It was a cold autumn day when my dad and I traveled to New York City with the sole purpose of going to the newly opened 9/11 Memorial. The experience evoked more emotions from me than I had expected.
I was only eight years old when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were attacked, so at the time, I didn’t grasp the situation that well. However, year by year, as I grew older, and I watched the specials on TV every September 11th, I couldn’t help but feel some emotional tie to it, despite having no substantial connection to the attack or even the towers themselves.
Arriving on the site, once deemed Ground Zero, was the first time I had even been to that section of the city. As we stepped out of the iconic yellow cab that my dad had hailed at Penn Station, I was immediately drawn to the huge Freedom Tower that seemed to reach the stark white clouds which stood out amongst the bright blue sky.
After getting through security, we were allowed in the sectioned off area that contained the memorial. It was as if we passed into a different world. Unlike the chipper guards that greeted us on the outside of the area, the inside officers were serious and stern. Even the same people we chatted with on-line while waiting to get in had lost their friendly smiles.
To say the least, the mood was somber. Although it was a crisp fall morning, there was an extra chill in the air, for the very ground we walked on had been where thousands of people took their last breaths.
As we advanced around the “first tower,” I remember running my fingers over the names. So many people and so many families, all changed from one selfish act. A slight ache pulled in my heart.
Suddenly, my dad got a call and walked away to a bench. I was too engrossed; I couldn’t wait. I walked to the “second tower” alone. Halfway around the perimeter, I saw him.
A few yards away from me, there was a man, that seemed to be in his early thirties, with brown curly hair wearing a black pea coat and dark jeans. His blue, glistening eyes were red rimmed and fixated on a name. I had no way of knowing which one, but it didn’t matter to me. The expression on his face was too distracting. The sheer pain that was held in his eyes and the look of utter disbelief was heart-wrenching. A stronger pain ached in my chest. At any moment, I was waiting for him to fall to his knees; the emotional toll being too much to bear that it surely had to cause a physical reaction.
Had he lost a brother, sister, mom, dad, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, girlfriend, or even co-worker? Had he been there the day of the attack? Had his loved one been traveling on one of the planes that hit the towers? Had his friend rushed back in the building to save more people, just as the tower collapsed?
The questions bombarded my brain. I hadn’t known this man or even seen him for more than a few minutes, but I wanted to know his story. My attention was completely taken from the memorial while I stared at him. As if the longer I stared, the more possible it was that I could somehow view his thoughts and figure out what exactly happened that affected him so much. As a country, we all felt a loss on that tragic day of September 11, 2001, but this man seemed to have been affected more deeply.
My mind was still racing when I felt a hand on my shoulder. Startled, I turned around to see my dad with a confused look on his face. Why did I leave him at the bench? Why was I not viewing the beautiful memorial that we had traveled specifically to see, but instead was staring at a stranger? Why was I so on edge that when he gently touched me, I jumped? My mind was suddenly filled with another set of questions, but from my dad’s perspective.
Before I could say anything, I felt the need to look at the man again. I turned back to where I had been staring moments before, and the space was empty. The man was gone. Although he walked away, and I joined my dad to witness the rest of the 9/11 Memorial, his face never left me, not that moment, not that day, or even now.
Looking back three years, since I have been to the memorial, I can still picture his face and that anguish. Three years and I still experience the pain I felt when I saw him. Three years and I still have the unrelenting urge to know his story.
Three years and I remember him.