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Posted by SLS on September 11, 2016, at 6:31:07

My father is still alive.

Until yesterday, my fathers office was located on the north side of the
78th floor of One World Trade Center, the first tower to be hit. Had it
been located any higher, he would be dead. I phoned him within the first
minute of my seeing the news break on CNN. It was fortuitous that I had
decided to switch the channel to watch the news. I had become
disinterested in the episode of a M.A.S.H. rerun that I was watching, for
I had already seen it a dozen times or so. My father had no idea what had
happened. He and his co-workers were not terribly alarmed before I called.
However, they knew something had happened because they felt the building
shake a bit. At first, I figured the tower had been hit by one of the many
small private planes that frequently fly up and down the Hudson River,
usually at altitudes substantially lower than the top of the building. My
father often remarked at how strange it was to be able to watch these
planes fly below eye level. I wasnt particularly alarmed either,
especially in light of how a similar event occurred at the 79th floor of
the Empire State Building years ago with very little sequelae.

No sooner had I hung up the phone, when one of the commentators reported
that the plane might have been a Boeing 767. I immediately called back my
father. By that time, he and his co-workers had decided to leave the
building. I actually delayed their departure by thirty seconds or so
because my father had to return to his office to answer the phone. I went
back to watching CNN. As I was watching, the silhouette of an airplane
caught my eye coming into view from the right. I remember thinking that it
was just someone in another one of those small planes flying by, probably
there to gawk at the damaged building and the fire that was raging between
the 95th and 100th floors. Within seconds, a huge explosion occurred on
the left side of the screen. It was Two World Trade Center, the south
tower. I hadnt made the connection, but I was worried that my father
might just be reaching the floor opposite this fireball. Still, I was not
terribly worried. The World Trade Center was invincible. February 26, 1993
had proved that. Then, CNN said something about two planes being involved.
Why should I worry? It was probably just some other fool in a Cessna.

I didnt know what to be more afraid of - the burning of the building or
my father having to climb down 78 flights of stairs. It had been only
three weeks since he underwent cardiac surgery to place a stent in a
previously grafted bypass. Somewhere in my mind, I hoped that he would die
quickly, and prayed that he shouldnt be burned alive. I figured it might
be too much to ask that the elevators would still be working. Of course,
taking an elevator would have been the worst thing he could have done. For
some reason, though, I began to think and act as if everything would be
alright, and that my father would call and come home that evening - just
like always. This was not some sort of justified optimism, though. I dont
think my mind would permit any other thoughts.

He had just taken one step out the exit of the lobby when he was literally
blown back through the door by what must have been a hurricane-force wind.
The south tower had just at that moment collapsed. Lethal debris blew by
him harmlessly, as he watched from the other side of the glass. Had he
arrived at the door thirty seconds earlier - the thirty seconds I had
delayed him with my second phone call - he would be dead. By this time, I
was already with my mother at my parents house. It was difficult to know
what to think, how to think, what to feel. I guess I am by nature a
positive person. I think this is somehow different from being optimistic.
I began to develop a timeline in my mind, looking at my wrist-watch every
few minutes as I monitored the events unfolding on the television. I knew
the building well. I had been in it or under it almost every day for
several years when I worked downtown. I remember walking through the maze
of unfinished corridors, ever-changing and partitioned by walls of
hastily-erected green-painted plywood, as year by year they constructed
the underground shopping mall and beautified the new subway stations. I
approached the whole thing with a sort of logic based upon my knowledge of
the building and its surroundings. As each minute passed, I became more
and more optimistic that my father would make it out in time. I prayed
that he would think to leave the area immediately rather than remain near
the building to watch what was going on a thousand feet over his head.

There reached a point in time when I predicted my father would just be
reaching the bottom of the building and on his way out. He was safe, as
long as he would retreat to a location sufficiently far from the building
to avoid the falling debris. I had in my mind an image of him standing
across the street in the park on Liberty Street, or perhaps on Church
Street near the coffee shop on the corner. This was far too close.
However, I couldnt imagine that he would do anything different than what
New Yorkers always do - watch.

Then something monstrous happened. Orange-brown smoke filled the air with
explosive force. A panoramic view of downtown Manhattan showed it to be
almost entirely lost within a cloud of what looked like dirt. I couldnt
figure out what had happened. I couldnt believe that any kind of bomb
could produce such an event. How can this be? I had to assume that it was
indeed a bomb, because no other idea came to mind. What I couldnt figure
out, though, was the color of the smoke. I couldnt account for it. I told
my mother that I was now very much more worried about this new explosion
than the events occurring above in the towers. If my father was indeed in
the park or near the coffee shop, he would surely be dead. Thirty seconds.

As the cloud began to dissipate, it became horrifically evident that the
south tower was gone. It had imploded and collapsed to the ground. Now, I
hoped that I underestimated the time that it takes to climb down 78
flights of stairs. Logically, I knew that if everything had gone just
right, he could possibly still be alive. Logically, it WAS possible. I
explained to my mother how things might have happened, and that Dad was
still OK because he was probably still in the north tower when the south
tower collapsed. To have hope, and to relieve us of the hysteria that had
been building up to a crescendo, we were counting on my father still being
in the north tower. We enjoyed several minutes of reprise. I remember my
lungs filling completely with air as I sighed with relief. Then, right
before our eyes, we watched in disbelief as One World Trade Center, an
icon of the indestructible and a mammoth of invincibility, collapsed like
a house of cards into nothingness. In our minds and hearts, so went my
father. My mother began to cry. I hugged her in solace with the
recognition of defeat and irreconcilable loss. Still, I hoped that somehow
my father would emerge from this catastrophe unscathed. He always seems
to land on his feet and beat the odds. We expect him to. He did.

He called from a hotel located 5 blocks uptown. At the time, my mother was
in the kitchen while I remained in the den, continuing to watch the
television. People were calling the house every few minutes - friends,
family, and co-workers. Suddenly, my mother began screaming hysterically.
Without a doubt, it sounded as if she had just received confirmation that
her husband - her lifemate - was dead and gone forever. But I knew better.
Logic dictated to me that it was my father on the phone, for a
confirmation of death so soon under the circumstances of tumult and
disorganization surrounding the events was unlikely. I smiled with relief
and my eyes filled with tears of joy, even before my mother stopped
screaming and gave hint that it was indeed my father on the phone. It
couldnt have been more than five minutes that passed before I fell into a
chair, completely exhausted and limp, as the adrenaline quickly
disappeared from my blood stream.

Thank God that today, my family and I are still living the lives that are
familiar to us. I guess I just wanted to relate to others what it was like
to be so close to such a disaster. We are so lucky. So, so lucky.

My heart aches for all of you who were not as lucky as we were. I dont
know what else I can say, except Im sorry. I can grieve with you, because
for a short while, I did.


Some see things as they are and ask why.
I dream of things that never were and ask why not.

- George Bernard Shaw




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