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Never Forget 9/11? If Only It Were That Easy

Found on the WSJ site . . .

The best days are when I don't think about 9/11 at all. I don't remember where I was. I don't think about how my life changed, how deeply affected my wife was. It doesn't come up in conversation. Those are the good days. Of course, I feel guilty about that.

We're told to "never forget," as if anyone living in New York could avoid the reminders: endless construction at Ground Zero, changes on Wall Street, armed security guards in our buildings and police in the subways.

9/11 swallows the life of anyone who was here before and after. Still, we're told that forgetting it would somehow be emotional treason to the memories of people we knew or didn't know.

It's also inappropriate to feel grateful for the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But I am. 9/11 changed us. It made New Yorkers come together. My wife and I made a commitment to New York. Displaced from our home at Ground Zero, we bought a home in Manhattan a few blocks north. We had our first child in 2002. We named her Grace.

On the day after she was born, I made a video from my wife's hospital room at St. Vincent's Hospital. I panned from our newborn to her mother to the window where there was a clear view of where the World Trade Center stood and of our old apartment. I suppose it's evidence of how 9/11 had become a prime mover in our relationship.

Everyone has a 9/11 story. When the subject comes up with friends or family, sometimes my mind immediately goes somewhere else: baseball, my next deadline and the to-do list around the house. Sometimes, I blurt out my story as if my subconscious has blown a pressure-relief valve. It's stupid, really, because my story is just one of inconvenience.

As a journalist covering Wall Street, I have to acknowledge the anniversary every year. Usually, I call someone whose company was based in the WTC. That's the easiest way to do it. People like Jimmy Dunne, head of Sandler O'Neill + Co., have been talking about their experience for 10 years. My experience is a footnote in my mind. They have more important things to say anyway, and they've had a lot of practice.

My story occupied the middle of the spectrum of experience. We lived close. We were home when the planes hit. I was putting on my tie when I heard the explosion, then the screaming. Outside my north-facing window, a crowd already had gathered at Chambers and Church streets. They were looking up at the towers.

We went up to the roof of our building. The north tower was burning. My wife, a photographer, started taking pictures. It was a reflex, I suppose. When people began jumping she put the camera away and walked down the stairs in tears.

Stunned and uncertain, I went to work. I took the 4 train from City Hall, where zombie-like refugees from the towers were wandering aimlessly.

The phones weren't working. So after the first tower fell, I took a cab from work to Canal Street, where the police barricades were. I tried to cross and was ordered back. I walked to the next block, took advantage of the confusion and just ran through.

At Chambers and West Broadway I was covered in white dust. It was raining paper: memos, analyst reports and charts. I got to my block. Our building was empty. Firemen and police were running everywhere. They didn't seem to know if they should evacuate or rush in.

A fireman handed me a dust mask. I asked him for a cigarette, and we smoked watching helpless rescuers try to figure out what the hell to do. In that moment, I remember thinking: What a beautiful fall day.

There is one wonderful memory I don't mind thinking about. I managed to get back to work. My wife, who had trudged two miles through the streets, arrived at the office, and we hugged in a white, dusty embrace.

In the nomadic weeks that followed, we slept on couches at friends' homes, in a hotel and finally in a tony apartment owned by my father's company. We bought entirely new wardrobes and stood in line at the Red Cross. My wife tried to rebuild her photography business, but all of her equipment was in our Ground Zero apartment.

PBS offered her an office. Occasionally, I took a cab to Canal Street and walked with a National Guard escort to my building. I loaded my wife's computers, cameras and a few belongings onto a luggage cart and pulled it back to the perimeter.

On one of those trips, a city policeman asked me if I had been to the site. I hadn't, I said. He offered to take me there. This was weeks after the attack, but the ruins were still burning. It was night, but remains of the buildings were illuminated from huge floodlights. Rescuers were doing their gruesome work. I had an overwhelming feeling that I wanted to leave.

We moved back home in early November 2001. A hazardous-materials cleaning crew went through the apartment, sucking mountains of dust in high-powered vacuums. Air filters were a fashionable appliance; we had three, which had to be cleaned daily.

Sometimes during dinner or the middle of the night, we were awakened by sirens. Whenever the body of a firefighter or police officer was recovered, there was a motorcade.

In those early weeks, I spent most of my time attending memorial services and trying to write about the impact on Wall Street. I was numb through it all. If I worried about anything, it was my brother in the army, stationed in Korea.

He made it through the first Gulf War. I worried if he would make it through a second one.

Ten years later, I'm happy to report that he survived. My wife restarted her business, and it flourished until we had a second daughter—and then a third. We sold our place in the city and moved to the suburbs. It was economics, not bad memories, though living farther away does make it a little easier to forget.

I think less and less about 9/11 with every passing year. I'm grateful to be more consumed about the issues I cover on the job, my kids' first day of school and whether we'll have water in the basement after all this rain.

Yet I still hate to throw out any of those clothes I bought in the days after 9/11. And there are six contacts in my address book belonging to people who died that day. They were regular or semiregular sources. I just can't delete them.

Courtesy Michael Quackenbush

Chris Quackenbush, a victim of 9/11, is pictured in an undated photo with his children.

One of those names is Chris Quackenbush. He was an investment banker for Sandler and one of the handful of bankers with whom I had built a friendship. I remember that Mr. Quackenbush talked about his family a lot.

"Do you have kids?" he asked me back then.

"No," I said.

"Oh, you're missing all the fun," he laughed.

I think about that conversation every time I scroll through my address book and hit the "Qs." Chris is the only "Q" that I have.

It's not hard to understand why 9/11 has become an industry or why people from across the globe come to visit Ground Zero. 9/11 was a turning point in this corner of the world for a way of life that seemed innocent.

But I'd be lying if I suggested that this 10th anniversary of the attack and the planned memorials are meaningful to me. I've spent the last decade trying to move on.

If it makes any difference to Chris, you'd be happy to know that I'm not missing the fun anymore.

Write to David Weidner at


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