On the morning of Friday, September 7, 2001, I arrived at the World Trade Center in my size 6 Armani pinstriped suit which fit perfectly thanks to several summer weeks of devotion to a strict L.A. Fitness diet and the calorie-burning stress of my on-again-off-again relationship with my college boyfriend. I waited in a long line to get a photo ID made that would allow me to ride to the 57th floor where I’d interview at the law firm of Sidley & Austin for a position as a Summer Associate. I was 22 years old, a 2L at Columbia Law School. I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
A smartly-dressed partner sat behind a vast desk. Behind him: floor-to-ceiling windows, an expanse of September blue sky. All I remember from the interview: a helicopter buzzing by, precariously close to the pristine wall of glass. I remember nothing of what the law man said. I do believe I got the job offer, but I’m not sure.
On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I sat with Mom at Sarabeth’s Kitchen on the Upper West Side. I probably had the Farmer’s Omelet, no potatoes and a side of chicken sausage. I was now on the Atkin’s Diet, you see. Mom had just gotten her baby back to school, my littlest sister Tegan, who was in 8th Grade at Dalton. After breakfast, I gave Mom a kiss on the cheek and hailed a yellow taxi to take me up to class at Columbia.
The driver had the radio on. I heard something about a plane and a building. “A plane went into the building,” the driver said, looking back at me. My cell phone rang as I was arriving at school. It was Mom. “Come home, Maids,” she said. “It’s terrorism.” I’m not even sure I knew what that word meant.
The lobby of Columbia Law School was abuzz, business as usual. The news was only trickling in. Students were deciding whether to go to class. I turned around, left, and found another cab. I listened to Mom. Went straight to my childhood home where she and I sat glued to the television. But not for long. I went with her to get Tegan at school. Many streets were closed already, even uptown, and the air smelled strange. We got her though. We brought her home. Home.
We watched the news. We watched the towers fall. I thought of the man on the 57th floor who asked me why I wanted to be a lawyer. I wondered if he was okay. Something twisted in me that day; a sense of youth and safety shattered. Dad wrote a vast check and marched it to our local fire station, handed it to someone. “Who did you give it to?” we asked. He couldn’t really recall. My college boyfriend and I found our way back to each other. This is what people did.
My parents decided to go to our home in the Berkshires, asked if I wanted to come. I didn’t want to be alone. I said to my boyfriend, “I will stay back here with you, but I don’t want to be alone. I’m really scared.” He said something like, “God, Aidan, you’re so clingy.” I can see now - 18 years later - that this is when our relationship really ended even though it’s not when we broke up.
On the early morning of December 6, 2001, I stumbled with law school girlfriends into a bar on the Upper West Side called Prohibition. I was very drunk on white wine. My anxiety, always present, was fired up since 9/11, but could be temporarily dulled by booze and so I swam in it. I wore all black that night, a thick black belt with white stars. The bar was pretty empty, but he was there. The hot guy with messy hair that stuck straight up. The love of my life, but I didn’t know this yet. Or maybe I did. In his blue eyes, I saw comfort and kindness. Next to him, I felt warm, safe.
On Saturday, December 18th, 2004, I married the hot guy from the bar.
On Friday, January 23rd(?) 2005, I worked my last day at a law firm. I’d given notice two weeks prior. I told a female partner I revered that I wanted to write a book. I spent my last weeks, months, staring out the floor-to-ceiling windows of my 45th floor office, a pit of fear and longing in my middle.
On Tuesday, May 18, 2010, I published my first novel Life After Yes. The book is about a young, anxious, Pinot Grigio-swilling associate at a New York City law firm who has just lost her dad in the attacks of 9/11. It is a love letter to New York City. When people asked if the book was at all autobiographical, I said: No, of course not! I believed this.
Today. September 11, 2019. My husband, the hot guy from the bar, just took our three girls to school, the same school where Mom and I plucked Tegan from 18 years ago. Eighth grade Tegan now has a baby boy and is applying to residency programs. Dad is now gone. Mom is now gone. We will soon sell my childhood home where I sat on the floor and watched the towers fall. The city is strong, but none of us has forgotten.
This day will always be different, sad, tender.
It’s interesting to look back. To see. September 11th was a pivot point for me, maybe for many of us. I’m grateful that I didn’t lose anyone that day, as so many people did. But the day still changed me. Shook me. Woke me up to some truths.
Life is uncertain.
We must try to do the things we love with the people we love.
Because of September 11th, I fell into the arms of the man who was right for me, who would hold me up and keep me safe.
Because of September 11th, I walked away from a career that wasn’t right for me, and began to write.
Because of September 11th, I wrote and published a book that came straight from my young, anxious heart.
Today, I remember what was.
Today, I say thank you for what is.