The following are first-person accounts of Americans and their experiences on Sept. 11, 2001. These interviews originally appeared in the Aug. 31, 2002 edition of National Journal.
The Rev. Stephen McGraw, 36
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Falls Church, Va.
I was heading to the Arlington National Cemetery for a graveside service and I took the wrong exit, the exit for the Pentagon. I had just finished doing a mass, so I hadn't heard any news about the World Trade Center. Traffic was at a complete standstill, and I was right in front of the Pentagon. I was anxious about being late to the service, when all of a sudden I realized a plane was about 20 or 25 feet above our cars. It clipped a light pole on the edge of the highway, which hit a taxi. In a fraction of a second, I saw the plane coming in for what looked like a landing, very controlled and straight, and plow into the Pentagon. I could see fire billowing out of the top windows of the building. I remember hearing a collective gasp, even though I had my window closed.
I immediately thought it was a tragic accident, and I had a strong sense that I was meant to be there. Three weeks earlier, I had an experience where I had failed to make a turn and ended up someplace where I never usually am. There was a serious accident and a man was being placed in an ambulance on a stretcher. In that case I failed to stop, and I remember feeling guilty afterward. I made a resolution that I was going to stop whenever there was a serious accident-of course, I was just thinking auto accidents-and provide spiritual help.
I got my prayer book and blessed oils that we use to anoint those who are sick or dying, and I got out of my car and jumped across the guardrail. Very soon there were a handful of injured people who had somehow made it out onto the lawn. I began to go from one person to another. I kept saying "Jesus is with you." I remember one woman who had been seriously burned. She had no clothes on the back of her; the fire had burned them off. She said, "Tell my mother and father that I love them."
In those first 45 minutes, I was picking up snatches here and there about hijacking and the World Trade Center, and so I picked up that this was not simply an accident. Other chaplains had arrived at the scene, and from then on, we followed the medics, to be ready to console anyone who was injured. There was a rumor that there was another plane. A couple of times someone ordered us to get out, "Get over to the bridge, a plane's coming in!" We stayed at the Pentagon for hours, just waiting for anyone whom we could help, and of course praying for those who might still be in there. Then it became a salvage operation, and we prayed for the dead.
I'd only been a priest for three months at that point. I was working as a lawyer at the Department of Justice for almost six years. I left the department in July 1997 and went to seminary, and I was ordained a priest in June of 2001.
Of all days to have that graveside service nearby and to make a wrong turn onto that exit at that precise moment-I have no doubt that the Lord wanted me to be there-for the help that I was able to give, but also maybe on a symbolic level. My being there was a visible sign that God was there.
Franklin `Chuck' Spinney, 57
Analyst, Office of the Secretary of Defense
I'd come to work on a shuttle bus with a radio. I knew about the World Trade Center; I knew two planes had hit. I was talking about it to some military guys on the bus. We all knew this was an attack of some sort; there was no question about it. I remember coming in, asking myself, Why am I even coming to work? This is ground zero, for Christ's sake. I don't think I was in the building more than three minutes when it happened. I never even got to my office. I saw a guy in the hall and we started talking about the World Trade Center. Then we felt this THUNK-and we kept talking.
What I heard didn't sound like an explosion. The thing I remember most was, I felt it. It was kind of like a dumpster falling over-and they fall over from time to time, because they were doing construction. We were jumpy, and this thing happened, and we kept on talking. We didn't really react until we heard someone scream, "Bomb!"
I turned around and looked at the corridor which I'd just come through. It was a torrent of people. They were running real fast. I've never seen anything like that in the Pentagon. I turned around, said to the guy, "I'm out of here." I joined the crowd. I started walking out. I wasn't in, like, Panic City or anything. But you had to trot, just to keep from getting trampled. The guards started yelling at everybody to "Slow down, slow down!" and everybody slowed down to a walk. Then they said, "Hurry up." They had to speed us up.
I was one of the first guys out of the building. The smoke was just beginning to billow up; there wasn't even much smoke at first. Everybody was sort of milling around outside in the south parking lot. I remember thinking at that time, if these people planted some bombs in some of the cars that were in the parking lot, they could have killed a lot of people. I went to some of the guards and said, "People are getting congregated here, and what if there's a bomb in one of these cars? We should get these people scattered. Somebody ought to be directing them out of the parking lot."
Nobody seemed to listen. They just sort of looked at me. I was standing next to a group of military officers, and I said, "Shouldn't we start to get people moving out of this parking lot?" And they didn't say anything. Everyone was just staring at the building. Perhaps it was a form of panic, but it didn't take the form I would normally think of. It was this stunned inactivity. I realized if I started talking about the need to evacuate people, it could make things worse. I could trigger a stampede. I decided it was better just to shut up.
I went under the I-395 highway overpass and started walking down Army-Navy Drive. I walked up the hill, and at that point, I could turn around and look at the Pentagon. All you could see was this black smear on the side of the Pentagon.
In many ways, my experience was unremarkable. I never felt any sense of physical danger. I was just exhausted. I only knew two people that died in this thing-and ironically, they were on the plane that hit the building, and they were unconnected with each other.
Larry Downing, 49
Reuters news photographer
I was assigned to the evening shift at the White House on September 11. I was going to leave the house at 11 a.m. I got this phone call from the office, and an editor said, "Larry, an airplane just hit the World Trade Center, and it appears to be a very large aircraft. Why don't you start heading downtown?" Just before I left the house, another phone call came and he said, "You better hurry up! Another aircraft has just hit the other World Trade Center tower."
I started racing. I live near the Vienna Metro, so it's about 13 miles. I thought it would be quicker to take surface streets and sort of weave my way downtown. I was listening to NPR and WTOP, trying to figure out what was going on. All of a sudden, I think it was WTOP that first said, "We have a report of an explosion at the Pentagon."
So I started driving a little quicker, cutting through back roads. As I got to Columbia Pike, there was a mass exodus coming away from the Pentagon and the Navy headquarters. People were on foot, and you could see the smoke rising. I stashed my car and grabbed my cameras and started running. Police officers were pushing people back; they were starting to put roadblocks up. I remember I wore my nice black loafers, which were not something I would use for hiking with all my camera gear. Perhaps because I was determined, I was never questioned, never challenged. I'll never forget it-I was the Invisible Man for an hour.
On Columbia Pike, there's a hotel, the Sheraton, and I tried to get up on the roof. I got all the way to the top, and the door was bolted. So I ran back down, cut across, and there's the Marine base, Henderson Hall area. There were already Marines with M-16s and their battle fatigues, and they'd taken their sentry positions. I went to the back of that area and jumped over this iron fence that attaches to Arlington Cemetery, and ran up on the hill.
Somebody had walked up to me when I was outside of the cemetery and said, "Don't you know, there's another airplane on its way inbound, and they think it's going to go toward the Capitol?"
It was really strange because you had all the headstones, and then you had military-type people who had appeared out of nowhere. People were staring in disbelief. One of the pictures that I photographed was the backs of the heads of all these Marines. They were watching their Pentagon, the center of their world, with fire still coming out of it. And it was very, very quiet.
I remember running on the hill, and because I had on my little black dress loafers, I kept slipping. When I finally got to a position, I moved to the west side as much as possible because there was so much black smoke, and there were some flames coming out of the gap from where the airplane had impacted with the Pentagon. And I kept going to the left of that, so I had a view of the Pentagon and the Capitol.
I was trying to maintain a professional composure, to stay on the target that had already been hit. If another aircraft was inbound, I wanted to be able to have a shot of the Capitol. I had a long lens. I set my exposure for what I thought would be a ball of fire.
I remember saying to myself, "Just stay on the Capitol." And my hands started shaking. I was an American at that point. I'm going, "My God! My country has just been attacked, and I don't know why."
This went on for probably a minute or two. Someone said, "Oh, the plane is down; it's not inbound." And I saw an F-16 aircraft just scream over the top of the Pentagon. At that second I thought, "OK, everything is under control, nobody's going to get by these guys."
I looked at the Pentagon and walked up to these Marine officers and asked them, "Exactly where is the impact?" because I couldn't see anything. And this officer said, "It's right there! You can see the tail of the aircraft. It's right there!" He was excited and agitated. I picked up my camera and I couldn't see it. I think in his mind he had it etched that he could actually see the tail of the aircraft. But there was none. This plane just evaporated when it hit the building.
So I started shooting pictures, and rescue helicopters were flying through the image. Streaks of flame were coming up at one point, and then they're shooting water on them; the flames disappeared, and then more smoke would come out. I remember it was a very black smoke, and every once in a while, you could see just a patchwork of a very blue sky that would fade away.
I shot probably 22 or 23 frames. Now is the hard part-I've got to get out without getting stopped. I was thinking, "I'm on a military reservation. I trespassed. And now I have the images, but if I don't get them out, they are no good to anybody." I started walking away very quickly with my head down. I had the two disks that had my images on them, and I just slipped them down inside my sock into the shoe. I replaced the disks in the camera. If I had been stopped, I would have popped those out and said, "OK, I'm sorry, I didn't realize I was trespassing."
While I'm running out, I tried to make a phone call to the office, and there was no cell service whatsoever. I got back to my car. Everything was gridlocked going toward Washington, so I headed out to my house. I sat down and turned on the computer and moved five pictures immediately. I would say within five minutes of getting to the house, I had the first picture out. Then I called the office. I remember them saying, "We've been trying to get people to the Pentagon off the Washington side," and they couldn't get anybody over there. Had I been downtown, it never would have worked. It worked because I was the late guy and I was Mr. Invisible that day.
I raced my car to the Vienna Metro, and people were streaming out of the subway. There were only three people on the subway going back to Washington, and 23 minutes later I got off, and I was within a block of the White House. It worked flawlessly.
I went over to the White House, outside the perimeter, and they eventually walked us over to the FBI. People were commenting about how eerie it was-and how quiet.
Karen Hughes came out and said the president was safe; he was on Air Force One, and he would probably be coming back to the White House later on. I was in a little bit of shock at that point, because the magnitude of what had happened to the United States was just starting to settle into my brain-and the fact that I'd been to the impact site at the Pentagon, and now I was going to this White House briefing and was soon going to see the president and watch his reaction. It was a very large day for me. I called my wife from the FBI to let her know I was OK.
Maybe an hour or two later, they herded us over to the White House briefing room. And that's where we stayed the remainder of the day until the president briefed the nation in the evening. So we put those pictures out, and then I remember finishing up around 11 that night. And one of the other Reuters photographers gave me a lift.
I turned to my wife when I got home and said, "Throw these shoes away!" My feet were very sore. Later, I bought a very nice pair of brown steel-tipped boots and black construction boots, so that whatever happens, and wherever it happens, I could run through the mud and do whatever it takes.
My job is to see things for millions of people who don't have the opportunity to be in the front row. On most days, I can detach myself and say, "It's a news event." But this impacted me much, much more. I was an American first and a newsman second on that day.
Maj. Berkley Gore, D.C. National Guard, 40
Commander, 121st Air Ambulance Company
Fort Belvoir, Va.
I was going to do a regular maintenance test flight down in Richmond, Virginia, for the Virginia National Guard. We were just getting the aircraft prepared to go down there. I went to the locker room to get my flight gear, and on my way out I got called into the break room, where everybody was standing watching TV, just after the first plane had hit in New York.
Visibility was unrestricted that day. You could see a hundred miles. We were all sitting there saying, "How could this guy hit the World Trade Center?"
When we saw the second one hit, we realized it was a large plane, and it wasn't an accident.
We locked the building down, and we went out and made sure the gates at the entrance to the airfield were blocked. By the time I walked around the airfield, the Pentagon was already on the phone, saying they needed medevac support. At that point, we realized they, too, had been hit. I scrambled the aircraft.
But we didn't have any full-time medical people. Our full-time personnel are pilots or mechanics. I got permission from Major General Freeman to carry civilian Department of Defense paramedics from DeWitt Army Community Hospital at Fort Belvoir, because they could get here relatively quickly. Between those folks and the fire/rescue folks from Fort Belvoir, they provided us with plenty of medical support to go ahead.
We launched our first two aircraft in under 30 minutes from the Pentagon's call. We got a third one up within three hours-it had been down for routine maintenance. We had to do a whole basic check on the aircraft, doing oil samples on the engine and transmission, checking major components. I was on that third one.
It was really weird when we first landed there. To see the Pentagon on fire, it seemed like something out of a movie, it didn't seem real.
They had set up some field hospital tents. The helicopters landed in a small field that was southeast, 300 yards from the Pentagon, if that. The Park Police helicopter was there, plus D.C. Police, Fairfax County, and MedStar.
Realizing that there were no survivors to evacuate, that was probably the worst part. The hope that somebody found some livable space to survive amid the rubble-you always try to keep that in your mind. But within the first hour, our perspective changed. Then we were more concerned about the rescuers going in. We became the medevac support in the event they had any injuries. But in the end, there was nothing that would require medevac, because the level of care was phenomenal: Some of the best docs in the area were there.
Cmdr. Vincent McBeth, U.S. Navy, 37
Former administrative aide to the Navy secretary
For me, it was kind of a flipping of a switch, back into an operational mode, but there was this overwhelming sense of helplessness. I don’t have a weapon. I don’t have fire-control systems to command and a ship to maneuver out of harm’s way.
The phones are ringing. We’re trying to get all of the people in the immediate area out of the building. You were in the middle of the passageway, just vectoring people out of the building, answering phones, trying to report to someone that their loved one is OK.
It was absolute chaos, to the point where I go to the Navy captain who worked for the chief of naval operations and I say to him, “Sir, I recommend that you get the chief of naval operations and evacuate him to his residence at the Washington Navy Yard.” This voice comes from the back: “Who ordered the evacuation?” I kind of whip around and shoot a look that says, “How dare you ask that question?” And the look I’m shooting is actually to the chief of naval operations.
This thick, black, putrid smoke came just billowing down the passageway. These huge passageways were completely engulfed in smoke and flame. That’s what eventually pushed us out, pushed everyone out.
I’ve been a damage-control assistant for a ship. And I’m responsible for training the crew to protect the ship in the event of a major fuel fire, all types of fires, from electrical fires to Delta-class fires, which is when metal is on fire. That’s what I’ve been trained to do. But again, I’m in the Pentagon, wearing a plastic uniform, and I don’t have a fire-fighting ensemble. I don’t have an OBA, an oxygen breathing apparatus, to strap on. I don’t have any of those things. So what do I do? I leave. That’s your only option. That your only choice. There are extinguishers somewhere, but if you were to ask me to walk to the nearest fire extinguisher, today I could, but not on the morning of September 11.
The next thing I know, I’m out of the building, curled up in the back of an SUV. There’s a two-star admiral driving, there’s a three-star admiral in the passenger seat. There’s another admiral in the backseat, a couple of us random aides tossed in, and we’re making our way out of the Pentagon complex through this massive horde of people at fairly rapid speed, trying to get to what became our alternate command center at the Navy Annex, which was up on the hill there in Arlington. So we co-located with the Marine Corps and tried to set up some alternate office space, so our leadership could start casualty assessments.
We could surmise we lost a number of people. And yet, you don’t know who they are. You don’t know what their families knew. Have they been informed? That was all part of the challenge that the leadership faced—accounting for the losses, ensuring that we had a structure in place to report to those families, “Your husband, on shore duty, is not coming home tonight.”
How do you do that? It’s short duty. You’re not on an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the middle of the Persian Gulf conducting operations. You’re at home, expected later that evening to get in your car or get on the Metro and go home.
Each of these vice admirals is sitting there, just clawing for information: “We have 34 accounted for, seven unaccounted for. Well, who are the seven? Where did they work?”
Information we received that first day, during those immediate hours, was really useless. It was all inaccurate. No one had the lists—the lists of people. Our focus was soley on, “What are our losses, and how do we activate this mechanism to notify families and to handle the casualty assistance calls?” You have to get to the decision point. Johnny is lost. Let’s notify the family. Johnny isn’t going to come home this evening, so now let’s send the chaplain and the naval officer out to Johnny’s residence.
One, two, three in the morning. I jumped in a car with the Navy secretary’s speechwriter, who drops me off on his way home. I didn’t say a word to my wife, just held her, and I cried.
Joseph A. Barbera, M.D., 48
Clinical associate professor of emergency medicine
George Washington University
I was chair of the Emergency Preparedness Committee of the D.C. Hospital Association, and we had a 10:30 meeting that morning. I was preparing a proposal to obtain funding to develop a better mass-casualty plan for the District. So I was at home, working on the proposal. And one of my colleagues called me and said, “Turn on the TV. A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” So I turned on the TV and saw the second plane go in live, and I called him back and said, “Look, cancel our meeting, this isn’t over yet.”
So I went to the hospital. George Washington University Hospital, like all the hospitals in the area, had activated its emergency operations plan. Around 11, 11:30 in the morning, I was paged by FEMA and asked to deploy to the Pentagon.
My muffler had gone a few days earlier, so I had a very loud car, which seemed to upset some Virginia State Police at a roadblock when I drove through. I heard a whistle and looked back, and there were six officers with hands on their guns. So I backed up very rapidly, holding my FEMA ID out of the window.
There was an intensity about the whole thing. There was a very surreal atmosphere. But I had been at the Oklahoma City bombing, so it was not completely foreign.
I arrived at the Pentagon and fairly quickly hooked up with the other members of the FEMA incident support team. Our role is to support and help integrate the urban search-and-rescue teams into the local effort. My primary role was actually looking after the health and the safety for the responders.
I spent seven years of my life in one of the busiest trauma centers in the Bronx. So you learn very quickly that if you’re going to deal with a major event that could be very destructive, you learn to look at it very technically and to remove the human factor for some period of time, recognizing, as I have, that you need to go back and revisit that at some point personally.
My initial walk toward the Pentagon was not like, “Oh, this is horrible,” because actually it was much less impressive than my first arrival at Oklahoma City and the Murrah Building, where the devastation was for blocks.
You knew this was huge when they shut down all the air traffic. And yet, you’re getting this stuff in bits and pieces. When you are in the middle of one of these events, you don’t have a clue of the perspective of the rest of the country. In some ways, that’s a blessing, because you can stay focused on what you need to do.
When I heard the last plane had hit in Somerset County—I grew up there. So all of a sudden it occurred to me—a plane hit my current hometown, two had hit my last hometown, and one had burrowed within miles of my childhood home. The plane crashed on the property of the family that I had worked for in high school.
I guess it became much more personal when we started to hear about the firefighters in New York. I lost a bunch of friends in New York. It was late afternoon, early evening when word came through that Chief Ray Downey was missing. And Ray had been part of our urban search-and-rescue system from the very beginning. So we had a very long and fairly close professional relationship, as many did with Ray; and Jack Fanning, who was the hazmat chief was also in that first blurb coming through as one of the others missing. And those of us who knew them, knew what that meant. If they were missing, they were dead. So that changed an awful lot for most responders. That made it difficult.
My role in these things is, as decisions are made and plans are developed, to evaluate each of those things for the health and medical implications, safety, and preventative issues for the rescuers. So a very large part of the evening was coming up with a safe, effective, and rapid strategy for stabilizing the structure and moving forward with removing debris and looking for bodies.
I went in briefly in the interior. The building was exceptionally dark. There were no lights, to begin with, and then everything was covered with soot. And there was residual smoke, so you had your masks on. Wasn’t a whole lot different from going into Oklahoma City, other than the searing heat in this situation. Telephones and fax machines had completely melted. Maybe in some ways this was a little more sterile, because of the heat and fire, than Oklahoma City. In Oklahoma City, you crawled through the destruction and you dealt with Post-it notes on computer screens, saying what I have to do today. In Oklahoma City for several days, there was a concern that someone might still be alive under all that rubble. You didn’t have that same pressure here, unfortunately.
You know, it’s actually much more emotional driving away from a place than it is being there. Part of it is walking away. Part of it, driving back through an area that by 8 a.m. should be bumper-to-bumper packed with rush hour but is completely deserted. It’s also such a stark contrast, between total destruction and birds chirping like nothing happened.
Deanna J. Simmons, 31
Physical therapist, West Harrison, N.Y.
My dad, George Simmons, was on the plane because he was accompanying his wife, Diane, to go to her father’s funeral in Hawaii. They were going with the ashes, which were to be spread in Kauai. My dad was 57. He had been retired about a year and a half after being with Xerox for 33 years; he was manager of sales training. In retirement he said he was busy as can be. He was fixing things at the house. He was playing golf. He was traveling to see a lot of friends he hadn’t seen.
I was working on Long Island when I heard that the twin towers had been hit. Then we heard about the Pentagon, and that’s when I knew something was wrong. I just knew. I started to cry, and on my way home, I went to the house of Diane’s sister and her husband, Andrew. We were trying to find out the flight, and I called my brother in L.A. and he told me their flight number. As soon as I hung up, Andy just took my hands and said, “That’s the flight that went into the Pentagon.” I just stood up and kind of fell to the floor.
I couldn’t go anywhere because the bridges were closed. That’s why I don’t live on Long Island anymore. I felt completely trapped. I couldn’t get off of the island. And I wanted to be together with my brothers, and I couldn’t. We all met on Thursday; the airline got us a hotel, the Hyatt in Reston. They got us a secured floor so we would have no problems with the media, and they had us under a fake name.
The FBI contacted us to get DNA samples, so they could identify the victims—they had to take blood from each one of us. It was awful. We’re in my dad and Diane’s house in Great Falls, having to tell the FBI exactly what they look like, and look for the name of their dentist, and identify in detail what jewelry they may have been wearing, what clothes. They told us to save samples of their hair from their brushes upstairs, and their toothbrushes.
There’s a story about how my dad got the American Airlines flight that day. He was supposed to fly with United. He mentioned to the woman, “I’m going over for a funeral,” and the woman offered this discounted rate. So he made the reservation with United, and then I guess that person’s supervisor called and accused him of trying to book a vacation under a discounted fare. My dad always flew United—always—with Xerox. So my dad got upset, and words were said between the two of them. Then he got off the phone and looked up a flight with another airline, American.
He wrote United a detailed letter about how disappointed he was, and that was on his computer. I was just so upset at the way United treated them, I wrote United a very nasty letter. I had the woman’s name because my dad wrote them a letter, so I took a copy and sent my letter to the same person. I just felt that they should know what the end result was. The lady called and left a message. She said she was speechless, and she apologized, and she started crying. She said it took here a while to get the courage to call me.
I think it was bad luck, horrible luck.
My stepbrothers arranged for a memorial service at my father’s house that Saturday after it happened. We thought it was going to be very small, but over 300 people showed up at the house. We had a priest and we did a service in front of all those people in their backyard. It was very overwhelming to watch the people line up down the road to come in. I stood out in the front of the house, just crying. I couldn’t go near the house. My dad’s motto was “Life Is Good,” so they made a big banner on the roof of the house with a flag, and it had a big smiley face by the stars, and it said, “Life Is Good” underneath. It had been his motto since he retired. He just thought life is good, since he could retire early and enjoy life.
American flew us down for the private memorial they had at the Pentagon on October 11. It was beautiful. I mean, you think you’re the only ones affected until you go to something like that. The hardest part of the whole ceremony was when they stared putting the list of names in front of you on this big video, and you can hear the cries going through the crowd in waves. The president was there. He didn’t come close to the families. I thought he should have shaken family members’ hands.
I went to the crash site—the FBI brought us there, and they went through the details as to what they thought happened with the way the plane came in and stuff. We thought he was in first class, but he wasn’t. He was slightly behind that, but two of the hijackers were sitting like two seats in front of them. I thought he would be helping the kids who were on the plane, because they were by themselves. A bunch of kids were going on a field trip. He would be protecting those kids.
We got his wedding band back. We got his business card with his name on it. We got his day planner, and it was only charred along the outside rim, but it’s completely readable, each page. And his address book—it was charred on the outside as well. It was like a leather binder, and every page was readable. They would probably have been in his carry-on bag, which he usually brought, a canvas one, so it was kind of bizarre—it makes you think, did he really suffer through this? How long did he suffer before they passed away, because, if all that is so readable, it’s pretty disturbing. The smell of the items was horrible, horrific. It was so overpowering. The FBI sent it wrapped in plastic, and when I opened it in my apartment, my entire apartment smelled like that for a couple days. They found Diane’s Visa credit card and her checkbook.
Both of them were identified in October. Their bodies, or remains, were in Delaware, at Dover. We knew they wanted to be cremated, so the government cremated them there. We spread their ashes near Great Falls Park because that was one of their favorite places. Every time someone came to visit, my dad would show them that park because it was so beautiful and so close to their house.
In November, I had a memorial for him at a local Long Island bar called Paddy’s Loft, that I used to go to with him when he came to visit. We knew the owner. Dad liked his Caffrey’s, which is an Irish beer, and not many places serve it. He was part Irish. My dad was an excellent storyteller. He was very witty. He loved to tell jokes. Over 100 people came.
I didn’t want to dwell over things, so I just put up the funniest pictures I had of my dad all over the bar, pictures of silly, stupid stuff that we would do. Like every Easter, with my stepbrothers, we’d have an Easter bonnet contest and you had to make a silly hat. Then I wanted everyone to make a toast, because my dad was notorious for toasts. I just wanted everyone to have a good time that night, and enjoy life because life is good.
It completely turned my whole life around. It took me until to January to say, I don’t want to live alone anymore. I needed a whole new start, like without anyone knowing really anything about me. I just didn’t like being characterized at work as the girl who lost her father and her step-mother. Everyone was always feeling bad and looking at me differently. They were trying to be compassionate and nice about it, but it just got to the point where I had to move on. There were just too many memories on Long Island; I went so many places with my dad. He helped me move into my old apartment. He put up all the pictures for me, and made sure that everything looked just perfect. I just couldn’t stay with the memories there; it was too hard. My friends were taking turns sleeping over in the beginning. My boyfriend and I decided we were going to move in together, in May, and I got a new job at a hospital.
I’m angry that my dad’s not going to be there for my wedding. I’m not married yet, but he’s not going to be there for that father-daughter dance; I’m not going to have that. Now, when I go to weddings, I cry when that happens. I’m angry that he’s not going to be there for our grandchildren.
I’m a lot more cautious about a lot of things now. I don’t go to concerts. I’m more skeptical about going to a baseball game. I’m constantly looking around me. I’ve never been prejudiced, until now. When I see someone Arabic or with olive-colored skin, I stop and do a double take and just question why they’re in the U.S. and why they’re working here. I never used to think that before. It’s taken a lot of fun out of life.
I have dreams that my dad is trying to come talk to me. Sometimes he’s just there watching. It’s comforting, but then it’s hard to sleep. He was my best friend and my mentor, and he gave me great advice. He was always there to give me that extra encouragement to keep going. I miss him.