Remembering 9/11

Carolyn was one of those rare gorgeous women who didn’t seem aware of how beautiful she was.   We met when my daughter Alli was in first grade, and became friends with Carolyn’s identical twin daughters.  They were just like their mom–blonde and beautiful, with hearts of gold.

Carolyn was going through a tough time–divorced, raising three children alone, under the constant stress of being  a working mother.  Yet she never lost her cool—even the day she was distracted on the carpool line, and accidentally ran her car right into the wall of the school.  Carolyn took that in stride, like she took everything else, juggling her responsibilities yet still able to laugh about it.

Her top priority and passion was always her kids—but there was pride in her work, too.  I remember once visiting her office, when she excitedly pulled me into an editing room to watch the video she was producing for Van Halen.  Called “Right Now”, it knocked my socks off, and later won the MTV award as Video of the Year.

In some ways Carolyn was a role model, since I found myself a few years later in the same situation as hers–going through a divorce, trying to manage working while being the kind of mom who always puts your children first.  Then Carolyn fell in love, got remarried, and settled into a calmer, happier life.

And soon the same thing happened to me—only my remarriage came with a move out of Los Angeles.  Once we left,  I saw Carolyn only on rare occasions when I came to LA and brought Alli to see the twins.  But the girls remained in touch over the years, and the twins were Alli’s last connection to the life left behind in Los Angeles.

Just before her senior year of high school, Alli was visiting her dad in LA, and spent the night at the twins’.  Carolyn, warm and fun as ever, reminisced with her daughters and mine, about their shared childhoods,  just days before the twins would be leaving for college.

A few days later, Carolyn and her mother flew east to enroll both girls at Rhode Island School of Design.  Carolyn was so close to her daughters that she planned to rent an apartment nearby so she could visit as often as she could.  Once the girls were settled, Carolyn and her mom headed home on an early morning flight out of Boston—- the plane that hit the north tower of the World Trade Center.

I found out about Carolyn on September 12.  Distraught, I tried to imagine what I would say to Alli when she came home from school.  I remembered other times I’d been forced to deliver bad news to her:  Mommy and Daddy are getting divorced; Mommy is getting remarried and we are moving away from your school and home and all your friends–and your Dad;  Mommy has breast cancer.  How could I possibly tell her Carolyn was dead?

With the resilience of youth, Alli took the news better than I did, and seemed to recover faster.  I had not been close to Carolyn for years; but having faced death myself, her death tormented me.  I replayed in my head the horror she might have seen or felt in her last few moments, scenes I could not get out of my mind.  It didn’t seem possible that Carolyn, so alive and vibrant, could disappear, just like that.

It took a long time for me to absorb and comprehend.  What was shocking was not just the horrific nature and suddenness of September 11, but this example of the irony and capriciousness of life.  I had desperately envied normal mothers like Carolyn-–healthy, happy, unscarred, doing the simple things like taking children to college.  Meanwhile I was living in fear that I would die, and not experience those simple things; that my children would be left motherless.  Suddenly, in the blink of an eye and a cruel twist of fate, it was Carolyn’s children who were motherless; and Carolyn who was gone, not me.

Soon after 9/11 I heard about a planned memorial at Ground Zero that would be made of a wall of tiles honoring the victims.  I painted a tile for Carolyn, mostly yellow because to me, she represented everything sunny and light.  The project never got off the ground, but I took the tile home and kept it.  Just to have something that represented Carolyn.  Not that I could ever forget her.


Originally posted September 11, 2008

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  1. says

    I’m sorry for your loss. That day haunts all of us in so many different ways. I Carolyn’s twins are thriving. Thank you for reminding us that life can change in a moment.

  2. Lois Geisler says

    Thank you for writing a beautiful tribute to such an amazing woman. Your writing always pulls me into every story as if I know the person. Thank you!

  3. Richard citron says

    Never realized you lost someone on 9/11. Today we traveled from Napoli to Roma. Every TV newscast began with footage on every TV screen of the towers in flame as Italians, too, paused to reflect again on what happened that awful morning, writing of where they were when terrorists hurt New York. Our friends
    and family posted their personal thoughts and feelings at the time on sites like Facebook here in Europe further proof that this was instantly an international tragedy then and remains so to this day.

  4. says

    Thanks so much Shelley; I don’t post this every 9/11 although I’m tempted to do it. I think it’s so important to preserve the memories of people we loved and a blog is a great way to be able to do that.

  5. says

    I think that’s the part that sticks with me most—how life seems normal and then everything can change in the blink of an eye—it happens every day to individuals, and 9/11 changed everything for the whole world.
    Thanks so much, Susan.

  6. says

    I think that’s the first day my kids will remember where they were when they learned— the way our generation felt the day JFK died. Tragic as they are, those are days that really pull the whole country together in grief. Thanks, Melissa.

  7. says

    It’s really illuminating and interesting to learn that even in Europe this day is remembered and memorialized that way. Of course by now maybe you’ve heard that during the moment of silence this morning observed by the President and other TV networks, the Today Show continued without the moment of silence instead running an interview with Kris Jenner. Hard to believe, right? Thanks for checking in from Italy!

  8. Richard citron says

    Hadn’t heard that. Sad … but not surprising. Too many Americans know less and care less about what’s happening in their own country than many … most … foreigners do. Press coverage of what’!s happening over there is more serious … can I say more adult, more responsible … than our own coverage. Just today, 12 September, RAI ran a detailed three hour documentary on the days events duriing 9/11/2001 more detailed and with sources that I never saw on American TV.

  9. Mary Carde says

    Dear Darryle, I just read the above post and am so happy that you wrote about Carolyn. I, too, remember her and the twins from our days at Westland. I also remember that infamous day when her car rolled thru the wall of Harriet’s office. Several times, David had the twins over and Carolyn and I sat at the kitchen table, watching our kids romp around the back yard. Indeed, she was so full of life, so vibrant that I was utterly stunned that she was on one of those 9/11 planes – could not process that she was dead. I think of her from time-to-time, but particularly on 9/11. I think she’d be utterly astonished that she made such an impact on us that she is forever in our warmest thoughts and memories.

  10. says

    Fate is cruel. Or kind. We just never know, do we? One minute our life goes this way, and the next minute something completely unexpected and unplanned happens that twists it all into a pretzel.

    I am sorry for the loss of your friend. Thank you for telling us about her. I can’t imagine what 9/11 must be like for her children, year after year. What a horrible day that was and still is for me, and I didn’t lose anyone. I don’t think I’ve ever felt really right since it happened. It is like the earth turned on its axis and nothing has been the same since.

  11. says

    What a beautiful tribute. I have a knot in my stomach just thinking about how tragic this story is. So many bright and shining stars were lost that day. The world will never be the same.

  12. says

    Mary, how great to read this and how thoughtful to share your memories of Carolyn. I think knowing her made it even harder to process the entire 9/11 tragedy. Who could have ever imagined such a thing? Thanks so much, wonderful to hear from you.

  13. says

    Your last sentence—so true! Perfectly expresses it. It’s unimaginable to even begin to imagine a family–all of those families–losing loved ones this way. Thanks so much, Chloe.

  14. says

    Thanks, Mindy–I feel that way when I read any of the stories about people who died that day—I consumed every story I could find at the time—and each family has such a hole that will never be filled. So tragic.

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