To Life, in honor of September 11th

I repost this every year in honor of September 11th, at whatever blog I call home.  

The phone rang. It was Heather. Before she spoke, or perhaps while she was speaking, my thoughts shot back to a place I once called home — Maplewood, New Jersey. Only two train stops before the PATH leading right into Manhattan — over the river but truly a New York suburb, as are so many of the towns dotting the exits of the Garden State Parkway above Exit 9.

In 2001 the woman on the phone still lived in this cozy bedroom community where my ex and I started our married life in 1990. It was the place he and I had moved from in 1994 and had never again visited. Although Heather and I had been fast friends since the time our babies,, born only one-day apart, were eight weeks old, we rarely spoke after my family moved from the area. Actually I think when she called that day in 2001 we probably hadn’t spoken in two or three years.

“Do you remember Doug Cherry?” she asked.

It wasn’t really a question.

“He was in Tower Two.”

I’m not sure what else she said.

Of course I remembered him. He played golf with my ex. Their little girl was one year younger than my son. Our dogs romped playfully together in the park on Sunday mornings. Doug’s wife and I were friends through a mutual friend. We all spent time together doing the suburban new-parent, dog-owner things. Whether someone was climbing up a playground or corporate ladder, it didn’t matter, we jelled.

Doug and his wife gave us our first gift when we moved into our new home – a charming 75 year old Cape-Cod with colonial blue shutters, meticulously placed on a heavily taxed 50×50 lot. They showed up at the door with a wrapped package — a set of four wine glasses. We were so touched. It was such a grown up thing, to receive wine glasses from friends, we thought. We would have them over for dinner, we agreed. And we did.

And when we were ready to embark on a cross-country move, they bid us fond farewell with a barbeque send off in their backyard amidst mutual friends. It was a lovely good-bye from friends we intended to keep. As we all know, intentions are only as good as the actions used to back them up and in subsequent moves we lost touch with our friends in New Jersey.  It didn’t seem to matter.

Not only did I picture their little family’s picket fence corner lot home, but familiar streets lined with funeral processions.  I saw abandoned cars in the train station parking lot. And in addition I now saw a face – and heard a voice – that had been part of my life. I pictured the family who I continued to know through Christmas cards without their staunch and smiling provider. I pictured a happy, lively woman my age as a beleaguered, grieving widow who now had three small children, eight and younger.

“Almost every child at school has lost someone,” Heather had added.

I was glad I didn’t live there anymore.

I never heard from Heather again – nor did I ever try to contact her. If I did, I don’t remember. And don’t care.

What I do remember and care about is that even amidst the isolation I felt during this time, I was glad I had something to hold onto. I had a tangible personal tribute that had been left in my charge. It was something to touch, and use, to honor the memory of someone who walked not only through my life but was had actually been a part of it for a short time.

I had the wine glasses.

And I still do.  Well, I have two of the four wine glasses, as that’s the way things go with divorce.

Every Jewish holiday, and every Thanksgiving, when I pull out the linens and china, the silver and crystal, I set one special glass carefully at the head of the table just for me. I feel honored to have a piece of Doug in my family. I remember his kind and friendly and gracious personality when I see and use these goblets that are destined to remain the family heirlooms they have become. Before our meal I remind my children where the glasses came from. I tell a story of a short but delightful friendship to whomever graces our table.

And then I say, L’Chaim.  To life.

In the years since 2001 I learned that Doug was the “other” man heard on Kevin Cosgrove’s recorded September 11th telephone call.  Doug was the man Cosgrove mentioned by name in those moments before the collapse.  Doug’s was a name and voice heard at the Moussaoui trials and around the world.  

To life, indeed.

5 thoughts on “To Life, in honor of September 11th

  1. Beautiful story. My ex was from Maplewood – the DeCicco family. Our best man was Patsy Ragonese. Not that I expect you to know these names, but I love when someone writes about something I can connect with. Especially moving was the vision of abandoned cars. A very well-written tribute. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. I live in NJ. And although I didn’t know anyone who died in the towers, everyone around me was going to funerals. Or memorial services. A few days later, I was sitting in my kid’s karate class and I leaned over to talk another mother. I said, “Have you told your son about what’s going on?” She said, “Well, I had to. He was there last week. My husband’s office was on the 100th…” something floor. “He was late. Everyone who he worked with is dead.” It was like that a lot. A woman at my kid’s bus stop’s brother was a firefighter. On his day off, he was fishing. And he didn’t hear about it until later. But everyone in his company was dead. Like that. And at the time we lived in the flight path to Newark. And the skies were silent overhead. And we all knew that all the planes had been called down. But that silence was not peaceful. It was eerie. Until suddenly fighter planes were overhead. And until we realized they were our planes… it was terrifiying. Yes. To life. Because it is very fragile. And to peace. May this pointless violence just end without any more lies being lost.

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