The thing I can’t get out of my mind is the shoes. In the picture, he’s wearing a pair of black leather box-toe shoes with his outfit of dark slacks and a light blue dress shirt. No tie, but ties are going the way of three-piece suits in the business world anyway. He looks very dapper, his dark hair trimmed short and neat. He looks a little like me, though I guess his age at 27. He is holding hands with a woman (his girlfriend, wife, co-worker, total stranger?) and it bothers me a little I can’t remember more about her. They appear to be in mid-stride, purposeful. They don’t look at each other though; their eyes are fixed downwards. Behind them is the exterior of One World Trade Center and they’ve just walked off the ninety-something floor. How incredibly horrendous was it up there, above the impact crater left by those jets, that falling 1,000 feet was a good alternative?
If you have never been to the World Trade Center, I can’t properly give you a size perspective. They dwarfed the large office buildings surrounding them, and those smaller buildings are easily twice the size of anything in the Denver skyline. Looking up at the buildings from their base, the parallel lines of the structure appeared to bow at obtuse angles near the top. One’s brain wouldn’t allow the eyes to see it correctly. It was also a massive complex on the ground, the footprint of each tower a city block in itself. The plaza between the buildings was the size of several football fields. I remember going to many summer lunchtime concerts alongside the globe sculpture and fountain. Beneath the towers was a large commercial mall and entrances to the many subway lines that transported commuters to and from lower Manhattan.
I was still working down on Wall Street in 1993 when they tried to topple the towers with a truck bomb. That, and Oklahoma City, led to the omnipresent concrete barricades that now encircle many government buildings and landmarks. But that’s the thing about terrorists; if you’ve figured out a way to stop one plan from working, they’re very busy thinking up new, horrific ways to kill you.
The morning of September 11, 2001, I was working on the campus of San Francisco State University. Having recently resigned from the financial world to pursue my interest in equine medicine, New York City was the farthest thing from my mind at 6:15 a.m. when my girlfriend called with the news. I was in complete shock. I rushed home and on the way, tried to compile a mental list of who worked where, attempting to figure out which friends of mine were safe. I figured my best friend Kevin was OK since he worked in Midtown, miles away from the chaos. I couldn’t get in touch with any family or friends in New York for almost two days. By the time I tracked Kevin down I discovered that far from being safe, he was in the shadow of the south Tower as the second plane came in, right over his head. Emergency response to the first plane had frozen traffic and he was stranded in the middle of the panic. He eventually made his way to a ferry and, from the relative safety of Jersey City, watched the towers fall.
Other friends of mine were not so lucky.
Three friends worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and always bragged about their incredible 102nd floor view. One of them was Chris Slattery. He was a real funny guy, loved sports, and movies. He was a little chunky, kind of a junior Chris Farley. He was 31. There were also the two guys from my old neighborhood and the kid from my high school homeroom, all firemen, all killed.
So although it is a year since the attacks (please don’t call them a tragedy; a tragedy is a flood or tornado or earthquake. 9/11 was a highly planned and premeditated act of warfare) killed my friends whose only crime was just showing up for work that day, the event really isn’t over. The pain, the scar can’t heal over.
The New York Medical Examiner is still trying to match the more than 10,000 pieces of human remains to the almost 2,900 casualties. Those members of the FDNY, NYPD and other agencies who took part in the rescue/recovery at the site are still struggling to deal with the horrors they saw there. Outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, those “Missing” posters that appeared like a blizzard all over lower Manhattan in the days after the attacks still remain as the most potent reminder of the human face of suffering caused by this act of violence.
The events of 9/11 in NYC were the most photographed event in the history of the world. There is a gallery in New York dedicated to remembering that day as recorded by professionals and amateurs alike. I encourage you to visit http//hereisnewyork.org/index2.asp and view some of the thousands of images. Maybe one will affect you the way I was touched by the picture I saw, for just a moment, on the New York Times Web site the morning of 9/11 as I scoured the net for more information. Just a couple of young Americans holding hands at they plummeted to their deaths.
I am certainly not alone in experiencing nightmares and depression following the attacks. It’s human nature to want to avoid the pain, but I’m going to ask you to do the opposite. Don’t allow yourself to forget. Don’t forget the names of the victims. Don’t forget their faces. Don’t ever forget.
Frank De Cecco, native New Yorker, first semester CSU student pursuing second Bachelors degree in Life Sciences.