(Written by Allison Brown, circa 2007)
Taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming, I thought it would be insensitive as a New York based website to continue discussing film without at least acknowledging the 20th anniversary of 9/11. This day had a profound effect on me personally, as I lost my uncle, Phillip Miller. Time and time again, I think of what my life would have looked like if I had my uncle as a mentor in my career. He is the only relative who worked in the corporate finance industry where I have resided now for seven years. Over the course of six years, I rewrote an essay many times sharing my first-hand experiences. Below, is the NCTE Achievement Award in Writing winning edit of my narrative, which I reviewed today for the first time in several years. Read below for my first hand account of the proceedings of September 11th, 2001, and the days that followed.
It seems in each person’s life, only a few things are so tragic, so horrifying, that one’s character is changed forever. I never deemed it possible that I would have to experience this tragedy, this uncontrolled dread, at such a young age. At eleven years old, I would have to feel, see, and comprehend extreme loss; the loss of my uncle along with the loss of an obscene number of others lost to the evil and the heartlessness from those who despise us solely for being American. Those extremists, those selfish, evil people destroyed our country; killed 2,996 men, women, and children who by some accident were present in the city on this awful day. On the day that took our hope away, the day that ravaged my aunt’s entire being, the day that millions of families were torn apart, and the day, that our country was forced to enter a time of war, September 11th 2001, our lives, my life especially, were suddenly changed forever.
In 2001, I was naïve about the world. Nothing much seemed to faze me. My immediate worries were school and just enjoying the innocent freedom of a child. When I heard teachers discussing the Twin Towers in school, I thought nothing of it. I had never heard of the Twin Towers before; I didn’t even know they existed. As a child, why would I need to know of the World Trade Center? Even if I had heard it discussed before, it quickly was dismissed from my mind; it was only some random building in the city. Why should I care? What I did not realize, however, is that there was an extreme need for me to care about this “random” building. My uncle worked there, and, it had been bombed before in 1993.
The previous attacks there had made it a building which should have been watched with a careful eye. If it had been bombed in the past, maybe, someone should have kept an eye on it for years into the future. But sadly, no one seemed to realize this risk. Even though something had happened in the past, it was in the past. Nothing could ever happen again. Clearly, this outlook was terribly wrong. All day in school, my friends were pulled out of class. I did not think anything of it. Perhaps, they were sick. Why should I care? I was still in school, I was fine. The World Trade Center was just some “random” building that I didn’t know anything of. As time passed, the day became increasingly odd. Teacher after teacher walked around on edge. They were frantic, and their faces expressed horror. Finally, it was around noon when I learned of the true situation. My peers and I were made aware that Tower One of the World Trade Center had collapsed, and the other was up in flames. The psychologists walked through all the classes and made it clear to us that we should not worry. Everything was going to be all right.
At this time, I still was unsure of the extremity of the situation. Why was everyone so frantic? I was sure it was only a small accident. Yet, I couldn’t understand that this building was one of the most populated in the world; I couldn’t see how many lives would eventually be lost due to terrorism. And, it was not until I finally arrived home, when I fully realized what had happened. I walked into the door, and I expressed to my mother all the fear which seemed to be present in my teachers and in a few of the other students. I told her all about the warnings and the comfort which was supposed to be implied by the psychologists. However, nothing truly seemed to faze me. The day was all a blur, that is, until I grasped that the entire country was in danger, and finally, that my uncle’s whereabouts were completely unknown. He was there, amidst all the horror, suffering, dying, perhaps already dead. My uncle was trapped in the Twin Towers.
For the rest of the night, my family and I stared blankly at the television, awaiting news. Flipping through each and every channel, we couldn’t escape the panic and horror felt by each and every person in America. Images of horror were reflected on every channel. Debris covered the street as snow might on a cold winter day and smoke replaced the clarity of the common air. Dead bodies covered the sidewalk inches high, and one could sense the fear only needing to see the appearance of reporters present on scene. They seemed frantic, distracted by the hell and endless death displayed before them. As I turned my head away from the television, my uncle’s image continued to rise in my mind. I thought of the kind, loving manner he imposed on me throughout my entire life. I remembered the playful Donald Duck imitations he used to do to make me smile. However, after I few seconds, I was flashed back into reality. My uncle might be dead; I might never see him again. How could all of this have happened in only a span of a few hours? All of the images on the television and in my mind were so grave, so morbid, that after a while, I could not bear to watch anymore. I shut the television off and cried myself to sleep.
Day after day, images of the burning towers could not escape my mind. On every channel on television, inspirational stories were conveyed, each story describing firefighters, police officers, and other heroes who endeavored to save many lives, but died still trying. Still, days passed, and no news of my uncle became clear. With the current situation, my parents and I left to Staten Island to go comfort my aunt. We drove for forty-five minutes, constantly fearing the depression which would be visible in her eyes when we reached the door. The last she had spoke to him, was when she received a call from him early in the morning, just as she had on every average day. However, the tone in his voice that morning had been drastically different. He described how he had seen fire thriving from the building beside him and told her that he would call as soon as he made it out. He never called her, and already days had passed. As we arrived, it was clear that she needed us.
The house seemed so empty, and I couldn’t imagine how uncomfortable it might have been for her to spend the night alone. Two days later, my sister and her husband, and my cousin and her family, all arrived from Florida in an attempt to distract my aunt from the tragedy of the unknown. It felt like years, and yet there was still no news of my uncle’s whereabouts. Having everyone together in one house made the situation less scary and less uncomfortable; however, the image of my uncle’s dead body lying under the debris was inescapable. How could I bear to know that my uncle might not finish his life in the manner which he wished? How could my aunt ever live without him? Time would only tell.
Each day, the phone rang continuously as friends and family called to check up on us. Days of school were left unattended; my friends must have been worrying about me, as I don’t recall ever telling them the situation until I returned home. My face was constantly soaked in tears, and the house was filled with anxiety. It seemed like we were waiting forever. We had no idea where he was, how he was, or if he was even still here. Melancholy became a disease ravaging each and every one of our bodies and we longed to see Phil’s face again.
By the third day, we finally received a source of news. One of my uncle’s coworkers called to explain that they had put up a hotline for him. Hopefully, this hotline would be the path to his discovery. If successful, the hotline would allow survivors to explain their own experiences, share any light on my whether or not my uncle had made it out, or contribute any other information about the tragedy. In the end, the hotline worked in our favor. It was not until a few days later, but finally someone called to unearth some information on my uncle’s circumstances.
The survivor, a woman, had made it out; yet, she suffered extensive injuries. One arm and several ribs had been broken. According to the woman, many of her colleagues who worked in the same company, AON Corporation, on the 102nd floor, had all experienced a similar turn of events. Hastily, the woman ran down the stairs as soon as she heard the toppling rubble at Tower One. Even though the sound was boomingly loud, she saw others continue on with their work and chatter in their meetings, as though the sound was nothing. They thought that it was unlikely Tower Two would also be in grave danger. But to their tragic mistake, they were completely wrong. Their lives would be lost that day.
Before long, she and her colleagues had escaped down twenty-four floors and had reached the seventy-eighth level. When they reached the floor, a fatal announcement was made; the people were told that everything was okay and that everyone should return to their work. Some chose to wait for the elevator due to their relief, while others continued to move on anyway. To our dismay, the woman explained that Phil decided to wait for the elevator.
Yet, before they could move, the floor began to shake and an indescribably loud noise ran through their heads. The woman along with two others blew left, and they were fortunate enough to reach the stairs. One person survived with a broken back, while another got caught and did not make it out at all. Although drowned in debris, they escaped and were able to return to the love and care of their families. Several other people, including my uncle, Phil, blew to the right. They were blown into a raging fire, and in time, they were incinerated to death. My uncle was locked inside the ashes of the Twin Towers for all eternity. A man, so fully devoted to his job, was murdered by his own devotion. I never imagined the so tragic an end would come for such a great man.
This news changed us all forever; it was finally clear that we would never see him again. Her story made us all further depressed, but at least we could see the truth. My uncle had died a tragic, painful death. Even though I knew he was gone, in my conscience, I hoped he wasn’t. I hoped he had been safe, in a hospital or a shelter, anywhere. But unfortunately he wasn’t, he was gone forever.
His influence in our lives will never be lost. Every now and then, I think of him. I think of how proud he would have been to see me today, to see what I have accomplished in my life. I wish he would be here to see me graduate from high school and to see me form a family of my own. I wish he could meet his beautiful grandson Matthew, now three, and his adorable great-nephew Joshua, now four. I wish he was there to grow old with his wife. He will never get to accomplish any of these things. His life was ripped away by malevolent, vengeful men at the raw age of 53. Although it is a cruel thing to imagine, I am happy that they experienced a similar fate. Only an inhumane man could do something so unimaginable and see their actions in a positive light. I will never be able to forgive them or understand their actions.
Although it is now six years later, I will never be able to rid my mind of the events of that day. Each time I hear the story repeated, I can’t help but cry. The day, so engrained in my memory, was a time in our country where the lives of many great people were cut short. Philip D. Miller, especially, remains forever in my memory. No matter the duration of time which passes, I will never be able to forget him.