Sep 11, 2010

9/11 Tribute -- I Still Remember

Two weeks earlier, I had become a daily news intern/reporter for the Staten Island Advance. My shift ended at 3 in the morning on 9/11/01. I went home and went right to bed. At about 11 a.m., I was asleep in my apartment when I heard frantic knocks on my door. It was my Mom, making sure I was home instead of crashed on a friend's floor in the city--a common occurrence at that time. She told me that two planes hit the Twin Towers and they were gone.



I blinked frenetically. What? I couldn't compute. I was dazed but then it hit me: my Mom's best friend worked on the 70th floor in Tower 2. "What about Pat?" I asked. My Mom just shook her head sadly.

It was thanks to Pat, my Mom's best friend for 35 years, that I had the amazing opportunity of working in the World Trade Center for an entire year right out of high school. I looked out on that courtyard with that giant fountain surrounded by two silver towers for the whole of my 17th year.

I'd known Pat my entire life and suddenly she was surely…dead. My Mom and I sat on the edge of my bed and cried with the TV on. As my brain squirmed to attention, two other faces appeared. Two others at risk, two others who I loved and who were working downtown that terrible morning: my brother-in-law Eddie and my wonderful Uncle Frank.

Ed, an ironworker, and Uncle Frank, an electrician, both at work putting up tall steel structures as two others came down. Where are they? Thankfully, we found out that Pat was indeed alive and well and ushered out of Tower 2 before it fell, and also that Ed and Frank made it out of the city (Ed returned to Ground Zero on 9/12 to assist with the recovery efforts.). I learned throughout the day and into the smoky night that, blessedly, everyone I was worried about was accounted for. My thoughts go out to those of you who lost people.

I knew I wasn't destined to be a daily news reporter when my first thought—after knowing my people were OK—was, "Gee, I wonder if I have to go into work today?" Duh. I was a DAILY NEWS reporter, wondering if I had to cover the biggest daily news story ever. Well, a clearer career detractor has never been borne.

Nevertheless, I spent the next two months writing 14 of the 244 obituaries for Staten Islanders murdered on that day. I worked through my grief. I grieved through my work. The other reporters and I, we wrote the obits slowly—only one or two per day--as word reached the families that remains might never be found. Loved ones came and went through our office, bowing sadly with the burden of having no form of closure. . .closure that would never come.

I cried on the phone with the wife of a firefighter lost in Tower 1; with the mother whose daughter received her first job out of college only a month before—gone now in the fall of Tower 2; with a husband whose last picture of his wife showed her and a friend at Windows on the World on the 107th floor of Tower 1 only months earlier; and with a woman whose long-time love disappeared forever in Tower 1--they had just purchased their first home together.

At about 4 p.m. on 9/11/01, an hour before I was due to go to work, I went up to the roof of my building with my neighbor. It wasn't a roof suitable for stargazing or picnicking or having sex or anything. It was hot and tarred and smelly. There were a few of us up there, gazing through the still, summer-green trees, at the plumes of smoke that would tower into the sky for the next 3 months.

I remember. I will remember them all.

by Leah A. Karnatski

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