I visited the 9/11 memorial in New York City a few months ago. I spent half a day in the museum. And do you know what I remember the most about my visit? A pocketbook.
It was a lone black wallet, with dusty credit cards, covered in ash.
That’s when it hit me. It had been twenty-two years since it happened. Hard to believe. It still feels like yesterday.
Bob Gray was a captain at a rescue station in Arlington County, Virginia. His team learned that a plane went down beside the Pentagon. His jurisdiction.
“We got our stuff, took a fire truck over to Station 1, rolled up, and there was already several armed guards covering that fire station… It was just unbelievable, and my thought was just, ‘This is just feels so evil.’”
Which is maybe what I remember most, too. A feeling of pure evil. I had never felt it before. You grow up in this country, you foolishly believe your people are undefeatable. Invincible, even. You are American, by God. You are proud. But on that day, you were vulnerable. And nude.
Dianne DeFontes was on the 89th floor of the World Trade Center. She remembers it was a serene day. The sky was cloudless. She was in her office.
“Then all of a sudden, this bang happened.”
Dianne was thrown from her chair. Her door was blown open. “…The ceiling fell down and hit the table and cracked the conference room table… I’m getting up, said, ‘Wow, how the heck did they get a bomb up this high?’ Because what else could it be?’”
It was a plane. No. It was two planes. Commercial airliners. They collided with the towers of the World Trade Center. How could this happen to us?
I remember where I was. At the time, I was getting ready for work, watching “Good Morning America.” I saw the second plane hit on live TV. Smoke billowed from the towers. Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer were freaking out on the air.
Harry Ong Jr. lost a sister, Betty, on Flight 11, which struck the North Tower.
“I got up and turned on the TV, and there was just this big black hole in the World Trade Center… I called my sister Cathy I said… I said, ‘Do you know where Betty is?’ And she says, ‘Betty’s supposed to be flying out of Boston.’”
So Harry called her cell. He told her to give him a call and let him know she was okay. But there was no call back.
“I called American Airlines, and it was only then that it was confirmed that Betty was on the flight.”
Betty’s father, who is a stoical man, a man who doesn’t really say much more than monosyllables, told his family that he still cried himself to sleep. He just kept staying up, watching TV, “hoping somehow that Betty will reappear.”
And then there was Frank Razzano, who was staying at the Marriott hotel within the World Trade Center complex.
“I got up out of bed. I looked outside and I saw papers fluttering down to the ground.”
The next thing he heard was an explosion. The building shook. A quilt of concrete and steel fell outside the windows.
“I could feel the building breaking up around me… I said to myself, ‘These are the last few moments of my life.’”
Frank jogged into the hallway. When he got to a landing, he met people who were stuck. The stairwell had collapsed, they were all trapped. Within a few minutes, a fireman shouted, “Look, nobody’s coming for us. We have to get out on our own!”
And somehow they did.
But Ester Dinardo was not so fortunate. He lost a daughter, Marisa, in the North Tower that day.
“The last time I saw my daughter was the night before September 11. It was my birthday…
“The next morning, when I saw the plane just hit the North Tower, and that’s where [my daughter] was, I said, ‘I know Marisa is very strong. She’s very soft heart, and she always helps other people.’ About a year later, a policeman called me, and he said, ‘Your daughter’s name was Marisa DiNardo?’
“‘Yes.’ I say, ‘Why, you found something?’
“He says, ‘Well, we found her pocketbook.’
“…And that’s when [we] really felt that she was not here anymore, when I found the pocketbook.”
Marisa. Raised in West Harrison, New York. She lived in White Plains with her husband, Jeffrey. She collected angel figurines. She gave them as gifts. She was in her office on the 105th floor. Marisa was 38 years old.
I still think about her pocketbook. A nondescript pocketbook. Covered in soot. Nearly every day, I think of it. I don’t know why. But I can’t get it out of my mind.
And I pray I never do.