I wrote this story as therapy. I myself thought I was not directly affected by the tragedy, however, I have been more affected than I expected. Here is my story.
In August of 2000 I accepted a job as an executive assistant for one of the most prestige Insurance Brokers in the world Aon Corporation. I was so excited I was going back to Manhattan after holding a job on Staten Island, I was going back to my favorite place to work, The World Trade Center. I was going to be on the 105th floor, I was so excited! What a great view, what an easy commute and being back in the building would mean my friends from my old company was just a few floors below on 36. So I quit my 5 minute commute job and took off to the big city. I would be working for 4 of the top guys in the company.
It was a great job! The guys I worked for needed some work, however, I was the best of the best, “I could handle them, they just needed to be treated like children and whipped into shape!”. I loved working in the Trade Center. I remember watching the Yankee parades from the windows. The helicopters would fly below our floor because we were so high up. Watching the tree from Rockefeller Center come across the Hudson. Jumping on the path train to play the NJ lotto. I would meet my friend for lunch and we would walk the concourse, shop. My favorite was going for drinks after work, we would go down to Moran’s in the Financial Center in the summer and sit on the patio, to O’Hara’s across Liberty Street just me and the old gang from 36, Lauren, Rich, Mike, Norton, Jim, Jen…a big dysfunctional family.
I really didn’t find friends at Aon, knowing how you cannot mix business and fun, I kept my distance, however, the few connections I made remain with me forever, Ann, Janice, Juanita, Valerie, Michele, Rosalie… and my boss Norman.
Norman was this hot headed, stubborn guy to work for but with a heart of gold. He met his match when I started to work for him. We would go at it, fighting, however, it was what he needed. Norman hadn’t been able to keep a secretary EVER! His fiancé, Susan, we would chat when she called for him and he hated it! She is sweet as pie and I felt like I have know her forever. She knew Norman could be very difficult. He was set in his ways, he never took a lunch, always on the phone with clients. His office was piled high with papers and boxes of stuff. We would become friends, he would give me advice with my Mortgage, my Marriage. We would talk about his upcoming wedding, where to honeymoon, what kind of reception to have.
In March, I got some news, I was pregnant. I took my test in the bathroom of the 105th floor. I knew things needed to change right away. I was too emotional to work with Norman. I began to have panic attacks, when getting in the two elevators to go the 105th floor, as one of my first days, the elevator came crashing to the bottom and injured several people. I began to panic when on the bus on the bridge, hyperventilating at each instance. Plus, I was sick, vomiting every day, this baby was making me sick. I approached my boss for a change instead of going straight to Norman. The took me off his projects immediately. They still did not know I was expecting. Norman was upset with me, not even a hello in the hallway. The other guys I worked for were happy, finally they had their assistant back.
I continued to get worse with my panic attacks. I would twitch when the building swayed. Would wind up vomiting in my garbage pail from the panic attacks. I went to see my doctor, he suggest I go out on disability immediately, this was July of 2001. So here I was pregnant, just purchased a house, home pregnant and sick as a dog. I didn’t want to go on medication because of the baby.
So here it is, August 28, I didn’t think things could get worse, my cousins husband Michael Gorumba, 27, a NY Rookie Firefighter, dies on the job. Out of no where! It was the hot story on news. I was terrible. I was vomiting at the funeral home. My eyes swollen shut. I couldn’t feel any worse. To my surprise two weeks to the day later, I would be haunted by my words.
It was September 10th. I get a call from a co-worker, Rosalie, seeing how I am doing. Finding out what had happened as she saw my picture in the paper when Mike died. She would tell me about what’s going on at work. Norman just got back from his Honeymoon, torturing everyone. Josephine had come back from Maternity leave. Loonie was still Looney. Jim and Lisa had left the company. Rodger was in Europe on business. We talked about my pregnancy how I was so sick. I was about to find out how sick I would become.
It was the morning of September 11th. My husband was at work in Staten Island. I was still sleeping when the phone rang and it was him. “Turn on the TV, something has happened at the Trade Center”. Katie Couric says a propeller plane has hit One World Trade Center. OK, not my building. But I was still freaked out. Then it happened as I am watching the TV the plane enters the screen and hits my building! I go into frantics, screaming, panicking. I instantly called my girlfriend, Lauren, who works on 36, she is on the bus still, however, her brother, who works for my company is in the building on the 100th floor. She enlists me to call his cell phone, what if he didn’t make it runs through my head. I can’t bear to tell anyone I know before anyone. I call Rosalie, no answer. I get my mom on the phone who is at work 10 minutes away, I needed someone to be here with me and fast. I get on the internet and find anyone to talk to.
I was hysterical. My phone was non stop. Who didn’t know I was home? Who would think I am at work? What if I was there? What if my Doctor hadn’t given me permission to stay home and been so adamant about it. I would have been there. Me and my unborn baby! And Norman, I knew he wouldn’t have gotten up from his desk, I just knew in the pit of my stomach, he was in the building and I knew when I saw my building collapse first he would be there. And who else would be there? Would it be my friend from 36, where were they? Would it be the guy in the corner office that I sat outside of? Would it be the girl that answers the phone? Would it be the little guy in the copy center? Would it be the little guy that delivers my mail? Would it be the woman at the news stand that would smile at me even when I didn’t buy the cigarettes anymore?
By the time 7 World Trade Center Collapsed I had a full house. One woman who lived in Staten Island next to a friend who worked in the Financial Center that had to take the ferry to Jersey and was stranded as all the bridges to new york were closed. Another friend who worked in jersey and my Mother stranded at my house. My husband was allowed to come from Staten Island to Jersey to come home. We had the TV on all night watching, hoping, praying.
By the morning, I was in contact with some co-workers via the internet. And from watching the missing on TV seeing people that I would see every day. Knowing that I sat in the same corner as them. I knew if I were there, I wouldn’t be here today.
December rolls around and on December 4th at 12:22 am, my hero came into my life. James Dawson was born. He reaffirmed to me that I was supposed to be his Mommy. I wasn’t supposed to be there on September 11. And that by some reason, God, decided to forewarn me and save me. James gives me strength from the sorrow I feel, and the guilt and grief that sometime overcome me.
I speak to a few co workers. We share our grief and weird happiness that we are survivors. However, Norman, wasn’t so lucky. I speak to Susan every now and then. I feel a connection to her. In some way Norman has given me my new friend, we will finally meet sometime this week. I know she finds peace when we talk about him.
I still have nightmares 8 months later. That I am watching the parade from the window and the planes come flying at me. Deep down I know that it just wasn’t my time then, however I still have sadness. James gives new meaning to my life and for that I am grateful.
I wrote this for anyone reading that it might help. Talking about our grief helps us move on. And as Americans we must!
Lori Clinton, New Jersey