There are many Sept. 11 stories to tell. I’ve written a lot of mine down, but whenever it comes to telling them, I try to wrap them up with a perfect bow. First, with a eulogy I read when I was 15 and still blindsided by it all. Then, at an FDNY 10-year anniversary ceremony. It’s nice to speak to these things neatly, I thought. I liked putting a hopeful, resilient spin on it because, after all, we weren’t going to give up. We were still committed to shining bright on behalf of the 3,000 people we lost. But there is a shadow of darkness still, a sadness that remains.
Rarely is there a magical moment of true peace with premature death, especially on such a massive scale with an unending aftershock. For us 9/11 "survivors," we evolve and grow. We keep moving to the unstoppable momentum of New York City. It’s our home and the place we love so much. It’s part of who we are. We survived with it. We rebuilt with it. My dad perished into the very foundation of this island. He was never recovered from ground zero, not even a trace. So here he rests, in my city and my heart.
I can still see his silhouette walking out our front door, and hear the screen door shutter behind him.
He would help you, any of you, if you needed him. He had a calm yet strong presence. He was smart— all by his own doing. He read endlessly, book after book, and collected hundreds of antique volumes and editions. He handed me a book any time I had a question. We didn’t have Google, but we had five sets of encyclopedias (cue teenage eye roll). "Go look it up," he’d tell my two older brothers and me. He could rebuild the engine on his '68 Jaguar XKE, string up our Christmas lights, build our pool, tell a good joke, grocery shop the sales, tutor me in math and science, and cook us filet mignon and Yorkshire pudding on New Year's Day. He could also make fun of me in the best possible way. You would have liked him very much. My mom and my brothers and I really loved him.
I often imagine seeing it through his eyes, what he must have been feeling, thinking.
He’d have an hour and half commute ahead of him since he moved us out to Warwick, NY, when I was a baby. We lived in a horseshoe-shaped neighbourhood filled with trees and bi-level homes. There was a farmhouse behind our house with cows that would come right up to the fence and visit with us. My dad was the ultimate animal lover. We grew up with our English mastiff Amber and three other rescue dogs. He also rescued injured animals, like snapping turtles on the side of the road, and brought them home, much to my mom’s dismay. "Another turtle, Mike?" she’d ask, and my brothers and I would laugh at them while they bickered over it.
Around 2005, the FDNY released many of the dispatch calls from Sept. 11. I listened in entirety for my dad’s voice, but never found it.
We think he went into the north tower, and that he and his guys came out safely before venturing into the other one. I got no other details. Around 2005, the FDNY released many of the dispatch calls from Sept. 11. I listened in entirety for my dad’s voice, but never found it. They swabbed my mouth for DNA to try and match it to even the tiniest bone fragments that were being sifted out of the rubble. We never got a match.
My dad perished into the very foundation of this island. So here he rests, in my city and my heart.
That’s what I know about the day. But here’s what I hope; that my dad wasn’t hurt long enough to feel any pain. That he didn’t experience fear or suffering. That he knew in that very instant how much we loved him and that we would carry on for him. How we would value everything he taught us, appreciate how much he loved us and how hard he worked. That we would forever honour him and all the people he passed on with that day.
I think we all feel that way, directly or indirectly affected. What would life have been like for us without a Sept. 11?
Ashley Fodor is a freelance writer and editor based in New York City. The views expressed here are her own.