Thursday, September 11, 2014
I Remember- My father's 9/11 experience
I wish my father had saved the shirt. It's what I would have done. I guess this is just one more way that we were so different. I am a hoarder. One who saves things to serve as a reminder. That is the origin of the word souvenir, French for “I remember”. It is why I can't throw out things that remind me of my parents ob”m. It's why my wife allows old furniture from their house to sit, unused, in our basement. I guess I understand why my father did not want to save the shirt, and remember what he experienced on 9/11. It was another part of his life that he was more than happy to leave behind, buried somewhere so deep, that even he could rarely access it.
As soon as I heard about the Twin Towers, I knew my father was there. Not in the building itself, but in the vicinity. That part of Manhattan was not only a place where, as a lawyer, he frequently worked. With its street vendors and hustle and bustle, it was one of his favorite places in the city. He was a block away when the first plane hit. Like a lot of people, he turned to run. Only, as a very overweight, two-pack-a-day smoker, running was a relative term. As the dark cloud which contained all sorts of unspeakable things, headed for him, he quickly lost his breath and became disoriented. Then, as if in a movie, a door opened, and a stranger pulled him inside. Probably for the only time in his life, my father entered the New York Stock Exchange. A number of workers had seen him struggling, brought him inside to catch his breath (did he, I wonder, paradoxically light up a cigarette?) and, seeing how dirty his shirt was, handed him a clean NYSE shirt to change into. After no doubt thanking them, he headed back out, making it to safety thanks to the help of other strangers along the way.
By the time I heard the story, the shirt was gone. As with so many traumatic parts of his life, he had no desire to hold onto it. So, like way too many episodes from his life, what that day was really like for him, is something I'm left wondering about. It wasn't just things he didn't like to hold onto. From time to time he would share bits and pieces from his childhood, little funny, or no-so-funny stories, but I was mostly left to hear the rest, third-hand from other relatives, or to fill it in with my imagination.
I suppose that's why I like to save things so much, and why I like to write. I want to remember. I want to tell. I want to know about the past. Sometimes, all that survives is a shirt. Other times, it's just memories and the imagination.