It was a warm Tuesday in early September, 2001.
I had eaten my breakfast after dispatching my eldest son off to the bus, sent my husband on his way to work. My eighteen month old daughter was still asleep in her crib and I could feel my baby, a son I knew from our recent ultrasound, poking me from time to time in my belly.
I turned on the Today show on my way to my desk. It was a routine I followed daily; I’d listen to the news while I answered as many emails as possible to Rick Springfield fans before my daughter awoke. This day there was buzz going around about Ticketmaster listing a November tour date in Columbus, Ohio. Normally I would have information posted to the rs.com website before things hit Ticketmaster, so I immediately started sending queries to Vivian, who would in turn ask Rick’s management to verify the listing for us. While I was waiting for an answer, emails from several of my local fan friends popped up, all talking about us traveling to the show together. One of the group was a woman named Marni O’Doherty from New York City; she thought maybe she could swing the date around some work related things in the area.
Behind me, on the television, I heard an urgency in the normally casual sounds of Matt Lauer and Katie Couric’s late morning banter. I glanced at the clock; 8:51 am. My eighteen month old daughter usually woke around 9 in the morning, she would be up soon. I looked back to my emails and continued typing out a response to one of the questions regarding upcoming tour dates, hoping to knock out at least five more before I heard her tell tale singsong request for release from her crib.
“We have a breaking news story,” Katie Couric said behind me from the television. “Apparently a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center. ” I stopped typing for a moment and looked over my shoulder at the TV. There they were, the two towers I remembered well from my trip to New York several years ago. One of them had a black gash near the top of it; smoke was billowing out into the wind.
I got up from my desk and walked closer to the television. “Oh my God,” I whispered in disbelief as I watched the scene unfold.
My head spun as I heard eyewitnesses recount impossible to believe details of what they were seeing and hearing that September morning. Matt and Katie speculated about what might be happening in the towers. I stood in front of the TV, unable to move. The sun was shining outside here in the suburbs of Cincinnati; looking out my window the grass was green and everything seemed quiet and serene. I blinked several times, trying to reconcile the images and the banter on the television. It just didn’t make any sense. The words “World Trade Center, New York City” filled the screen below the smoke and the towers and the chaos.
Suddenly, I flashed back to the tape cassette sent to me several years ago by Marni, the same woman from New York who we had talked of going to the Columbus show with just this morning in my email box. I’d only met Marni once, last summer in Columbus. She was quiet, and nice; smart and funny. The return address on the envelope had been from her place of employment, a financial brokerage firm. It flashed in my head like a neon sign.
2 World Trade Center.
As the day unfolded and my own family slowly found their shell shocked way home, the fans on our internet list shared their own personal slice of the world while they absorbed the day’s events. My son stayed in school; my husband’s workplace went on lockdown and I distractedly amused my daughter with puzzles and dolls while I stayed glued to the television and computer.
I wasn’t the only person who remembered where Marni worked. Emails back and forth on our mailing list all day worried about her. Many, many people that were involved in our 1000+ person email list were from the New York area. Scores of them had sent emails letting everyone know that they were OK. They told stories of walking, walking north, walking over bridges. They talked of the stand still of the usually vibrant city and the horror they’d all experienced being there.
But no contact was made all day by Marni. We all knew she’d been at her desk when the tragedy occurred; she had sent an email to our mailing list before 8 am. She’d worked on the 89th floor of the second tower to be hit. All of the news anchors speculated at what floor the plane must have hit; it appeared that it must have hit below where she was.
If she had stayed in her office, she was likely above the site of impact. That evening, as I watched on TV, workers climbed from here to there in the wreckage, the darkness kept at bay by the largest floodlights I’d ever seen. I couldn’t stop thinking of Marni. Did they have televisions in their offices? Had she aware of what was going on? Had she started down the stairs? Maybe she had gotten out entirely but was in a hospital somewhere, unable to check in. Or maybe she was just fine but with a family member who wasn’t.
I didn’t know Marni well. But somehow, living so far away from the tragedy, somehow knowing that there was someone I’d touched, I’d met, I knew struggling there made it more real, more personal, more vivid, if that is at all possible. I grieved for those who knew her better: her family, her husband, her friends. Every person on the news I saw…somehow, it wasn’t an unknown stranger. It was Marni, it was someone just like Marni, maybe someone she knew personally. On that day of terrible things, knowing that someone I’d shared space with before was a part of it made all of it more. I kept wishing, kept hoping, kept thinking that somehow, we’d hear from her in the next hour. Or the next day. Or the day after that. Somehow, that would make all of this horror at least not as horrible, not as unthinkable, not as terrible.
But it was all of those things, and then some. More than three thousand times over.
Our friend Marni was never found in the wreckage. Her family and friends held a memorial for her, a few weeks after 9/11. And ten years later, Marni is still thought of, still remembered, still a touchstone.