15 years and 1 day ago is a day I will never forget. It was a beautiful September morning, September 11, 2001 to be exact, and I had just returned from Arizona where I was visiting one of my dearest friend, Andrea. At the time I was working for Bridge Information Systems in St. Louis as a Technical Account Manager covering large financial customers in New York. For 2 years I traveled every other week, Sunday through Friday, to our New York Office to visit my customers in the World Trade Center and other various locations throughout the City…..for two years it was my second home. Over those 2 years, many customers became friends. We would do lunch, talk about our families, laugh, tell stories and talk about our dreams. One customer in particular, Ed Martinez from Cantor Fitzgerald, always called me his second daughter. He had a beautiful family that he was SO proud of and would always share pictures of them with me. His daughter you could tell was the light of his life and he was beaming with pride as he talked about her starting college soon. Ed and I talked multiple times every week not only about his business that I was responsible for supporting, but just about life in general. I can still hear his voice replay in my head from our many conversations but for some reason I have a constant replay on his last vm from a few days prior “Hi Beth, this is Ed, can you call me when you get a chance?”. A vm I listened too as I got in the office that morning after returning from vacation, a voicemail so simple, yet I can hear it clear as day in my head 15 years later. This week happened to be my off week from traveling to NY. We had 2 teams of TAM’s who traveled opposite weeks and shared corporate apartments in Jersey City overlooking the twin towers. It was truly our second home.
That morning started off just like any other. This week happened to be my off week from traveling to NY. We had 2 teams of TAM’s who traveled opposite weeks and shared corporate apartments in Jersey City overlooking the twin towers. It was truly our second home. I was in the St. Louis office on the morning of 9/11, talking with my co-workers and catching up on emails and voice mails that I missed while I was out on vacation. I remembering listening to Ed’s voicemail and adding it to my To Do list for the morning to give him a call and it was shortly after that the craziness started to set in. We started getting traps on all of the devices our company had in the twin towers telling us they were all going down. The phone calls started coming in from customers, who were also unaware at the time of what was happening wondering why they had lost connection. It was all hands on deck at work fielding the calls….all of us oblivious in St. Louis to what was happening that dreadful day in NY. Shortly after the chaos started there was a call from one of the TAMs that was in NY that week saying a plane had just hit the twin towers. I remember saying “yeah right, happy late April Fools Day”. We turned on the TV’s in the office and a silence took over, there was shock, there were tears and then we watched on live TV the second plane hit. We saw on live TV, people hanging out of the windows at the top of the world trade center, clinging to life, praying for a rescue that would never come. We watched people jump 100 floors to their death on live TV, an image you can’t ever get out of your head. We watched the news of the other hijacked planes hitting the Pentagon and one crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. I think my body went numb and I went into panic mode. I started getting calls and messages from friends and family back in Florida who were unsure if this was my week in NY or not, scared to death and making sure I was ok. There was a sigh of relief in their voice when they reached me and knew I was ok….a sigh of relief that thousands of families would not get to experience that day. I immediately started calling Ed over and over, hoping and praying he would pick up, he didn’t. I remember telling myself its ok, he is probably just making his way out of the towers, he was on floor 101/102 so he had a long way to go down the stairs, he will be fine. I kept calling and I kept getting voicemail.
Then on live TV, it happened, the first tower came crashing down. I remember the hearing the gasps in my office, the shock, the tears and the fear of the realization that our country was under attack.
I left several messages that day for Ed asking if he was ok, telling him to call me as soon as he got my message…..messages that were never returned. I left work that day in complete shock, numb with fear. I continued to watch coverage of the tragedy unfold on TV for days on end, holding on to a tiny glimmer of hope that I would see him on TV and that he would be ok or hear news that he was rescued in the recovery effort, but that news never came. I would call the hotline that was setup to check on friends and family that were in the towers at the time and was told they had no information on Ed but I wasn’t giving up hope. I thought and prayed often for his family that day and the weeks to come. I would fall asleep every night with the news on about the recovery efforts, the candle light vigils going on, the images and posters of the missing and the families crying out in agony and fear that their loved ones may not be coming home but they were still clinging on to that little glimmer of hope that their loved on may be found that day. Every night for the first few days I would wake in a dream thinking that I saw Ed on TV, alive and well. The dreams were so real that I would jump up and glue my eyes to the TV to see that image I saw in my dream but it wasn’t there. I cried for days knowing that my worst fears were becoming a reality that I did not want to accept, they were gone.
Over the next few days in the office we were in crisis mode. Trying to account for all of our staff in NY and thankfully they all made it out ok. We talked to our TAM’s that were in the corporate apartments that overlooked the twin towers and their stories of being on the balcony, watching it all unfold and seeing that second plane hit the twin towers right across the water from them. We heard the story from Jason, one of our TAM’s, that was waiting for an elevator in the bottom of one of the towers on his way up to see his client when one of the plane’s hit and his detail of the chaos that ensued thereafter of how he was able to escape the towers thankful for his life. We heard stories from other employees there that day, about the city of NY coming together as a community, as a family, bringing strangers into their homes and into their offices to bring them to what was hopefully a safe place. Stories about the thousands and thousands of people running out of the streets of NY trying to get home to their families, with no car, no subway’s, covered in ash and tears walking tirelessly to reach their loved ones. Stories of strangers pulling up in their boats on the Hudson and taking people to safety on the other side. Stories from my boss at the time who was waiting on a plane on the runway in Newark about to take off on his trip to St. Louis when the plane hit the towers and all flights came to a halt. Stories of co-workers, helping the injured and the mind numbing details of the gruesome injuries and the lost lives they saw that day.
As the airports were shutdown (and honestly I am pretty sure they wouldn’t have gotten on a plane even if they weren’t) our team of TAMs were finally able to rent a car and make their way back to St. Louis. Listening to their stories of what happened on that dreadful day, their personal experiences of being there when our country was under attack was surreal. They had haunting images they had taken from the balcony of the corporate apartment of the disaster that unfolded before their eyes…..Haunting, scary, surreal images.
Over the next few weeks I was left accepting the reality that my clients/friends were not going to make it home to their families. I was frightened with the thought of soon having to take a plane back to NY to try and resume some sense of normalcy with the clients I still had left. That trip came almost 3 weeks later and I was scared to death. I planned my trip that week to attend the memorial services in Central Park for the over 600 lives lost at Cantor Fitzgerald that day. I am not going to lie, I was scared for my safety yes, but also scared of what I was about to see and experience. This beautiful city that I had been living in part-time for 2 years had been changed forever. Almost 3 weeks later ground zero was still smoking, ash still covered cars and streets, images of the missing still posted everywhere, and papers that were once on the desks of employees in the twin towers were still scattered over the streets. The iconic American flag in the rubble was standing and again I was brought to tears. This was real. I stood for a long time looking at what used to be the place I got off of the PATH train every morning to head into the office, the place I used to ride the elevator up to floor 101 to visit my friends at Cantor where I had been less than 2 weeks prior to 9/11, the place I had lunch with friends and clients was gone. Our view of the twin towers from the corporate apartment that we took for granted was now that of ash and smoke. Another reality check….this was real and our lives would be forever changed.
October 1st, 2001 was a somber day. Almost 3 weeks after the attack on our country, and my first trip back to NYC, I was making my way to Central Park to attend the memorial services for my friends at Cantor. Try to imagine for a second thousands of friends and families members gathered together to celebrate their lives and to say goodbye one last time. Try to imagine the walls of images of all of the Cantor employees lost and their family members stricken with grief on their knees and unable to talk, just cry. I walked through the boards of images and my eyes almost immediately landed on a picture of Ed. Crazy, happy Ed with a funny hat on smiling and full of life. I stopped, I cried, and I put my hand on that picture to say goodbye. I listened to the services almost numb watching all of these family members stricken with grief and these sweet kiddos who no longer have a mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandma or grandpa, some so small that they still do not understand or grasp the concept of what happened. My heart was broken for them. The grief I was experiencing was NOTHING compared to what these families were going through now and would continue to go through for the rest of their lives.
After that trip my role changed bit at work, my company was purchased by Reuters and I soon moved on to a TAM position at Savvis Communications. I still covered accounts in NY but it would never be the same . Soon I moved on to new roles and my visits to NYC came to an end in 2004.
Over the years I made a few personal trips back to NYC for fun and I think it was around 2008 that we made it to the 9/11 museum (not the big one they have now but the smaller original one across the street) and all of those memories came rushing back. That day. The fear. The shock. The tears. The images.I remembered every detail like it was yesterday. Visiting the museum was hard, really hard. They had the images of the missing loved ones up inside and pieces of the fallen towers. I cried, I prayed and we quietly made our way through paying our respects to all of the lives lost that day.
In March 2015, I made another personal trip to NY. This time the memorial had been completed and I again made that trip to the place I once visited often. The place where the twin towers once stood. The place where I shared many laughs with friends. The place where I once visited the 101st floor every other week. When we walked up to the memorial I again was hit with a rush of emotions. It was beautiful. It was sad. The massiveness of this memorial was surreal…..the reality of how many lives were lost that day hit me….it had to be that massive to fit all of their names. I walked up not really sure how to locate the names of the person you were looking for as there was over 2000. I stood there taking it all in, watching people leave flowers, watching people cry, and holding back my own tears. It was a rainy day cold day and I made my way up to one of the edges to look in at the water and scan the names and to my surprise I happened to walk up by luck to the exact spot Ed’s name was located. What were the chances of that? I wasn’t ready to see it yet but there it was right in front of me with rain drops covering the surface. I took a deep breath, I touched his name and tried to fight the tears. I said a prayer for him and his family and again said goodbye.
So after 15 years this is the first time I have shared ALL of my memories and the details of how this day has affected me with anyone. It was time to put my memories down so I will never forget. Every year I still quietly cry on 9/11 and all of those memories come rushing back. Yesterday was hard. Today it was time to get it all out. I will never forget. Hug your friends and family and tell them you love them every.single.day. Live life to the fullest and don’t take one second with your loved ones for granted.
RIP my sweet friend and to all the beautiful souls lost that day.