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Friday, March 1, 2024
HomeAt Home & BeyondA Living Nightmare

A Living Nightmare

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A cloudless and inviting Long Island Sunrise massaged my face. I glanced at the grandfather clock, and vaulted out of bed.  My wife Adele planned to start her new consulting business that morning and I decided to accompany her. She scheduled an 8 A.M. appointment in Brooklyn, New York.

Strolling toward my car, I took a deep breath. Despite a slight nip in the air, I scented the aroma of a summer beach day. Minutes later, I stopped at a local bakery to pick up breakfast. After my purchase, I nearly stumbled into our car while hugging freshly baked bagels. I yanked my nose out of that aromatic and crinkled paper bag and savored our wake-up coffee.

Pleasantly surprised by scattered, small clusters of traffic on the way to the city, I pressed my finger to the cassette recorder and began listening to the rock band Bread’s songs. Wearing a silly ear-to-ear grin, I raved to Adele about the wonderful day we began to experience. Further on into our ride, we heard distant, scattered sirens, and noticed peculiar clouds and didn’t think anything of it. Despite these distractions, I expressed concern about our late arrival for her business meeting.

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My cell phone blared. Our son Pete, a usually calm lawyer, called from his Washington, DC office.

He asked, “Where are you?”

“In Brooklyn,” I answered.

“Do you see anything on the highway or sky?”

“Not really, perhaps a weird cloud, rumpled like an unmade bed,” I said.

Adele looked over and noticed police cars flying by and also spotted smoke in the distant sky.

Pete raised his voice, “Get off at the closest exit! Forget your business and head back to Long Island. No questions, and turn your radio on!”

Listening to the radio, we heard many chilling and conflicting stories.  Adele gently tapped my arm and I said, “You’re so upset about what’s happening.”

She answered,” Of course I am, however, I wonder if you’ve become Mario Andretti?”

After nodding and apologizing, I eased off my gas pedal.

When we finally arrived home, the enormity of the tragedy faced us. Our home phone rang immediately after hanging my keys behind the door. After a sound scare provided by radio news, I actually hesitated before picking up the receiver. I answered the call with bated breath. One of my closest friends Jay called to ask if I’d heard news of the Pentagon attack. “ Pentagon attack?” I said with a cracking voice, “Never heard about that.” I mentioned that we’d just returned home. When he informed me that his son, an officer in the armed forces, was stationed at the Pentagon, I trembled and noticed goose pimples occupying my arms. I told him we’d pray for his boy.

While waiting to hear more about Jay’s son, I plopped in my lounge chair slowly wiped my moisture-laden face and then my fingernails began their tap dance. The rest of the afternoon images of smoldering buildings, fleeing people, screams and casualties commandeered the television. I shuddered.

Then, my friend Larry called from his college office and disclosed that his daughter, recognizing her lateness for work, decided to grab a cup of coffee. That happened minutes before the attack. Ironically, that last-minute coffee stop saved her life. Her pop said, “I will never ever complain about her overuse of coffee. In fact, I will buy her the finest coffee maker made.”

Hours later my beleaguered friend Jay called to inform me his son had the day off from his Pentagon assignment.  Two home runs in terms of lives saved.  Watching the television, however, I realized that positive news would end soon.

The next day a sad seemingly endless procession began. We learned that two of my former high school students were trapped in the Towers. A popular local and sparkplug in our community and a New York City police officer ran into the inferno to save lives. He never came out. Tragically they were all swallowed up in an evil jungle of fire, smoke, in a seemingly endless hellhole. Their lives, hopes, and dreams were trampled in a flash. The list of casualties, about three thousand, included several of our friends and neighbors.

And so it began, within a week our tiny street choked with hearses and fire trucks transporting the victims and heroes to the local church, following a trail of sorrows.  Several firefighters and police from our area were recipients of funeral mass blessings at parade’s end. I imagine that there were enough tears to flood the street. That scene was repeated for days and hair-raising shrieks were heard from some mourners. Drenched in the face of terrorizing history and listening to a swell of dirges I became trapped in a cone of melancholy for over a month.

The murderous attack continued after the initial horror. Police, firefighters, and volunteers entered the conflagration during and after the sneak attack. Speaking to my good friend Gerry whom I privately referred to as Mr. Brave, he grimaced when describing his leaps into the smoldering pile of the decimated building found wedding bands, charm bracelets, and human remains.

Despite masks, both he and his courageous colleagues inhaled venomous fumes into their bodies. These heroes worked countless hours in the hope of finding survivors.

Nine-eleven remained with them nearly a score of years later when they dealt with disease caused by terrorists. Unfortunately, our Mr. Brave finally succumbed to the toxic air delivered that fatal day. Our family lost one true blue talented courageous and upstanding American recently, cursed by Nine-Eleven crime.

Obviously, some scars and sores still hurt even though healed or appearing healed. Baseball, yes baseball, helped resurrect my spirit at that time. For me, the World Series a month or so after the attack of terrorism captured a curative stage. Fans swelled in the Yankee Stadium seats. President Bush, faced with numerous threats, jogged out to the mound to throw out the first baseball. Before he hurled the ball, future Yankee Hall of Famer Derek Jeter said, “Mr. President, you’d better throw a strike or they’ll boo you.” He pitched a perfect strike and Americans in attendance that day conveyed care, patriotism, and pride while casting politics aside. They chanted, “USA, USA, USA,” triggering chills to run up and down my spine.

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