The first person I called on September 11, 2001 was my dad, Edward. This was, of course, after the initial hysteria of the day.
I had just gotten into work as a researcher for ABC-TV's "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." There had been no announcements of anything untoward when I was on the F train getting into work. We did stop at 34th street for an abnormal amount of time, but hell, it's New York, that happens all the time. I finally got off the train, and started walking toward Park Avenue and 59th. I couldn't see downtown, as once you get to a place with a clear view south, the MetLife (Pan Am) Building, blocks your view down Park. As I was crossing Park, I noted how few people where on the street, and how only two people were walking in front of me. Two people who clearly didn't know each other were talking together. I had my earphones on, so I didn't really pay much attention, though one of the fellows was going into the same building I was.... on the elevator, he began speaking to me about how "they bombed the World Trade Center." My earphones allowed that extra layer of personal protection as to not really hear/comprehend what another person might be saying around you. It's NY, personal space is important. By the time I was able to take my earphone out, my floor appeared and I had to get out of the elevator.
I got to our office, and the television was on, right next to the door. I immediately walked in at the moment that the first WTC began its collapse, at 9:59 am. Needless to say, not knowing exactly what had happened (who did?), and coming in at a moment when something that CLEARLY wasn't suppose to be happening, was happening (one tower aflame; the other coming down), my mind broke down and I could only say, "This is war, this is war, this is war." A fellow co-worker had to calm me down. A little bit later, I went to my office. This was a little after 10:00 am.
I picked up the phone and called my dad's cell phone in Detroit. Our landlines were erratically still up, but his cell wasn't responding. I knew that he would probably be setting up at his business, the Moonglow Lounge, for the day, so I called the bar's landline, and he picked up. He had the bar television on and was watching it realtime. We didn't talk about much, just acknowledged that war was on its way, and noted that it was a bad time to have Bush as President. Dad said he thought something crazy was going to happen, and then said the strangest statement, "You know, Tanya, one day there's going to be a war right here in the U.S."
He didn't elaborate, and I thought to myself, it's possible.
My dad, Korean War veteran, actually told me on 9/11 that one day there would be a war in America. Only time will tell if he's right.
That conversation is neither here nor there at the moment, really. What is relevant, is that when tragedy has happened, or bigger than life events (or little events for that matter), the first person I usually called was my dad. I won't be able to call him anymore. We didn't talk about much, but at least I could talk to him. I am very very sad about this. I was hoping he'd be around a lot longer, as folks on his side of the family live well into their 90s, mostly. Fate, however, had other ideas.
My dad died of complications due to metastatic colon cancer. From what I understand now, he had been told in April that he only had two months to live. He didn't tell everyone, including my sister and I. He went on the chemotherapy drug Xeloda, and lived for five months. He went into the hospital with some sort of infection, and due to a miscommunication, his hospital-assigned doctor thought that he did not want treatment for the infection. He had signed a DNR, and was so sick and my mother so upset and the doctor so not communicative, that by the time the resident surgeon who had helped with his surgery got to his room, the doctors had fallen behind the eight ball in treating the infection. These last words came straight from the resident surgeon himself when I asked what had happened.
Again, this snippet of information is not really all that important to this post. What I want to bring out is that my father was the first person that I would call in times of tragedy. My father also had time to face what was about to happen to him. Dad had five months of contemplation, five months of getting his house in order, five months of being with his brothers, sisters and his family, five months of living in the house he loved and with the wife he dug a lot, too. He had five months of being with his friends, until he began to withdraw about the final month. He had time, albeit it a short one.
Unlike the people who perished on 9/11, in the planes, in the buildings, my father had a longer time to face death, and had 76 years to build his life and live it. He died with almost everything he ever wanted, except for that million dollars.
On the whole, he died happy.
I've often thought in the past few years about those moments directly prior to the planes hitting the buildings in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, and those moments directly after, before the buildings collapsed, and what went though people's minds during those short moments. How many seconds did 2996 people live? How many minutes? Half hours? Did the time feel like eons, or did it go by quickly? What did they do during that time? What were they thinking? Feeling? I do not want to imagine the fear that went through anyone, but sometimes I cannot help but to think on it.
I am sure that many people who perished in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania had a "first person when a tragedy strikes" loved one, and in turn, they were other's first choices as well. First people who they would have wanted to share good news with, cry with, die with. First people who were loved so much that they had to be reached out to, to make sure they were safe and to reassure others they had made it through.
There's a great sadness when those first people you would want to call pass away. Often, there are no second people. It's always really that first person who you will miss speaking with the most.