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Our Collective Loss Remembered

I had a meeting in the city yesterday morning so I was up early and waiting on the LIRR platform for the train, which brought back memories from when I used to commute daily into Manhattan for work. But that all changed in September 2001. I had an office in the Borders Store on Park Avenue and 57th and it was a day that began similar to yesterday, but ended so tragically. Unlike yesterday, a day shy of the catastrophic anniversary, I recall the sky being crystal blue without a single cloud in it. It seemed to offer the presence of serenity, which I cherished since my life was in a bit of turmoil at the time, thanks to a divorce that I was going through. Yet, I tried to maintain a positive attitude while going through the stressful situation with the promise of coming out just fine-like the calm after a storm and my job became a welcomed distraction.

            So that morning on the 7:29 AM train, I was eager to get to my office to continue working on plans to host Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of Egyptian President Mubarak. I was asked if I would travel with her around Manhattan to give a bookstore tour. She was going to be coming on September 18th, so I had a week to work out the details, especially since media and security would be involved. I was mentally going over what needed to be in place on the morning train ride into the city when the conductor interrupted my thoughts: "Wow, look at the twin tower."

            I craned my neck, but we were already entering the tunnel. By the time we got into Penn Station, I still had no idea what was going on, but once I saw that trains were heading downtown I figured it was not a big deal, or at least not as big a deal as when the bomb exploded at the World Trade Center in '93. I shrugged any worries off for our sister store located at the foot of one of the twin towers and squeezed in to the E train where we headed toward my stop at Lexington and 53rd. Upon disembarking, that's when I began to see that something was amiss. Heading up the long stretch of escalator, I couldn't help but notice not a single person was rushing down the steps that were usually crowded with the shuffling feet of hurrying commuters. When I reached the street, there were a number of cops refusing frustrated passengers entrance. I didn't connect their presence with the conductor's earlier announcement and I still didn't when I reached the store and overheard a customer saying that a small plane went into one of the towers. But then there was that second plane and, like the first, it certainly wasn't small; nor was the events that followed.

            Most of us still have vivid memories from that day, many waiting to hear about the well-being of our friends and loved ones who worked in those buildings. Sadly, our sister store was destroyed that day, but thankfully all the employees made it out safely; other companies weren't so fortunate and in one way or another, so many lives were changed on September 11, 2001. Needless to say, Suzanne Mubarak cancelled her trip and I never got the opportunity to host her, but in the grand scheme of things, that was no big deal. Within a few days, Borders shuffled employees to accommodate those who had worked at the World Trade Center store and I was asked if I would mind working from my home in order to set some managers up in my office. Since most of what I did required scheduling events in our stores across the country via email, that was not a problem. And by then my soon-to-be ex-husband had moved out of the house.

             It took me the better part of that horrible day to get back to my home on Long Island, my daughter greeting me at the front door with tears and a long-held hug. That night a friend called to see how I was doing. I was surprised when she called again the following night. She told me she felt I was too calm when we'd spoken the night before. She knew what I was going through at home so worried that perhaps I was feeling the world collapse around me and was in a perpetual state of shock. As far as I was concerned, though, it wasn't about me. Divorce happens everyday and, as difficult as it can be, couples move on. That became very apparent yesterday morning while I waited for the train and thought over what the last few years meant for me. Even though I'd found peace by ending a volatile marriage, the sadness was from the collective loss we experienced as a country, one that remains with me today.