Wednesday, April 21, 2010

So what happened to the girl? (New York, Sept 11, 2001 - Part 5)

It’s a strange thing, to know someone for about 6 hours or so, and then to find yourself searching for them with no idea of where they were or even if they were alive. I had Kamilla’s cell number, but knew that she didn’t have mine. I had tried many times to call her on her on the 11th with no success. I trying again over and over on the 12th, hoping that she would pick up and that my search would be ended in a happy manner.

Later that evening with one more call, after a few rings, instead of it ringing and ringing and ringing like it had for the phone calls before, she picked up the phone. I had been so distracted with the thought of where she was when the towers were hit Was she in the building? Was she even alive? That I forgot that she had no idea about my whereabouts and my fate. She was so relieved to hear that I had never made it there as we had planned and expressed the frustration of not having a way to get a hold of me. She had started to think that she might never know my fate.

What really had worried me about her situation was that she was at a hotel in the Canal Street area, which is close to the World Trade Center and where all the devastation was taking place. After the terrorists attack, the lower part of Manhattan was completely shut down to anyone except for emergency personnel where Canal street cuts across, so she was close, but still far enough away to be safe.

So what happened for Kamilla that morning? To my relief, she had slept in a little, and by the time everything started to happen, she was at a distance that kept her safe.

With everything that had happened, we had to see each other again, if only to celebrate our fates of that completely unbelievable couple of days. The next day was the Thursday, a day where things started to get back to ‘normal’ in the city, so we made plans to meet late afternoon in Times Square. I have to say, it was one of the strangest ‘reunions’ I’ve ever had. We had a great evening, going for a nice dinner and then a Broadway play (getting tickets to anything was easy as there were so many people who had previously bought tickets but couldn’t get there to see the shows), but there was one moment that always will stand out for me. As I wrote earlier, it was a strange reunion – we had only known each other for a handful of hours, but suddenly through the events of September 11th, we knew our lives would be intertwined forever. What was so memorable for me was that she thanked me. She felt for sure she would have been up in the towers early that morning on September 11th if she hadn’t met me. But we did meet, and we went up the night before. And for her (and for me) that changed everything.

In my last few days there in New York, I continued on to explore the city I had been so anxious to see. Over the next few days, I was witness to some very remarkable events. I can so vividly remember waiting at a subway stop, watching a few individuals posting letter-sized notes on the walls – these were hand-written notes that included a picture of a loved-one from one of the twin towers that was missing. With each day, more and more appeared. I also remember seeing how so many of them were from the same company, an organization that was located near the top of one of the towers. It was strange, as I looked at so many of the posted sheets, the people of the photographs looked back at me, and in most of them, they looked so happy. They all looked like regular people, like you and me. It was so hard to believe the fate that they had met, and what their families had to deal with. It made me so sad.

I also remember later, on the Thursday after my evening with Kamilla, riding the train back to Heike and Jen’s place. It was somewhere around 11 pm, and on the rail car I was in, I was the only one except for about half a dozen firefighters, just finishing a shift that I would guess was at the World Trade Center. They were absolutely covered in dust and grime and looked as tired as anyone ever could. This was still a time where there was hope to find more people trapped in the rubble and debris. If there was one thing I didn’t see in their eyes, it was hope. It was one of the quietest times in my life I can ever remember.

A few days later, on the first day that airports were open again, I found myself on a plane, heading back home. The tension was high among the other passengers and the airline employees. You didn’t see the usual joyfulness of people heading out on a vacation, setting out to explore a different part of the country or a different part of the world. It all felt so different. I was happy to be heading home, but I felt like there was a large part of me that I had left behind. I knew I’d be back, but I just didn’t know when. I’ve been back twice, the first time was four years ago for a conference that my wife was attending, the second time was just this past weekend. The adventure has continued, and that will be the next part of my story.

Here we are on the Thursday evening in Times Square, just before going to see a Broadway Show (Les Miserables)

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