World Trade Center, view from New Jersey
Twenty years has passed in the blink of an eye since the events of September 11, 2001, and yet we also have all of the extraordinary moments that we have lived through year in and year out since then.
I have raised a child, completed my BA and MA, published a book, started and retired from a 15 year successful career with the City of New York, nine plus years of which were spent with the special people of the NYC Fire Department in the post-9/11 culture of camaraderie and pain that is unique to the FDNY.
In that latter realm, I have had the honor of christening the fireboat Three Forty Three, a 120 foot vessel that graces New York Harbor having been named to honor the men and women of the Department who lost their lives in the horrific events of 9/11.
Each of us who survived the events of that day has our own stories of what has happened to us over these past twenty years.
We also never forget where we were and what we were doing on that beautiful Tuesday morning.
Yet we move forward, feeling the holes in the sky as deep scars on our collective psyche, and for many of us when looking at the reconfigured landscape of towering buildings, no longer seeing it as a symbol of home.
For New Yorkers, in my case a multi-generational denizen of the City, 9/11 carries special resonance and pain. Most of us knew someone who perished or in playing the six degrees of separation game someone who knew someone and so one. For some of us the loss remains unbearable and still we persevere.
I remember Peter “Pete” Mardikian.
He was 29.
He had been married for just six weeks–a wedding I’d been invited to but couldn’t attend in his wife, Corine’s hometown in Ohio.
Pete worked for me for a while at Imagine Software before a promotion that saw him working for one of the partners, Scott Sherman. We’d spent a great time in London together, all of us ensuring our software product didn’t crash and burn at the turn of the New Year on January 1, 1999.
Le Meridien Hotel Bar, Piccadilly, London
Along with others of our colleagues, Stephen Klein, Karen Rose, and Mark Lipsits among them, we’d meet up at the end of our long work days and sit up talking about the meaning of life until well past midnight at the bar of the Le Meridien Hotel off Piccadilly Square. As this was long before the days of smart phones and Instagram feeds, there are no photos to smile at documenting our moments together nor memes captured from Scott’s brilliant stories that had us reeling with laughter nor our wonderment at Stephen’s instance that we enter “drift time.”
So those remembrances have to live inside. In our collective hearts. In how we laugh about that time at the bar on the infrequent moments we meet up or pound out notes on Facebook.
But it’s without Pete.
Without his special brand of magic and sweetness. Without him as a 49 year old, perhaps a father a couple of times over, regaling us with the firsts of those kinds of experiences: first birthday, first day of kindergarten, first white belt ceremony … and so on.
At the 9:05 am moment in the 9/11 Timeline records, it is noted that Peter Mardikian called his wife on one of the few working phones. He was on the 106th Floor of the North Tower attending the Risk Waters Group Conference at Windows on the World. One other of our colleagues, Andrew Fisher, 42, also perished, and a third colleague in attendance left mere moments before the first plane hit the towers to go back to the office to pick up something.
Pete’s funeral at the St. Vartan Cathedral an Armenian Church on 34th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan created levels of pain I did not think were possible.
All of us, his family, his colleagues, his friends were crushed beyond measure. We saw in Cori a figure of strength and fortitude we did not think possible and in our own grief looked to her to model how to endure his loss.
I spent most of my time with Scott. Both of us were 47 years of age. We were bereft at the notion that someone with so much left of his life could be lost. We felt like helpless parents with inconsolable grief at the notion that our bright, brilliant boy with a limitless future had perished so horribly.
He was our Petey. Our pal. And in those moments of pain we had to reconcile what life meant. How we could go forward. How we could separate our anger and the sense that life was not worth living in the presence of such horror. How to navigate those moments to get to the pivotal point where we were choosing to live. To experience grief as it is and then go on to live life as best we could.
Any loss is grievous. The loss of 2,977 in one day was incalculable for New Yorkers and incalculable still as we viscerally reconsider how it unfolded and the many permutations that have affected our world in the aftermath of 9/11. Those memories form indelible pictures that hit the senses in waves that strip us bare again. Causing that gulping feeling of a gut punch one never fully recovers from.
All we can do is continue to live our best lives if not for ourselves then for the those we lost.
May the memory of those who perished be for a blessing.