My day on September 11, 2001, began like many others that Tuesday.
It was a beautiful morning as I drove to my job in Farmingdale, listening to the radio. I can’t remember what station was on, but I will never forget the DJs stopping the music, shocked that they just saw on TV a plane crash into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
The radio hosts thought it had to have been an accident.
But then I entered my office and headed toward my cubicle, and coming down the other side of the aisle was a co-worker saying another plane had hit the other tower. It was at that point we feared that our country had just undergone a terrorist attack.
We all began to call our family members and friends who lived or worked in the city, and we couldn’t get through. That day, our office was closed early. Like many, I was numb as I made the trek home, but I was fortunate I didn’t lose any loved ones. However, forever etched on my mind will be seeing the tragedy played out on the news and seeing people roaming Lower Manhattan hoping someone had seen their missing loved ones.
I have read countless stories about the people killed that day and watched documentaries of the day’s events and aftermath, but I have been affected most by the passing of two of my former classmates from the Hauppauge High School Class of 1986. John Tipping, a firefighter, was one of the first responders on the scene, and Joseph Perroncino was working for Cantor Fitzgerald as vice president of operations.
I was extremely shy in school, so I wasn’t a friend to either of them. Joseph was simply a familiar face in the halls of Hauppauge’s middle and high schools. As for John, he and I attended school together from fourth to 12th grade. He was one of the children of Forest Brook Elementary School, and he always had a boyish face and a twinkle in his eyes.
Despite the fact we never became friends, something is haunting about losing someone you went to school with for years. It’s hard to explain those feelings, but I can tell you I feel a great sense of unfairness. John and Joseph should have been at our 20th and 30th reunions talking about things such as their careers, significant others, children and other memorable events. When I think of Joseph and John is when I get the saddest and angriest.
After 9/11, I realized how much my life resembled a quilt, adorned with patches left behind by everyone I have ever met and interacted with at some level. My quilt has many holes, and my former classmates are among the tears in the fabric.
Americans have learned many lessons since that day. I have always hoped we could keep them forever. It shouldn’t have taken such tragedies to make us realize how fortunate we are to be Americans and to make us look around at everything we have and at everyone in our lives and realize how lucky we are, but that’s what happened that day. On the 20th anniversary of that tragic day, my hope is that we will forge ahead stronger, smarter and with more gratitude in our hearts and guarantee that those who passed away on September 11 didn’t die in vain.
Rita J. Egan is the editor of The Village Times Herald, The Times of Smithtown and The Times of Huntington, Northport & East Northport.