There are so many truly heroic stories from September 11 and its aftermath. I, too, have a story but I have never told it, in part because my personal story is not one of rescue, family tragedy or even an eyewitness account. I could not understand why, in the midst of so many larger-than-life stories, my story affected me as strongly as it did. But after reading the September/October issue of Baylor Magazine, I wanted to share it.
My husband, Kevin, traveled to Manhattan frequently in 2001. We worked out a plan for me and my 2 1/2-year-old son, Evan, to join him there last August. His firm used a corporate apartment downtown across from the World Trade Center.
I think I can speak for a large group of born-and-bred people from the South when I say that for us, New York holds a great deal of mystery and glamour, both real and imagined. For this short week, it was fun to pretend we were real New Yorkers, with our own apartment, kitchen and a corner market. It was an Amish market that was the most charming place I have ever seen. I stopped in everyday we were there -- just like the natives do.
My son and I were left to our own devices for most of the visit, and we used the World Trade Center as home base to catch the subway to the park, to go shopping and to go to Brooklyn to visit some of Kevin's relatives. We bought clothes and souvenirs in the WTC shops, we took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and took pictures of our trendy "pretend" home in the shadow of the WTC. For that one week, it became our world. I cannot believe it is gone.
One day Evan and I found what would become the highlight of our trip: a fire station. In Plano, where we live, we drive by a fire station frequently. It is enormous, with three garages for three large engines. I tell you this because you would have missed this New York City fire station had you not had a little boy with you.
We were walking on a street across from the WTC and Evan started yelling, "Firemen! Firemen!" We were directly in front of what appeared to be a garage door that was raised to reveal a fire engine. I could see nothing else. Certainly it was not a building large enough to hold two engines, much less three. Sitting around the engine talking to each other were several firemen. My first impression was that these guys were cocky and probably didn't have a lot of time for tourists. Let's face it, firemen are very cool and manly and these men were no exception.
But then, the sweetest thing happened. Every last one of them stopped what they were doing and came over to my son. In the course of a few seconds, these men became not only my son's heroes, but mine as well. They talked and entertained us and listened to everything my son had to say. On that trip to New York, we rode a plane, a boat, a taxi, a train and a bus -- all very impressive stuff to a little boy, but upon our return to Texas his first response to "What did you do in New York?" was always, "I saw firemen and a fire truck."
When the tragedies of September 11 struck, I realized who some of the first men on the scene were -- Evan's firemen. My family and close friends called them that because of how much Evan talked about them. During that day, I could think of little else but those men and what they must have faced. My father called and asked, "Have you thought about Evan's firemen?" I could not even talk about it. The faces of those men, some so young, have planted themselves in my mind. I have seen them in dreams and nightmares. They are cocky, handsome, kind and sweet, and they are my heroes.
I went back to New York this August for the first time since that trip a year ago. I visited Ground Zero. The sense of loss and sadness is staggering. I walked to the apartment building where we stayed. It is vacant and will be demolished soon. All the windows were blown out that day, and of course I can't help but think of the "what if's" had we made our trip one month later. I talked to one of the workers at Ground Zero and asked about the Amish market and the old church across the street. He looked at me with such pity when he told me simply that they were gone. Just gone.
I know there is not a soul in America who was not touched in some way by the September 11 events. In my heart is a special place for that amazing city and some of the finest men in the world, my heroes, Evan's firemen.
Alaimo received her BBA in marketing/ management in 1989. She lives in Plano with her husband, Kevin, and son, Evan.