We all have memories of certain historical events; Kennedy’s assassination, Martin Luther King’s speech, the 9-11 tragedy. The latter had a profound and personal effect on me. I was sending emails home to family and friends from my apartment in Paris when the news came over the TV. My roommate, Kay, called me over. She did not understand French but could see the pictures. I had some French and could understand what was happening. I wanted to go home immediately and be with my family and friends. It was a startling end to my year in Paris.
I have three sons, Robert, Charles and Steven. Steve was working at Ocean Grille in NYC close to the site when the event took place. He also lived across the street from the hospital in Greenwich Village where many of the injured were taken. He saw the events unfold as he and his co-workers soaked tablecloths and napkins to wipe the soot off the faces and bodies of people running away from the towers. My niece, Wendy, worked for a bank in NYC and I wondered if she could get home. I felt helpless and too far away.
Many things went on in Paris at that time. Days before 9-11, the American Embassy was yellow-taped off for unknown reasons. The day of the event, security went into full gear; garbage cans on the streets were sealed, Americans were asked to stay at home, several public meetings were scheduled for the French government to reassure everyone, President Chirac went to Washington to support President Bush and the American Church opened its doors to anyone needing help. You could not enter the church without having a full body search.
So strong was our wish to go home, Kay and I headed over to Air France to get tickets. We were told that ticket sales were frozen for the time being and to come back in a week. It was two weeks before we were able to fly home. The airport was filled with security and I mean armed security. We both cried when we landed because it was all too much to absorb. America attacked in our own backyard.
I grew up in New Jersey. I went on occasional trips out of the state; Canada, Florida, New England, Virginia for college, Nassau in the Bahamas but never across the Atlantic. My husband, Bob, was an avid fisherman and most vacations were related to sailing or fishing. My sons grew up on the Jersey Shore and water was part of their life and now their love. After living in a variety of locations, Rob and Charly now live at the shore. Steve has since moved to Florida and happily found a condo with a balcony facing the Atlantic. My family could never live inland.
For me, New Jersey is home. Following my husband’s death at an early age of 48, I drifted away. I was off to California and lived in Santa Barbara. I had two different jobs while living there at the Music Academy of the West, a scholarship summer program for gifted young musicians and at the Friendship Center, an Alzheimer’s Day Care. It was in my third year there when Kay called me up with the idea of sharing an apartment in Paris for a year. My dream had been to someday travel to Europe and visit the places I read about in English Literature, the land I heard about from my grandparents and the countries speaking the languages that attracted me; French, German, Italian, Spanish. My plan was to head to England for about three months. I was saving up for that trip when Kay called to explain that her company would like her to go to their offices in Paris for a year. Kay and I became friends because I went to school with her husband, Dave, who, like my husband, died at a young age. We helped each other deal with fighting cancer and accepting widowhood. So there we were…two widows and cancer survivors looking for an adventure.