There are many stories told by family and friends of victims on 9/11. This is mine...
It was around 9am and I received a call from my brother. He was on a plane being held on the runway and wanted me to turn on the TV because he said they heard a plane crashed into one of the Twin Towers.
I turned on CNN and stood in shock, you see, our dear friend and neighbor, Danny Afflitto, worked in the North Tower, at Cantor Fitzgerald, on the 104th floor.
I had just seen Danny the week before. He stopped his car on the way to work to ask me how my wife was. Lisa was pregnant with our 3rd son, at the time. I remember his last words to me.
“3 boys… that’s great Gerard. I want to have 10!”
Danny and his wife Stacey had one son back then. What he didn’t know and what he won’t know until he wakes up from his long sleep is that Stacey was pregnant with their 2nd son.
My first thought, after watching the burning tower on TV was to run across the street to see if Danny went to work that day. He and Stacey had gone to a wedding out west that weekend and there was a chance he might have stayed home. My wife and I were collecting their mail everyday while they were away. September 11 was the day we were going to bring all their mail to them.
When I got to their door, Stacey answered it …in tears, with a phone still in her hand. She said Danny decided to go to work that day and that she just got off the phone with him. I’m embarrassed to say that I was relieved when she said she just spoke to him. Ignorantly, I thought that the worst was over if he survived the impact of the plane. Then she told me his last words to her.
“…there’s smoke and flames everywhere …kiss the baby, I love you!”
I will never forget Stacey’s face when she told me those words, standing at the door. Stacey’s not the crybaby type. I think my wife and Stacey get along so well because as my Marine dad would say, neither of them are candy-asses. Yet, my heart broke as I looked at her standing at her door with her baby son behind her and the phone still in her hand.
I felt totally helpless. I told her that I would go back to my house and send Lisa over to her while I made every effort to locate Danny. By the time I got back and started making phone calls to FEMA (I owned a transportation agency back then and we did work for FEMA), my hopes were destroyed when, as I waited on the various lines, I watched the 2nd tower hit, then I watched the 2nd tower fall and then finally, I watched the tower Danny was in fall.
My wife was sitting with Stacey when they both saw Tower One fall. My wife still breaks down in tears remembering it.
We were unable to help our friend Danny. We were totally incapable of consoling our friend Stacey, there is no consolation …or doing anything to bring the boys’ daddy back. So frustrating!
Danny had lots of friends …close friends …old friends …friends from Cantor …college …our street. I have a lot of acquaintances but Danny had a lot of true friends …and a great family! That was a tribute to him. He was an affable, smart, funny, nice guy! My wife and I still laugh at some of the jokes he used to make.
It made me sad. It made me ashamed that I couldn’t do anything and then it made me angry …really angry!!! (I guess that was the Brooklyn Italian in me)
I wasn’t nearly Danny’s closest friend …probably towards the bottom (my fault, not his), so why was I so affected. Maybe because I had to stand helplessly in front of Stacey that morning, at the door. Man... it still shakes me to my core ...nothing I could do to ease her pain and suffering
There were other people we knew in the Tower that lost their lives on 9/11… we knew them from parties that Danny and Stacey would throw for Labor Day. In fact, they had one of those parties a weekend or so before 9/11. Guys and girls that bounced my two sons (we only had two back then) around in Danny and Stacey’s pool also lost their lives.
Even worse than that… the tragedy wasn’t limited to Danny and those we knew. So many others lost their lives on 9/11. So much sorrow and grief. Grief is a funny thing. Anyone who has ever felt it can understand the grief of others - even if its from different circumstances.
For some reason, even with all of my own personal tragedies, one of the most sorrowful moments in my life was standing at the door with Stacey. I can’t get past it. I don’t WANT to get past it. I WANT to remember it and to remember Danny. The whole world is constantly reminded of the names of the terrorists but we hardly ever see the names of the victims, except on a fast scrolling on 9/11 or if you happen to live near a NYC firehouse.
For almost a decade, I wasn’t able to share these feelings with anyone other than my wife nor was I able to express them in any way, until God blessed me with inspiration to write.
My new novel starts on 9/11. The main character in the novel isn’t me …but it’s a man that does what I couldn’t do …what I can’t do. I’m spending extra time making sure that I properly honor the victims and families and friends of victims of 9/11. Only the first chapter deals with 9/11 but I want to get it right. I also want to express my frustrations and perhaps the frustrations of others. I pray it brings some little comfort to some. After all, Danny was my friend.
…God’s Blessings on all of the families and friends of victims of terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
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Dean Wesley Smith