Looking back at my archive of photos and videos, before Meghan and Colleen most of the pictures were of the dogs. Starting in 2001, when we had two children to care for, very few of the memories recorded focused on the dogs. To anthropomorphize a bit, I’m tempted to think that this made the dogs sad, though I think they embraced their new roles in our growing family with typical Newfy aplomb.
One of our videos from 2001 shows Meghan in her high chair, eating a banana. The video itself is quite funny, but the back story tells a deeper tale. One day we had lost a banana (seriously, who has these kinds of problems?) and naturally, I blamed the dogs. Lauren had a hunch that we had a different kind of thief in our midst, so we set up the camera to prove her theory. Sure enough, we captured Meghan reaching over from her high chair, stealing a banana from the counter and eating it whole — peel and all. Once again, Cozy had taken the blame for someone else’s mischief.
Even if the main subjects of my photography had changed from canine to human, our lives were on track. Life was pretty normal as a young family in 2001. Colleen was born, and she cried non-stop for the first few months of her life. We attended birthday parties, family weddings, barbecues and all of the other events that fill young family’s lives. Our kids grew, our dogs helped, and life was good right up until September.
September changed everything.
On September 11th, 2001, our perceptions of stability and safety were taken from us. For those of us who lived in or near New York City, the attack on the World Trade Center buildings was very personal. For those of us that lived and worked around Manhattan and the other sites of terror that day, the attacks had a direct impact on our lives. This was not something that we saw on television; this was something that happened to us in our home town.
I grew up on a farm, and I never liked the city as a kid. I would go so far as to say that I was afraid of Manhattan since most of what I knew about New York City as a boy was learned from TV News in the 1970s. The New Jersey town where I grew up was 50 miles from the city, and in the years before cable television, the evening news was broadcast from Manhattan. Nightly reports of murder, rape and corruption had taught me that New York was a dirty, evil place.
Since I had been sent to Manhattan to work, my fear had lessened a great deal, while experience and logic had taught me that while the city could be dangerous, so could anywhere else on Earth. I had learned how to commute to the city and how to get around, and just when I had almost mastered my fear, lower Manhattan was turned into a war zone.
I was working for a company that had many clients in the city, and I could easily have been in those towers on that day. Many of the people I worked with saw the planes hit as they traveled to the city. Many of them took the PATH train into New York from Hoboken every morning. That PATH train terminated under the twin towers and the terminal was destroyed utterly. Many of my friends missed the attack by minutes.
As a consultant, I had many contacts in many companies throughout the area. I knew people who lost their spouses in the towers, and I worked with clients who lost entire departments in the attack. Even for those of us unaffected directly, the psychological and emotional impact was staggering.
I was on the way to the dentist when I heard about the first attack on the radio, having luckily planned a day off beforehand. When I told the people at the dentist’s office about what I’d heard they scrambled to make phone calls because, like everyone in the area, someone in the office had a family member who worked in the towers. Within minutes he had been found and was safe, but many families were not so lucky. Those unlucky families would spend days agonizing over missing loved ones.
It felt like war was here. Here! This was no longer a story on TV; someone had attacked our country. My worst fears had been realized and my mind started to race. Was this the first wave? Were there more attacks coming? Would they attack the shopping malls? Would they poison water supplies? Would they gas the subways? This was not some abstract news story on TV, and it wasn’t just a movie. This was here and it was real. Fifty miles from home, in the town where I worked every day, the attack had begun.
When I got home, Michele, our baby sitter was there with her roommate who didn’t know where else to go. By this time, the first tower had fallen and we all sat in our living room and watched the drama unfold on the television. Everyone in the room had been to the top of the twin towers on the observation deck at some point in their lives. This wasn’t some remote part of the world, this was a short car ride away. This was personal. We all watched in horror as the day progressed.
Meghan and Colleen were both still babies and could not have cared less at the time while Cozy and Daisy were just content to be in the middle of a group of people. Cozy even tried to get us all to play with the Kong, but she had no takers that day.
I’m the kind of person who believes that we should “pray for peace and prepare for war”, and it doesn’t have to be for a zombie invasion, either. A hurricane can easily cause power to go out for weeks. My friends, and certainly Lauren, had always thought I was a borderline survivalist nut, but now we were watching a horrifying terrorist attack on TV occurring less than 50 miles away. Suddenly things like nuclear fallout and prevailing winds mattered to everyone. Within days there would be anthrax sent in the mail and more panic as people wondered what the Hell was going on. In a flash, our perception of safety and security was gone. Everyone was afraid people started asking me about generators, guns, gas masks, and emergency food.
Almost 3000 people died in the attacks that day. Most of them died horrible, agonizing and terrifying deaths. What the rest of America didn’t see on television was the effect that this event had on the people in and around the attack sites. The media covered the families of the dead, and rightly so. The rest of us, though, were changed forever. Some of us slipped into depression. Some of us couldn’t sleep or eat for days afterwards. Some of us were suddenly afraid – of everything. Post traumatic stress was, and continues to be a problem for many thousands of people in and around New York City some fifteen years later. Regardless of how, everyone I knew, myself included, had changed.
The night of September 11th, 2001, after everyone had gone to bed, I kissed Lauren and my children as they slept. I went and sat on the floor with my Cozy, put her head on my lap, then buried my face in her fur and cried. In a world gone mad, Cozy was there for me. Cozy always made it better.