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Nine Eleven Redux





Nine Eleven Redux

 

 

            The Delta flight left Fort Lauderdale International Airport on the afternoon of Thursday, September 6, 2001 toward New York City. As soon as Mom called to let us know she and Dad were getting ready to board the plane, my sisters and I saw no reason to stay around. We started for the parking lot.

I felt such a sense of accomplishment. How we pulled this off was nothing short of miraculous. Despite our ongoing differences, we had managed to muddle through our rivalries to put together a truly unforgettable gift for our parents’ 45th wedding anniversary that year. We bought them tickets to the World Cup Tennis Championship to take place in Forest Hills, New York, and booked them a suite at the Essex House, where they would stay until Monday, September 10, 2001.

            On Sunday morning, September 9, my phone rang. It was my dad.

            “I want to let you know how much we are enjoying this trip. You girls are unbelievable. We are so blessed!” he said.

            “Thank you, Daddy. I am glad we were able to do it. You and Mom deserve it. You were always there for us. This is the least we could do.”

            “Thank you,” he said, “your mom wants to talk to you.”

            Mom took the phone and told me that the day before they had had 5 o’clock tea in the lobby of the hotel, after returning from one of the games. “The fireplace was lit, all gold and

 

 

copper against the gray outside,” she said excited. “After that, we went for a walk through Central Park.”

“I am so happy to hear that,” I said. “What time should I pick you up from the airport tomorrow?”

            “The plane leaves at 4 p.m. so we’ll be landing at about 6:30.”

            It seemed like such a short weekend. “Ma? Why don’t you stay another day?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“You should do a little more sightseeing.”

“We’re going to the Statue of Liberty tomorrow before heading to the airport,” she said.

“Have you ever been to the Twin Towers?”

            “No.”

            “You must go.”

            “You think so?”

“Absolutely. You can’t leave New York without visiting the Towers. In fact, you should stay an extra day and have breakfast at Windows on the World.”

“You’ve done enough already.”

“Nonsense. I’ll call the Essex House and book another night. You call the airline and change your flight to Tuesday, September 11th.”

            She hesitated, but I could sense her excitement. “I’ll call you as soon as I have the new flight information,” she said, and hung up.

           

 

Later that night, Mom called to confirm they would be staying one more night. They were able to change the flight back home for Tuesday, September 11th at 2 p.m., right after breakfast at Windows on the World.

 

It was a morning like any other, except that this time I took my car to the business my husband and I owned, so I’d be able to leave early in order to get to the airport on time to pick up my parents. It was 9:20 a.m. when the phone rang. My husband answered.

            “Craig, they, they… oh my G-d! They are falling!” a frantic voice hyperventilated on the other end of the phone.

            “Mom? Is that you?” Craig said recognizing my mother’s voice.

            “Oh… my… G-d! Oh, nooooo!” She screamed and began sobbing inconsolably.

            “Mom! Mom! Calm down! Tell me what’s going on. Take a deep breath.” He was in take-charge mode, cool and solid as a rock. But Mom wasn’t there. Somehow, they had gotten disconnected.

 

            When the phone rang again, my heart was already racing. Knowing that my parents were still in New York, I was worried that something terrible had happened. She had said ‘They are falling.’ Who was falling? I wondered. Not without apprehension, I dialed her number.

            “Ma? Is that you?”

           

 

“Yes, it’s me,” she said, her voice hoarse from crying. She sounded resigned; no fight left in her.

            “Is Daddy, okay?”

            “Your father and I are fine. Do you have a TV in your office?”

            “Yes, but the antenna is disconnected.” We had an old set with rabbit ears.

            “Turn it on,” she said in a voice that was barely a whisper.

            We pushed the ON button and waited. A snowy picture came up on the screen, materializing into one of the most horrific scenes I had ever seen. The Twin Towers were falling down, amid the clamor of people screaming and running for their lives, chased by a gigantic cloud of smoke and debris, like a hungry monster trampling on ants. One man dove head first from a window in one of the top floors. It was surreal. Time froze as my husband and I tried to process what we had just seen. Only then did it dawn on us that my parents were there.

            “Ma!” I screamed in sheer terror, bathed in tears. “Ma, where are you?”

My husband slumped on his chair, his head in his hands.

            “Home, dear, we are home!”

“How come?”

“Yesterday we realized that your father forgot one of his medications and he didn’t want to skip a dose. We changed the flight back to Monday, and the only flight we found was departing at 9 p.m. We had to rush to pack and make it to the airport, and we didn’t want to inconvenience you to pick us up at midnight, so we took a taxi home from the airport and arrived this morning at one.”

 

This was too much to take in. I gave the phone to my husband, and ran to the bathroom to throw up.  When I came back, his face was completely white, all color drained from him, as he gave my mother specific instructions to dial 911 after hanging up.

            You see, just as the towers were collapsing, so was my father. A clot got stuck in his brain, he began to speak incoherently, and then fell on the floor unconscious while my mother was telling us to turn on the TV.

            What I remember after that is like a bad dream in slow motion: leaving our store, driving to school to pick up the kids, all along debating whether I should pick them up first or go to the ER where my father was. I think my car grew a brain that day and drove me first to my kids. The school parking lot was packed with cars from frantic parents, all trying to sign their kids out at the same time.

            Daddy lost his memory and subsequently his ability to speak. What remained from his brilliance and genius were just two words: “barriga” (belly in Spanish), and “Avenida Pueyrredon,” which is a well-known avenue in the city of Buenos Aires, where we are from. He spent the next three years tirelessly working to rebuild some kind of connection with the world, a world he could no longer understand. Eventually, new connections formed in his brain allowing for a new vocabulary, and a brand of blurred speech that could only be understood by him and his speech therapist.

            One of the many things I learned in the wake of 9/11 is that even when all seems lost, if we are alive then we have survived. We can remember and honor those who can’t remember anymore, either because they are no longer living or because their minds are trapped securely in the protection of oblivion.


Alexandra Goodwin




Alexandra Goodwin is a transplant from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and as such, nourishes her soul like an air plant without apparent roots. As she works toward semi-retirement, she has taken residence in her imaginary tree house above her mango tree in Florida. She has written a novel and three poetry books: one with her own photographs, one in Spanish, and one an adult coloring book with Haiku poems.

Her essays and poems have appeared in the Miami Herald; Dare to be Authentic Volume 1; The Light Between Us; Live, Love, Laughter, a PEN Anthology; citaenlasdiagonales.com; and Our Town News.

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2 Comments

  1. SSGT Larry CogswellSeptember 1, 2021 at 9:36 AM

    Thank you for this wonderful work. Remember always.

    ReplyDelete