WE WILL STAND
By Virginia Guido
My Dearest Sara,
Today is Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the year of your birth. As you remain drifting innocently in your mother’s womb, I am sitting next to her, writing about the most horrific event in the history of our country. I still don’t know you, but I am recording all this for your benefit.
Right now, your mother and I are taking shelter at a Good Samaritan’s house in New Jersey, since we cannot return to New York. Your mom is patting her belly, reassuring you, but worried about your dad, a police officer.
Let me go back to the beginning of our day for you. This morning, your mom and I were on our way to a Space Exploration Simulation seminar in New Jersey. Ironically, we were going to revisit the 1986 voyage of the ill-fated Challenger and “complete” the mission of gathering and analyzing gasses from Haley’s Comet.
It was a beautiful fall day; the sky was blue, and the bright puffy clouds were indicators that the sun would shine on us all day. We arrived at the space center where an instructor dressed in a flight suit briefed us and took us to our “class.”
Within five minutes, that same person returned, announcing that a small aircraft had just hit the World Trade Center. Since this is a simulation workshop based on a tragic setting, we thought this was our assignment; calibrate survivors from the impact. Consequently, another instructor entered the room to report that a second plane had just hit the remaining tower. We still didn’t understand the severity of the situation and continued to work on our calculations.
“People,” the first instructor said, “this is really happening. Both World Trade Center Towers have been hit. We don’t have a TV here, but you can watch it on our computers.”
It was starting to dawn on us. I called my husband to confirm this information. “Are the Towers really on fire?” I asked him.
“No,” he said.
I turned to the rest of the people and told them that the WTC Towers were not on fire.
Then I heard him say, “They’re gone, Babe.”
“The Towers. They just collapsed. They’re not there anymore.”
I clicked off my phone and told everyone that the World Trade Center Towers were no longer standing tall. They were now reduced to rubble.
At this, your mom began to worry. “We have to get home,” she said.
She was seven months pregnant with you and stressing about her unborn baby and your father.
Well, Sara, we weren’t going home this day. All bridges to New York were closed, and we had nowhere to go. I promised your mom that I would take care of her (and you). I just didn’t have a clue where we would go.
Our second flight instructor, Alice, offered her home to us. “I live nearby, and my children are away at college, so I have plenty of room for you, ladies.”
We followed Alice to her house. Alice’s husband, Joe, was already there (having escaped New York), and he gave us a firsthand account of what happened this morning since he worked on the 70th floor of one of the Towers.
After the first plane had hit, Joe went down to the street and refused to return to his office. Later on, he watched in horror as the second plane crashed into the other tower.
“There was crying, screaming, and praying from the people in the street as both buildings (symbols of New York City) burned.
“Suddenly,” he said, “the buildings began to descend. Like they were being sucked into the ground! The dust and debris chased everyone towards the Hudson River, where small boats were waiting to rescue us.”
He continued to tell us that on the Jersey side of the river, people in cars were ready with socks, towels, sneakers, and water for the survivors, who were coated with gray dust. These dazed individuals asked to borrow cell phones to call their loved ones and reassure them. The New Jersey folks told the throng that not only could they use the cell phones, but they would be taken to places of refuge for the night. On this somber day, everyone worked together, helped each other, and tried to cope.
At the end of this day, Sara, over 3,000 souls were lost; firefighters, police officers, plane passengers, and unsuspecting office workers. Two buildings were destroyed, and others were damaged beyond repair. Our innocence, trust, and security had been shredded. As sad as it was, Sara, there was good. Today, there were no racial differences, no biases, and no lines drawn. Not only was everybody monochromatic by dust, but we were all one people, one city, one nation, Americans!
The next morning, when your mom and I finally got to return home, we crossed the bridge to Staten Island, not daring to look over at the New York skyline and the gap still billowing smoke.
The song, “Proud to be an American” was playing on the radio and, while stuck in traffic, that’s when reality hit. Finally, we sobbed in each other’s arms.
It is now 19 years later, and you are a beautiful young lady who keeps asking me why on every September 11, your mom and I call each other no matter where we are and cry. We cry for the friends who left us that day. We cry for people who hate with no remorse. But we also cry for you, Sara, and your generation, which will never know the beauty of the Twin Towers and how they brought a nation to stand together on that fateful day.
Remember, there still is kindness in this world. Honorable people are willing to help others in spite of our “so-called” differences.
Sweet Sara, always be one of those people. With all my love today and always,
Your Aunt Genna
Virginia Guido is a retired NYC school administrator. She married her childhood sweetheart, Ralph, who is not the subject of her story. Virginia likes writing horror and memoirs about her eccentric past, which she considers the same genre. Writing is her therapy.