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  • Catherine C. Heywood

Why I Will Never Forget

Fifteen years ago, on a day when so many Americans lost loved ones, I began the journey that would bring me back to the man my heart loved.

I was living in Boston at the time, had moved there to marry someone else. That didn't work out as we had planned. But by the time we had broken up, I was working full-time at Boston College and had been accepted into a Master's program there.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, my sister called me at work shortly after the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Had I heard, it had taken off from Boston's Logan Airport heading West. No, I told her. But I had chills, had dropped our mom at Logan exactly a week before for an early morning flight heading West.

Shortly after that call, students began coming into the office -- 25-year-old doctoral students who practically lived there; 19-year-old work-study students who were equal parts eager and lazy and fun -- ashen-faced, shaky fingers, trembling lips, confused, panicked, unmoored.

My sister was on that flight.

I can't reach my cousin. He works at Cantor Fitzgerald.

My mom works at the World Trade Center.

I think my friends were on one of those flights.

We held them. Helped them dial their cell phones. Told them it would be ok. It was emotional triage in that office. Today it exists in a fog in my memory...but for one phone call.

Somewhere in the midst of it all, my phone was ringing, my private line. I glanced at it. Thought about not answering. But it kept ringing. So I picked it up.

"Hello?"

"I'm going to be out there as soon as I can."

My friend. My best friend if I was being honest with myself. A man I had dated a few years before. We had loved each other. Then I broke up with him over something so stupid. I wasn't ready for him. My mind was making my decisions then, not my heart. But we had stayed friends because he knew far better than I did, apparently.

It's hard to describe what that voice, the timbre in it, meant to me in that moment, how it made me feel. He'd always had this innate calm, this deeply reassuring energy, like something that coated frayed edges and made them smooth.

"Boston?"

"New York. I'm on a waiting list. But as soon as my name comes up, I'll be there."

He was an emergency responder back then. Went wherever in the country he was called to work, tornados and floods and wildfires, had even searched for missing kids.

"A waiting list? The South Tower just collapsed." And it had, only moments before. People were crying in the background.

"Those are my brothers, trapped in that tower. We have to be there. Have to help."

My brothers, he'd said. All those people like him who run towards disasters to help.

"Ok. Well, let me know. When you hear. When you're coming."

It was that brief. The call. He had to go and I had to go. But after hanging up I had collapsed into my chair with something that felt like relief.

I had a glimpse of my wall down. That wall that was determined that I be the original independent woman, a woman who didn't need anyone least of all a man to be happy. But he wanted to be needed...just a little bit, every now and again.

In that moment of deep vulnerability, he was there for me right when I needed him to be without even knowing how much I needed him. And, God, it felt good.


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