I had to jump ship.
When I asked him for a divorce, he told me that I belonged to him and that he would never let me go. Two and a half months later, after much screaming and crying and throwing and breaking of things, I moved out of my house with my belongings and my cats while he was at work. Thirteen months after that, on Christmas Day of 2002, the judgment was final, and the nightmare of divorcing him was over.
I will never forget. To honor all those that lost their lives, it is my duty to make mine count and not waste a single moment.