Empty Sidewalks

There is an image that has been seared in my mind for a decade now.  It is the image of Andrea walking down the sidewalk about a block from our apartment in a suit and high-heels.  I was in my car, coming from behind her.  I was suppose to pick her up from the Plainfield, NJ train station, but was running late, so she decided to walk home.  I went to the station anyway and headed towards home from there with the hopes I would prevent her from having to walk all the way home.  Of course, she got about a block from our house.  I honked my horn, she smiled and I pulled into the driveway.The next vivid memory after that came the following day.  I was walking into the office I was working at and I remember thinking what a beautiful day it was.  I looked up at the crystal blue sky, noticing a plane streaking across it,  and thought how perfect it was and how much I wished I didn’t have to work.  I can still remember what the cars in the parking lot looked like, the shops across the street and the flag hanging on the side of the building.

Those previous two moment would likely have been lost to time had they not been seared into my memory by the next, which came about an hour later and it was a moment that would flash burn backwards in time.  I was sitting in my bosses office when her phone rang.  She answered and I watched as our generations last bit of innocence was wiped away from her face as she and then I would learn about what was happening in New York on that, far from perfect September morning.

The previous day, Andrea was walking home because she had spent the day at a conference in the World Trade Center.  The only reason she wasn’t there on the 11th was because her company didn’t want to spend the money for the full conference.  Even had she gone to the conference that morning, she would have likely been safe.  So, I have often wondered why that memory, the one of her walking home, is the one that I most closely relate with the attacks of September 11.  It’s only been recently, 10 years later, that I think I figured it out.

My wife returned safely from the World Trade Center, unharmed.  Sure, it was about 14 hours before the attacks began, but my mind goes to all the empty sidewalks the next day.  All the husbands and wives and children and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters who looked down the sidewalk hoping that their loved one would come from around the corner and smile at them as they came home from the World Trade Center, and never did.

Lately, Ben has been worried about ghosts, thanks to kids telling stories at school.  We have told him over and over that ghosts aren’t real and that they can’t hurt you.  I wish I completely believed that.
Tomorrow, I plan on hugging my boys more often than I normally do, and I am so glad, that for now, they won’t know why.

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