Ten years ago, I remember commuting with my then-boyfriend/now-husband to our jobs at Tyson’s Corner. It was a beautiful September day. We’d moved to Fairfax, VA from NYC just 3 months earlier. I was adjusting to life in the suburbs again. I didn’t miss the crowded NYC subway, but I was missing my friends, my favorite haunts, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to celebrate my birthday later that week without them.
I remember IMing with my friend Jenn Carlile Foley that morning at work. We had gone to college together, and she had been a stage manager like me. When she graduated a year after I did, she followed in my footsteps: moved to NYC and did a year as a stage management intern at The Juilliard School, which I had also done. Jenn and I had our ups and downs, but she was an amazing person, so full of love and laughter. She was a loyal friend, and many people received more from her then I think she ever got back. Sometime after finishing at Juilliard, Jenn had married Tony, her college sweetheart. A few months later, I moved from NYC to Fairfax, and she was soon diagnosed with cancer. I made sure to keep in touch with her often, and IM was handy for easy chats where the haunting specter of the cancer was less pronounced.
I don’t remember how I first learned about the attacks; I just remember sitting in the office kitchen, watching the events unfold on the television. I went back and forth between the TV and my computer to talk to Jenn. She could see the towers from her office window, and she is forever connected to 9/11 in my head because of this.
When we learned that the Pentagon had been hit, the fear in our office escalated. The husband of one of my co-workers worked at the Pentagon, and she could not get a hold of him or any of his co-workers. She went home to wait for news, and the whole office went home soon after. I remember my boyfriend and I deciding to go donate blood, but the lives at every center were so long, they were turning people away. So we just went home.
I’m sure the way I felt that day is similar to what we all felt: sorrow, fear, patriotism, uselessness. I felt so far away from NYC, like I had abandoned it right before I needed it most. I worried for my friends there, I worried for the city.
I remember reading Sars’ story about how 9/11 happened to her. Every year, I return to her site to see if her mystery has been solved. Right now, it doesn’t look like it has.
At the end of that day, everyone I knew was safe, including the Pentagon husband. But of course, none of us were fine. In the summer after 9/11, the cancer took Jenn. While 9/11 and her cancer are not connected, I can’t think of one event without thinking of the other.
Several years later, I was introduced to PostSecret through this secret:
Sometimes, I want to believe that this secret isn’t real; that someone’s family and friends aren’t missing and mourning a person who is actually still alive. Yet, I also hope it is real; that one person didn’t actually die that day. 9/11 was such a tragedy, but the postcard gives me hope. I know we lost Jenn, but maybe someone escaped fate that sunny day.
It’s strange to think back to September in 2001 and how much has happened since then, how much has been lost, but also how much happiness has been found.
Memories of loved ones in happy times always help us heal after loss. I am grateful to have memories of happy moments with Jenn, such as this:
I’ll close with one of my favorite portions of poetry:
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.
- William Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood