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Lives, careers and dreams transformed by 9/11

In 2006, we asked readers tell how their lives were changed by Sept. 11 and its aftermath. Here, in their own words, are some of their stories.

Name: Kristi Roe
Age: 33
Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.

It's hard to say exactly why I feel my life changed on 9/11. The change isn't obvious, I can't describe it in any concrete terms except to say the tinted glasses I once used to view the world were abruptly taken off, and now my view is unedited and clear.

I guess it's because the World Trade Center buildings and people who worked there were a part of my personal experience in New York, an experience that has forever changed me.

I moved to NYC in 1998 to attend graduate school at NYU. The city frightened me. I grew up in North Dakota and even though I was known for being fearless all that fell to the wayside when I arrived in New York. I didn't know anyone and was rebuilding my life after going through some tough times.

I began some temporary work for a company on the 101st floor of World Trade Center, Tower 2, called Aon Risk Services. I was shy at first but the warmth of the people who worked there was apparent and I began to realize that they were just like the people back home, except they moved a heck of a lot faster.

At first, my experience with New York was limited to that building. I would go from point A, my apartment in Brooklyn, to point B, the World Trade Center, and back again. It was all I was comfortable with. Sometimes I would have to work late and the sun would be setting over the city.

Those quiet moments I would peer the out the windows from high above the city, and would begin to think how beautiful it was. A pink transparency cast over everything, which made the city seem softer and more appealing to me. I would put my hands to the glass like a kid in a candy store and wonder what it would be like to "play in that candy shop." I was only 27 and knew that I was meant to be there and that exploring the city was something that would change me. So ultimately I started to venture out and long story short, I grew to love that city.

I graduated from NYU and during my time in New York enthusiastically and thoughtfully explored all it had to offer. Even though I no longer live there I think of it as an old romance. It all started with those windows on the 101st floor of WTC.

I graduated from NYU in the Spring of 2001, and looked for employment throughout the summer. I finally found a position at Jersey City Medical Center as a Senior Primary Therapist for the Adolescent Partial Care Program. My first day of work was to be 9/11.

I went to NYU that morning to get my final paycheck from some work I was doing and was on my way to WTC to take the path train to get to Jersey City. I was walking towards the subway when the first plane hit. I didn't know what was happening. At first I actually thought they must be filming a movie. Then it all became real and somehow I got on the subway to get me back to Brooklyn before they shut the city down. I lived in a part of Brooklyn that was close to the tip of Manhattan, so I watched the events unfold in front of my eyes from my roof top.

While I was on the roof, papers were blowing everywhere from the towers. Most were dropping to the ground before they came near me, but one made it's way and fell on the black tar roof I sat on. That piece of paper was a time sheet from one of the employees at Aon Risk Services, the company I had worked at. I didn't know that person, but it's in that moment that I realized what was happening. I instantly began thinking of my four dear friends who worked there and had supported me so much during my years in NYC. I fell to my knees as the realization of what was happening began to sink in.

Obviously, I could not get to work that day. But I was determined to get to work on September 12th. If there was one thing that New York had given me was strength, and I, like many other New Yorkers, set out on Sept. 12th to get to work. I was particularly intent on getting there because I was in behavioral health, and Jersey City Medical Center was one of the main trauma centers where victims and there families were being sent. So I felt I would be needed, everyone was needed. I left 4 hours early and somehow got there on time.

I walked through lower Manhattan, which looked like a war torn city in some far away country. Everything was gray, dark, there was shock, sadness, and pain everywhere. The pink city I'd fallen in love with had changed its' colors in an instant.

How do you ever go back to what was in the face of such pain? After 9/11 I had the opportunity to work with children and families who lost loved ones that day, it's all just too much to comprehend. The effects of that day are far reaching, from subtle nuances to huge life shifts. My four friends survived, but were also, forever changed. I've seen the shift in my friends, the shift in the children I worked with, and the shift within myself. And although the shift or change presents itself differently in everyone…it is there.

For me, it is becoming an adult. The building that once "protected" me is gone, as is the scared girl who moved to New York. 9/11 made me realize I can get through almost anything. I saw first hand how people who worked there survived, how children who lost fathers survived...I guess I now live my life knowing that everything is surmountable and very little is to be feared.

People's lives were torn apart, but they went on to live, to laugh, and to love. If they can find hope we all can. I had the honor and privilege to experience that strength first hand, and that will forever be with me.


Name: Fred Mirbach
Age: 56
Hometown: Birmingham, Mich.

My stomach leapt to my throat when, from Wall and Broadway, I watched the first tower collapse. I knew the debris wave contained the soul and spirit of all those who perished not to mention toxins which were headed my way.

I escaped to a building south, waited and then listened to the second tower's demise. Floor after floor, pounding on top of each other, the freight train from hell.

Five years later I'm still jarred by sudden, loud noises and low flying airplanes. While my children are young adults (22 and 20) I need to hear from them almost daily and when I leave a message for either of them and it isn't answered within a reasonable time, I over react and begin to think the worst. I've explained this to each of them and their response time is improving.

Since that day, my American flag pin adorns my lapel each and every day. It's my silent tribute to all those who perished and to the families who live on. It also is my way of making sure no one forgets.


Name: Melanie Norris
Age: 42
Hometown: Arlington, Texas

Like everyone else, I remember that day well. I was getting off the train across from my job at 100 Williams Street and everyone one was looking up from the street. I turned my head and saw my sister's building on fire - 1 WTC. She works for the Port Authority of NY/NJ.

I ran across the street, took the elevator to my office, ran to my desk and started dialing... Luckily, it took me only 10 minutes to find her.

When the 2nd plane hit, my building shook and my world (as everyone else's) changed forever - terrorism was now a daily part of our lives.

That day my co-workers and I watched fellow New Yorkers jump to their death then be burned alive. And, like thousands of others, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge covered in dust and in shock as the North Tower collapsed.

Being a native New Yorker - you tend to be suspicious most of the time - but after 9/11 life was never the same. The constant bomb scares downtown and on subways brought fear to the table everyday.

Shortly after 9/11, I took a vacation to Fort Worth, TX to celebrate my birthday with some friends. I met my husband and was married in August of 2002. We now live in Arlington, TX. I learned how to drive at age 38!

I must admit I miss New York, my family and friends... the fast pace,

Century 21 off Fulton St. and a decent French Bistro. But one thing I don't miss is the fear of riding the subway and never getting off alive.


Name: Jessica Inman
Age: 21
Hometown: Old Fort, N.C.

I will never forget the day of September 11th.

When the attacks occurred I was a 16-year-old teenager who thought the only problems in the world were with me. On September 10th, 2001, I was placed in a psychiatric hospital for suicidal thoughts. On the morning of September 11th, I remember waking up in the horrible place and hearing someone else who was there say "I can’t believe it, the World Trade Center was just hit by a plane."

And honestly at that point I still didn’t realize what the extremity was to it. It wasn't until I was going to be released from the hospital that it hit me when my father said, "Why are you being so selfish? Joanne (his girlfriend) is sitting at home terrified that her nephew was in that building and she can’t get through to him, your problems aren’t the only ones in the world."

At that moment I knew he was right, and that my problems weren’t as important as some other people’s problems. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of families had no clue if their loved ones were alive - all they could do is wait to see if their loved ones would come home.

I always think of that day. I’ve learned to be less selfish and most of all to have compassion for others. The event made me change my whole way of thinking and helped me be the person I am today, and although the tragedy was horrific I think everyone who was alive at the time has learned a lesson and will never forget where they were, how they felt and how it affects them to this day.


: Kevin Holroyd
Age: 49
Hometown: Aurora, Colo.

Yes, my life was greatly affected by 9/11. As I watched the Twin Towers on TV, I was gripped with frustration over not being able to do anything. I used to work in the Defense industry and contributed to the security of the U.S. I felt the urge to want to do something again.

I knew that at 44, I was too old to go into the military, and I did not wish to move back to Washington, D.C. again. However, I am still in good physical condition. If something like this ever happened in my area, I would rather be one of the ones responding, than one of the ones waiting for help. I decided to become a Police Officer.

I went back to school and passed the Peace Officers Standards Training to become certificated as a Peace Officer. I now work for a municipality as a Reserve Police Officer, and hope someday to maybe work as a part-time or full-time Level I Peace Officer. I enjoy the aspect of helping people that this provides me the opportunity to do.

When people call the Police, they really need help. When they are broken down by the side of the road, they need help. Serving gives me the opportunity to be the one who helps.


Name: Steven Monaco
Age: 45
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

In the months prior to September 11th I had been commuting from Grand Central Station in NYC to a technology sales job in White Plains, NY. As I made my daily commute I would read the news with a feeling of guilt. I would casually flip through the pages past the suffering of others around the world. It didn't really touch me.

One morning I noticed that I was more concerned with the Yankees vs. Boston than Israel vs. Palestine. I felt in that moment that there was something wrong with my emotional disconnect from the problems of others around the world. I had no way of knowing at the time that very soon, their problems would be ours.

I awoke on that Tuesday and looked up at the sky and thought, "today is going to be a beautiful day.” I made my commute as usual and arrived in White Plains to the news of the attack. I was unable to get back into the city and stayed with friends in Stamford, Conn.

As we sat only 30 minutes away from ground zero in the quiet suburbs under a beautiful sky, I realized that the suffering of others around the world had finally found its way into our lives. I knew in that moment that our world would never be the same. My own world was shaken to its core.

I was laid off as a result of the attacks effect on our economy. From my home in Brooklyn I watched the ashes of the World Trade Center float across the sky. As the ruins smoldered long into that cold dark winter, I took stock of my life, and counted my blessings for having not been in those towers visiting clients that day. I mourned for the 3,000 who were there that day and for their families who would never again see their loved ones. The children without mothers and fathers. The parents who lost children. People who lost friends.

I was lucky. I only lost a job. Everything else, except for my heart, was still intact. After months of reflection and prayer I vowed to make a difference.

It has been five years since I can no longer read about the suffering of others without remembering that day. Their problems are very much our own. Their lives are our lives. Their tears are our own. When their children die I now cry as if they were my own. September 11th had a profound effect on my world view. My feelings of being disconnected from the world have been replaced with a sense of personal responsibility for humanity. I made a personal vow in the months that followed September 11th to change the way I live my life here so that someday there would be peace everywhere.

Many others made the same vow to make a difference. Some signed up to fight our enemy. Others took to dismantling the Constitution of the U.S. in the name of National Security. I decided to take a more measured approach to solving the problem for the long term. I became a teacher.

I have since left my sales job to take on the far more meaningful work of teaching elementary school in NYC. Now I read the newspaper with my students instead of reading it alone on the train. Finally, I feel connected. I am teaching them to feel connected as well. To care not only for themselves and their own families and community, but for all others as well. Hopefully some of them will grow up to make a difference because they were taught by me that when those people suffer over there we suffer with them. Knowing that, we are moved to make a difference here. It may seem a very small difference. But these small differences add up.

I believe that we will soon see the collective benefit of others like myself who chose to make a positive difference in the wake of September 11th. Hopefully they will outweigh the negative actions still taken by the few who have been in power for far too long.

The complex problems we face will not be solved by the same old thinking. We have to change the way we think in order to resolve our conflicts. If we are to thwart future attacks on our nation, we must shift our paradigm from the one that brought us to war to a new way of thinking and living that leads us to peace.

For me, this means to teach peace. The truly brave must lay down their arms and stand up for peace, speak peace, and teach peace. I urge others who have considered joining the military as a response to September 11th to reconsider. The same old thinking leads to the same old failures. To achieve peace we must change the way we think. Think peace and teach.


Name: Barb Nehrling
Age: 39
Hometown: Madison, Wis.

My life has changed dramatically since 9/11, but probably in a different way than most. I had been miserable in my Corporate America job, and as I spent the day of 9/11 watching TV monitors and looking out the windows of my tall office building (looking for planes), I realized I had to make a change right then and there. Those people in the towers didn't have a choice, but I did.

I gave my notice the next morning, and I now spend my life treasure-hunting (selling collectibles online) and working at the local library. I don't make as much money, but I pay all the bills and I am so much happier. I can't see myself doing anything else, and I think of myself as retired at the age of 39.

I will always look back on September 11, 2001 as a horrific day for this country, but also as one of transformation for me. The anger and sadness I felt that day allowed me to let go of my fears of leaving the security of Corporate America.


Name:  Marian Berrios
Age: 46
Hometown: Springfield, Va. 

It is impossible for September 11th not to have changed your life. I was working near the Pentagon when the attacks took place. Several of us were evacuated from our buildings with heavy smoke and debris falling down on us and not knowing what could possibly happen next.

Not being able to reach my family was incredible frightening. I lost several friends during that attack as well as neighbors. I performed a eulogy for a friend and have never forgotten the sadness in the children left behind to deal with the loss of a parent.

One particular little girl forever changed me. Her mother was killed, she was just starting kindergarten. The look in that little girl’s eyes was as if a ghost was looking back.

I promised not to have that same look in my children's eyes if at all possible. I left my six-figure job and decided that it was time to be with my children; my own daughter about to start kindergarten.

I do miss the excitement of a full time position surrounded by adults but I no longer miss my children. For me that day and the events that followed put perspective on the important things in my life.

The aspect of "one day" became now. I traded in my high heels for sneakers. Along the way I opened my own small business and have found the balance that was lacking in my life prior to that dreadful day.

There is only one place that I am truly indispensable; in the eyes of my own children. My greatest sorrow is that the perpetrator of those attacks has never been caught. I find that to be the hardest part to overcome.


Name: Jane Sheldon
Age: 59
Hometown: Hinesburg, Vermont

I was living in Manhattan and working in Midtown on 9/11. When the first plane hit I called my aging and ailing mother in Massachusetts to assure her I was safe and nowhere near the "accident." When the second one hit, and it was obvious that we were under attack, I couldn't get through to her again because both land and cell connections were jammed.

Whenever there'd been an emergency with Mom, I'd been able to rush back home to care for her, but now the island was sealed off. No one was being allowed out. Trains weren't running, bridges and tunnels were closed and I had no way of knowing if Mom was okay, until the next day when I could reach her by phone again. She had been frantic.

I realized how far I really was from her and how much she needed me. As a result I left my job early in 2002 to move back to Massachusetts so I could care for her.

I was amazed at how easy a decision it was given that I'd been in NYC for 33 years, but it was the best gift I have ever given myself. As her health failed and I was able to be with her in her last years, I wondered if I'd have been able to make that decision had it not been for that day.

I wish everyone could have a wake-up call on their life's priorities, but pray we never have to have such a day again to provide the impetus.


Name: Lauren Carroll
Age: 38
Hometown: Massapequa, N.Y.

My life was very much transformed by 9/11. Not in the classic sense of losing someone close to me but in the sense of finding my personal strength and courage to make a monumental change in my life.

On 9/11 I was working at a high-tech startup on Broad Street, about 1/2 mile from the towers. I can safely say that it was the most confusing and frightening day of my life.

When the first tower came down - with no information - I really thought that is some kind of nuclear explosion or something that would kill me and keep me from seeing my 6-month-old daughter Samantha (at the time) and family again. And for what?

I had worked in high tech for about 8 years - not because I found it fulfilling and meaningful but because the money was good and I was on an upward trajectory in terms of career accomplishments. This latest job at a startup in New York was just a link in the chain that brought me home after living and working in Silicon Valley in California. (I

grew up on Long Island.) I was working at this new company for less than a month when 9/11 happened.

As a result of 9/11, the startup where I worked went on a downward spiral and I went on a personal journey to figure out what I could do that would be meaningful, interesting and fun and would allow me to spend more time with my daughter and now a two year old son, David, too.

I had always wanted to start my own business and work on something that was fashion-oriented and beautiful. A few months later I had an "A HA!" moment and began to research and pull together an idea for a women's shoe company that is environmentally friendly, animal-free and sweatshop-free. I partnered with a friend in California and in Fall 2006 the premier collection will be hitting stores.

Bottom-line, 9/11 was overwhelmingly frightening and made me feel less safe in everything I do, from personal safety to job security. But in a way, being that scared and getting through it made me realize that the fear can be managed. I can manage it through this new venture because of an inner strength that I now know I can count on in crisis.


Name: Ann Mongeon
Age: 38
Hometown: Ballston Spa, N.Y.

Even to this day I can't watch too much of the 9/11 coverage. Forget about the movie that just came out, I'd be blubbering by the opening credits.

No, I didn't personally know anyone that perished on that picture perfect September day. But I do know many who knew someone who were lost and I shared in their grief.

Just as beautiful flowers can grow after a forest has been decimated by a forest fire - rebirth and joy can come from tragic events such as 9/11 - I am proof.

Ever since my senior year of college I knew I blew it - I really wanted to go for education and instead I screwed up and went for business. After graduation it was marriage, babies, homes, and stuff. That left zero time and zero money for my dream of teaching.

Then 9/11 happened and as I sat there staring at my computer screen at work, tears streaming down my face, I wondered how many of the people in the towers that morning were living the same life I was - wanting something different but thinking that there was always time, another day, another year. That's when I knew that was it - I couldn't and wouldn't wait.

I went home and told my husband my crazy idea to quit my job, go back to school and pursue my dream. And when my husband told me he would support me in any way that he could, I knew it was meant to be, had to be.

I started on my long journey almost a year to that fateful day. My advice to you is to follow your dreams, don't wait, don't put it off another day. This fall I will be greeting my fourth grade students. Achieving my dream has changed my life in the most amazing way and I credit the tragic events on 9/11. I am inspired and humbled by each and every person who was lost on that day and I am a better person for it all.


Name: Kristin Kretschmer
Age: 36
Hometown: Scituate, Mass.

Although our lives were not transformed in a tragic way as so many Americans were that day. Our path, our trajectory, was changed. All plans, dreams, goals were altered on that morning.

My husband is an American Eagle Airline pilot. In 2001 he was a captain on one of Eagles commuter planes. I was a graphic designer working in Boston. I was home on maternity leave after the birth of our second daughter and was planning to reduce my hours to be with our girls.

My husband did not make a large salary - about $42,000. It was enough though with me working part time. The week of 9/11 our house was on the market and we were looking to relocate to the south shore. The morning of the attack we were all in the car driving to the south shore to look at houses.

The weeks and months that followed the attack were particularly tumultuous for us. We did sell our house but took considerable less than we had originally hoped for, we were afraid the market would crash. We found a house near where we wanted to live. However the time that followed was tough.

My husband's career suffered badly and perhaps permanently after 9/11. He lost his captain's seat after the massive furlough of the parent company American. All the furloughed American pilots could now take American Eagle seats while the American Eagle guys lost seats or were let go. He still had a job but had lost his position as captain and half his salary! As a result of his salary being cut in half I had to return to work full-time.

Now, five years later, there is no hope of an upgrade to captain and the pay increase is minimal. It used to be that you could expect to be flying the big jets within five years and have a reasonable salary for such a highly trained and time intensive position. My husband is still flying and thankful to have a job, although his ultimate dream of flying the big planes will probably never be realized. I continue work full-time and am also thankful to have a job. It just wasn't our plan.


Name: Paul Hoffman
Age: 42
Hometown: Battery Park City, New York

I reside 500 feet from ground zero. On that morning, I was voting in the primary election when the first plane hit the north tower.

When I realized what occurred, I ran over to the south tower entrance and into the shopping mall to warn people that a plane has just hit the towers and to evacuate immediately.

As I was leaving the south tower, the second plane struck directly above my head. I was frozen and unable to leave the scene because I knew that people were trapped and that something had to be done to help. I didn't know that the south tower had fallen because I was standing about 50 feet away from it when it fell.

I was on the West Side highway trying to think of ways to save the trapped occupants. The Marriott hotel, which was directly in front of the south tower, did not fall with the south tower and it shielded me from the rubble. It went down with the north tower. Nor was I even aware that the north tower fell a short while later because there remained dark columns of smoke. I thought that there was some kind of damage but I didn't know until hours later that both towers had fallen.

After I was able to clear my throat of the powered cement that was asphyxiating me, I started searching for victims. I could not see anybody else alive in the vicinity because it was as if I were in the middle of a very strong blizzard.

The suffering I did see was horrific and life changing. Although the sounds of the planes hitting the buildings and the explosions were indescribable and unlike any movie sound effects ever, the only sounds I heard after it was over were chirping sounds I later learned to be the beacons worn by the firefighters. The firefighters were the only real heroes.

Virtually everybody else ran from the scene. For a while, it seemed as though I was there alone. As time passed, hundreds of firefighters arrived and were working without concern for their own lives. In fact, there was a widespread belief at the scene that the planes were packed with explosives and chemical weapons and the firefighters were certain that they would not be alive the next day. It didn't stop them from doing their jobs.

The effect that 9/11 had on my life was that I lived in that day for nearly a year and was unable to get past it. I spent the entire following year trying to rebuild my life and my home. It was as though I was unable to get past it, even though I had stopped thinking about it constantly. I unwittingly became trapped in that pattern and was unable to move forward in my own life as a result. I have only realized this recently, and have discussed it with some of my neighbors who have experienced a similar problem. Moving forward is now my primary concern.


Name: Ursula Clay
Age: 38
Hometown: Morristown, N.J.

On the morning of 9/11, I literally ran from the smoke-filled PATH station under the World Trade Center, to a ferry boat at South Street Seaport, which took me back home to New Jersey, to my husband and 2 year old son.

Along the way, I saw the most horrifying sight I have ever seen: people jumping from the highest floors of the towers. It is something I will never forget as long as I live. I worked on the 59th floor of the South Tower at the time of the terrorist attacks, and 8 years earlier, I had worked on the 105th floor of Cantor Fitzgerald during the first terrorist attack in 1993.

Most working mothers question at some time or another whether they should work. As I ran away from my building that day, and in the days after the attacks, all I could think of was "Thank God" I was able to make it out of those buildings and not be trapped inside pleading with God for another chance so that I could be home and spend more time with my children. On 9/11, I was 4 months pregnant, and had no plans to quit my job.

After surviving two terrorist attacks, I felt like the most grateful person in the world. It changed my life. It took me 3 1/2 years, but in early 2004, I felt financially secure enough to leave my fulltime job in the city. There wasn't a day after 9/11 when I wasn't anxious commuting into New York.

I grew up and lived in New York for many years, and it hurt me to fear the city that I loved so much. Despite liking my job, and having worked very hard to get to where I was in my career, I knew leaving was the right decision for me and my family.

Now I work part-time from home, and I truly, truly savor the hundreds of great moments I have with my kids. I always watch news footage and read stories about 9/11, painful as it always is, so that I don't fall back into one of the most human of traps: forgetting what truly matters and getting caught up in the everyday frenzy that takes over our lives.

Everyday of my life I thank God that I am alive, and that I lived so I could bring my beautiful daughter into this world.


Name: Bryan Taylor
Age: 31
Hometown: North Little Rock, Ark.

September 11th did not affect my family directly. We live in Little Rock, Arkansas. But at the time my wife was an operations manager at a finance company working 80 hours a week, and making great money. We talked over the phone all day that day. Then tried to explain what happened to our 7 year old.

He is my step-son, and his father was sent to Iraq soon after. Each night we went to sleep listening to Peter Jennings on ABC who was a calming presence, hoping nothing else would happen. Within a few months my wife quit her job, and started volunteering at my son's elementary school ever since.

It helped us look at our priorities in life, and how quickly everything can change. It also helped my wife to become interested in politics and world affairs, something she had never had any interest in, but I always had.

Although we strongly disagree with the direction the country is going under the current leadership, I can look at the few weeks after 9/11 and know we can all come together when needed, and hope it can happen again when there is not a tragedy involved.