Re-Launch: September 11: Where Where You?

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...
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This was originally posted on September 11, 2004.  I’ve made a few edits to bring things into today’s situation, added a final thought.  

Ten years ago today.

I was getting ready for work. It was just another Tuesday morning. I was dating my ex at the time, and he had already left for work, so I was going about my usual routine. I showered, got dressed, and had some breakfast. Everything about that morning was par for the course.

Except that I turned the TV on.

You see, I was and still am not a TV-in-the-morning type of person. I rarely ever catch the Today show or Good Morning America, unless I’m home sick or on vacation, and even then it’s rare. So my turning on the TV while getting ready for work that morning was very random.

I turned on Good Morning America. Diane Sawyer was talking to some family about some wonderful thing that had happened and they were all smiles, feeling happy and good about whatever it was they were talking about. I don’t remember. I just remember thinking “Typical morning-show sappy stuff,” and kept going about my business.

They broke for commercial, showed one commercial, and then came back, abruptly.

There were Diane and Charles Gibson, sitting in another room. They looked very serious.

“We have something to show you. We don’t know very much about this, but there is something major going on at the World Trade Center…”

And they showed the tower. Ablaze. A huge gash cut out of it. My mouth dropped. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

It was approximately 8:50AM, Central time. The first plane had hit at about 8:45AM.

As I watched in amazement, the commentators tried to describe what had been happening up until then. It was believed that it was a plane, but nobody was sure how big of a plane it had been. As far as anyone knew, there was no footage of it, and it had happened so fast that not many people saw it. But now our eyes were glued. Our attention was focused. And at three minutes after 9:00, our lives changed forever.

I watched the second plane fly into the second tower. In real time. As it happened.

I never felt such fear in my entire life. For some reason, I knew right away that we were under attack. I knew that nobody at that moment was safe. If whoever did this could plan it so that two separate planes could fly into the two towers of the World Trade Center on the same day, just minutes between each other, then they were capable of anything.

“Oh my GOD… Oh my GOD…” said the voices on TV.

I called my roommate in to see what was going on. He was supposed to be flying to New York that week.

“Uh… I don’t think you’re going to New York,” I told him.

Oddly enough, the first name that popped into my mind was Osama bin Laden.

Just weeks before this, reports had been coming out of Afghanistan about centuries-old relics being destroyed by bin Laden’s Taliban regime. They were denouncing all capitalist countries, especially America. They were predicting jihad on America.

I watched intently, thinking that this could get really ugly. bin Laden’s name was familiar, also, because he was named as the person of blame in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

They seemed determined to destroy those towers. And when that second plane hit, I thought to myself “They finally did it.”

I didn’t know quite what to do at that point. I called my ex, who was on a train heading downtown, and told him what was going on. He said that people had been getting phone calls left and right but he couldn’t figure out what was going on. I told him I was going in to work. I didn’t know what else to do.

So I left.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day outside. The air was cool, and the sun was warm. Fall had not quite set in on the region yet. It was a beautiful late summer day.

But the air was incredibly still. It was eerie. I kept running what I had seen on the television just moments before in my head, over and over. “We are under attack,” I told myself, “and I am going to work. Am I nuts?”

The train ride to work was even worse. People who knew each other were talking extremely softly to each other. Some were on their cell phones. Others just stared out the window. I was like a funeral. I realized that I wasn’t the only one who felt the way I did. What do you do in this situation? What do you say?

I got off the train and walked the rest of the way to work. Over to the north is the Hancock Building. To the east, the AON Tower. To the south, Sears Tower. I watched the skies feverishly, hoping to God that nothing was coming. I paid special observation to the AON Tower, and noticed how much it reminded me of the World Trade Center. I started to cry.

I got to work and started my ascent, 38 floors up. Silence in the elevator.

When I got to my floor, everyone was milling about. Some were crying, some were talking. Nobody was working. Everyone was in a panic. “Why are we here? What is going on? The Internet is down. We can’t find anything out!”

I told them that I had watched it happen on TV. A couple ladies were a bit hysterical.

I called my mom and dad to get updates. Tower 1 had collapsed by then. My mom begged me to go home. “I don’t want you downtown with all of this going on. Get out of there.”

“This will not work. We won’t be here long,” I thought.

Sure enough, at 10:30 the announcement came that we were to go home. I grabbed my things and got out, fast.

The train ride back was even more morose than the ride in.  People seemed stunned into silence.  When the train came out of the subway, I remember glancing back toward downtown in case of any further activity.  Before I knew it, I was home again.

My ex and I watched TV from the time I got home until 2 in the morning. I saw the towers fall so many times that I could see it with my eyes closed. I saw the Pentagon, the military center of the United States, in flames and rubble. I saw the aftermath of the plane that went down in Pennsylvania, and wondered which target it was truly heading for. I repeatedly saw the video of people running as fast as they could after the enormous plumes of dust and paper and glass racing behind them. And I saw the war-zone-like aftermath, with bloodied, dirtied, and barely alive people, wandering aimlessly as they try to figure out for themselves how they got there–how this happened to them and to their city. I saw the streets lined and littered with destroyed fire trucks and automobiles; glass blown out of buildings still standing, trees and traffic lights, bent and broken and twisted, and papers.. the papers… everywhere you looked were papers.

September 11, 2001 was just like any other day when it started.

September 11, 2001 was a day that I will never forget for the rest of my life by the time it ended.

Final thought

Every year on the anniversary of the attacks, I relive these moments.  As I read through them just now, I remember every moment of that day as if it happened just hours ago.

At this very moment, it’s 11:44am.  Ten years ago at this very moment, I was probably walking back to my apartment from the train station.  I remember, as I mentioned in the initial article, how still and peaceful the day was.  I remember thinking that maybe it was because there were no planes flying overhead.  All air travel was suspended that day.  So between the glorious, warm sunshine and the cool breezes, it felt otherworldly to be outdoors that day.

“Never forget,” we say every year at this time.  I never forget, anytime.  It’s hard not to remember.

I didn’t lose anyone close to me that day.  In fact, I don’t know anyone who perished that day at all.  But everyone lost something that day.  And in some ways, we still haven’t found it again.  I don’t know that we ever will.

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Missed connections – years apart

Missed ConnectionsIn the past few days, I’ve had a couple of missed connections return into my life after many years.

The first was a guy I talked about in a post on this blog, and in my brief life as a podcaster. We met at a bar and hit it off great. We were going to get together for a date, but one roadblock came up after another, and we never did go out. We did remain friends though, and he ended up in a relationship.

A couple of days ago, I found that old podcast file and listened to it again. First, I thought how glad I was that I didn’t continue as a podcaster— It really wasn’t my forte. But second, I got to wondering about this guy and what was up with him.

The next day… the VERY next day… he signed up for an audition with the chorus.

Now is the universe telling me something? I don’t know. But I’m interested to see what happens here.

The second missed connection was a guy I met on gay.com many years ago. He lived in Chicago and then moved to Hawaii for a while. I found him recently on a, ahem, gay-related site, and we chatted and texted back and forth for most of the day. We might be getting together soon.

What’s with all these years-apart missed connections coming back into my life? I’m intrigued by this latest universal intervention. We shall see how it all plays out.

Remembering Uncle John

Uncle John with me as a baby, 1971

He was calm, cool, and easygoing.

He was the member of my family we would turn to for sound, sane advice, and a clear vision of what was going on in our lives.

He never raised his voice.  He never lost his temper.  Oh sure, he got angry a time or two, but if he did, I never saw him grow red in the face or take it out on anyone.

He was an eternal pessimist.  Oh yes, he was.  If his beloved Cubs were doing well, or on their way to winning it all, he’d be the first to say, “They’ll screw it up.”  We’d scoff and say he’s just being negative again, but doggone it, he’d be right.  The Cubs would mess up and we’d be crying in our handkerchiefs all over again.  He may have been a pessimist, but he was almost always right about it.

He loved his family dearly.  And we loved him.

And now he is gone.  And we miss him terribly.

My Uncle, The Rev. John D. Aiello, died on July 15 after a relatively brief but nonetheless extremely brave battle with cancer.  He was 70 years old.

School Portrait

Uncle John was my dad’s younger brother.  The middle child of three, he was destined for the cloth at a fairly early age– after my dad finally gave up the dream himself.  He entered the Seminary after graduating from grade school, and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1969.  Shortly after his ordination, my grandfather, “Nanu” Louis Aiello, died; and never got to see his son say his first mass.

Over the years, Uncle John officiated at all family events– weddings, funerals, baptisms.  It was a no-brainer– we always wanted him to do them, and he always accepted graciously.

Uncle John walking Beth down the aisle, 2002

He officiated both my cousin’s wedding in 2001 and my sister’s wedding in 2002, and, in a bit of a change of protocol, walked her down the aisle because my dad wasn’t able to do so.  They met my dad at the front of the altar, and he, with his cane, walked her the rest of the way.  It was a moving and touching moment for all of us, and one we will never forget.

Probably the most difficult thing he had to do was say the mass at Nana’s funeral.  To this day, I don’t know how he did it.  Perhaps it was because he loved her so much, and cared for her all the years she suffered.  But whatever the reasons, he did it, and he got through it fine.  I always thought he was so brave for doing that.

Uncle John says "hello," 1983

My fondest memories of Uncle John come from his visits on Thursday nights.  Because he worked in Milwaukee or Racine (his choice– he never wanted to work in Kenosha), he would always make Thursdays his family “day off.”  He had dinner with my Aunt and her family, and would come to our house afterward to spend time with our Dad and our family.  After our dinner ended, we’d eagerly anticipate his arrival.  And at around 7:00 every Thursday, he’d walk in the door.  Peanut, our dog, would greet him at the door, and he’d give my sister and I big hugs and kisses and ask us, “What’s new?”

My sister reminded me that we would always ask him for gum.  Uncle John always carried sticks of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum, and he was always willing to share.  I also remember he’d give my sister a kiss hello and say, “Oooh that tastes like Sarsaparilla!”  or “Hmmm, I think that’s cherry pie!”  They were just silly things he’d do with us kids, and we loved it.

Uncle John had a wry, dry sense of humor.  He was never one to be the “life of the party,” but every so often he’d just say a few words and have us all laughing so hard we’d start crying.

Uncle John was Nana’s main caretaker after her cancer surgery, and stayed by her side through seven painful years afterward.  It was hard on all of us, but hardest on him, because he saw firsthand how much pain she was in.  When Nana finally died, a part of Uncle John went with her.

Dad and Uncle John

My Dad’s death in 2006 was equally painful.  Dad and Uncle John were inseparable as kids and as adults.  They were brothers and best friends.  In preparing photos for Uncle John’s funeral, I found countless shots of Dad and Uncle John sitting together, eating, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company.  That’s just what they did.

When the news came that Uncle John was sick with cancer, it was a shock to all of us.  Throughout his life, he always seemed so healthy– why did this have to happen to him?  It didn’t seem fair.  He fought for as long as he could against it– trying different kinds of treatment and new, innovative strategies to stop the spread, but eventually nothing worked, and he decided to let nature take its course.

Uncle John with Emily and Abby

He did get to meet and spend time with my nieces, Abby and Emily, a few times before he was too ill to do so.  I’m glad he did that, and I’m glad they met him.  They never got a chance to meet their Grandpa.  I’m sure Uncle John have great things to say about them when he sees Dad again.

My last conversation with him occurred at the funeral of another cousin, late last year.  He was walking slowly, with a cane, but still getting around okay.  We sat together and had a long talk about life, things that we’ve experienced, and how he was doing.  I didn’t know at the time that this would be our last real talk; but it’s one I will treasure and remember for the rest of my life.

On Thursday and Friday of this week, our family will gather to say farewell to Uncle John, with hundreds of others who will come to say farewell to “Father John.”  That’s the one thing I always admired about my Uncle.  He was a man of great spirit and faith, but when he was with family, he was never “Father John.”  He was “Uncle John,” from the day I was born to the day he died.  His faith and spirituality was always a part of him, but he made sure to keep it separate from his family life.  He loved us unconditionally.  And that was never in doubt.

Five Years

Five years have passed by so very quickly. And yet, every July 3, I recall that day, vividly.

I recall the surreal, foggy morning in Saugatuck.  I was camping with my friends, and decided to call my dad for the first time that weekend.  The calls went unanswered.  I recall seeing “The Devil Wears Prada” with my friends because it had rained that morning, and not being able to enjoy the movie because I kept checking my phone to see if he had called me back.  And then, after the movie, getting the news that tore through my heart.

The ride back to camp, and arriving to find my tent taken down and my car already packed.  I will never, ever forget the kindness and love from my friends as they worked so hard to get me out of there as fast as possible.

Getting my friend Rafael to drive my car so I didn’t have to drive it myself was another blessing.  I don’t remember much of anything from that trip.  I just wanted to get home.

Sitting in my mom’s kitchen that night, hearing fireworks going off in the distance.  The low thuds of each explosion marking the celebration of the holiday that was, on that day, dead to me.  What was there to celebrate?  I was mourning. Independence Day would never be the same for me, and hasn’t since.

The planning, meetings, dinners brought by from friends and family.  Lots of decisions, and lots and lots of tears.  That was all part of it, too.

As rough as that day and the days that followed were, it somehow made our family that much stronger.  We never broke under the pressure and kept on going.

There was immense sadness, but also immense relief.  Dad had suffered for so long, and by the end of his life was so miserable, that he made us miserable, too.  I guess what kept us going (and sane) through all of that was knowing that he was finally at peace.  And consequently, we, too, were at peace.

I wrote about all of this five years ago, so I don’t want to re-hash every detail… but in the five years that have passed, so much has happened.  My nieces were born, and have given such joy to our lives.  How I wish he could have met and known Abby and Emily.  Part of me believes he does know them, and is watching over them closely; but had he been alive to meet them I know he would have loved them dearly.

But on the other end of the spectrum, my uncle– my dad’s brother– is nearing the end of his battle with cancer.  Unlike dad, his suffering is lingering.  I hate what’s happening to him, and how cancer has robbed him of not only his ability to live his life, but his will to live.  Once again, when the time comes, we will have sorrow, but also thankful he is no longer suffering.

So this year I am spending the holiday with my family.  I’m sure we’ll share some tears, but many more happy times.  And we will celebrate Independence Day.  Because although I thought it was dead to me five years ago, eventually, I have to move on.

Dad, wherever you are– I love you.  You’ll always be in my heart.

I Love New York – 33-29!


Tonight, the New York State Senate passed the bill allowing full GAY MARRIAGE in the state.  This is incredibly significant for equal civil rights, because the precedence set by this passage could pave the way for other states to pass the same legislation.

The bill was passed with provisions protecting religious organizations if they wished to not allow gay marriage, or to refuse couples from using their buildings and/or halls for such celebrations.  These provisions absolutely MAKE SENSE, because they are perfectly within their right to disallow such things under the proclivity of religious freedom.  The provisions greatly helped the bill to pass, and the bill passed with bi-partisan support.

It hit me earlier today that this historic vote falls as the anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 approaches.  That this event is taking place now, on the eve of that anniversary, in the same state where it occurred, is incredibly moving.

I created the above image just as the vote was taking place.  The moment it passed, it became my Facebook profile picture, and within minutes, many of my other friends started to use it as their picture.

Feel free to pass it around.  And proclaim your love for New York loud and proud!

Happy Pride, indeed!