A DAY WE'LL
The ringing of an alarm clock dragged me
reluctantly from a deep sleep at 5:45 A.M. on Tuesday,
September 11. My husband, Todd, rolled over and silenced
the annoying noise. I roused slightly, peeking out from
under the covers only long enough to notice it was still dark
outside. Although I wasn't ready to get up yet, I knew the
bright morning sunshine would soon be streaming through
the bay window in our bedroom. Pulling the covers up over
my head, I attempted to go back to sleep.
We had just returned from Rome, Italy, late afternoon the
previous day, so between the jet lag and the strain of being
five months pregnant, a few extra minutes of sleep seemed
like a good idea. I anticipated a full day ahead of me. Besides
keeping up with our two energetic boys-David, our three-and-a-half-year-old,
and Drew, who was 19 months-I had
numerous tasks to accomplish. The laundry had stacked up.
I needed to stop by the bank and then go to the grocery store
to replenish the refrigerator we had cleaned out before going
away. After that I had several more errands to run. David
would be starting preschool tomorrow, so I wanted to talk
with him about the transition in our lives that "school"
would bring. My to-do list grew longer even in my sleep as
I remembered all the things I had to take care of after being
away from home for a week. Vacation was over; life was
back to normal. I sighed inwardly. A Day We'll Never Forget
Todd eased out of bed, trying his best not to disturb me
as he headed toward the shower. As one of the top young
sales representatives of the software giant Oracle Corporation,
Todd traveled a lot for business as well as for pleasure.
His job often required whirlwind trips, so to him, this early-morning
flight was just another day at the office-a one-day
jaunt to San Francisco to meet with some high-profile clients.
He'd catch the red-eye flight home that same night.
"I can do it. It's no big deal," he'd said when he informed
me of his plans to travel so soon after our return from
Europe. "I'll be back before you know it."
Somewhere between being asleep and awake that Tuesday
morning, I heard the shower running. A short time
later I vaguely sensed Todd leaning over me and kissing me
good-bye, as he always did before leaving for the day.
Sometimes I'd have the covers pulled up so high he'd have
to kiss the top of my head. That's what he must have done
that morning, because we didn't communicate verbally-or
if we did, I don't remember it.
I heard Todd's footsteps going down the hardwood
back steps and smiled to myself as I imagined him trying to
walk quietly. When we'd built our new home little more
than a year earlier, I hadn't wanted to carpet the steps
because I didn't want to vacuum them! But the price I paid
for that decision was hearing the clomping of footsteps any
time Todd left for one of his predawn trips.
I snuggled a little farther down, burying myself beneath
the blankets. The sun would be up soon, and the boys
would rise shortly after that. Better get some last-minute sleep
while I can.
By 6:45 the sun was indeed shining brightly through
our bedroom window, so I hopped out of bed. It was a
gorgeous blue-sky morning-not a cloud to be seen and
unseasonably warm for September in New Jersey. What a
beautiful day! I thought. Maybe the boys and I will have some
time to play outside later.
A habitual list maker, I started going over my grocery
list, adding needed items and trying to get organized before
the boys got up. I had just begun folding some laundry
when I heard the patter of a little boy's bare feet coming
down the front staircase.
"Good morning, David!" I hugged him in his pajamas.
Drew waddled behind David in the telltale manner every
mother of toddlers knows all too well. "Come on, Drew. Let's
get that diaper changed before we have breakfast."
It was a full-tilt morning, per usual life for a family with
The boys sat up at our breakfast bar, and I got them
some Froot Loops and Cheerios to eat. Later, after they'd
eaten and dressed, they watched Sesame Street while I went
upstairs for a quick shower.
A few minutes after nine o'clock, as I was getting ready
to go to the grocery store, the phone rang. I ignored it since
I was about to walk out the door. But our answering
machine picked up the call, and I heard the familiar voice
of my friend Elaine Mumau. She sounded stressed.
"Hi, Lisa. I know Todd is traveling today . and I was
just calling to check on him Do you have your television
turned on? . Have you seen what's happening?"
I grabbed the phone. "Elaine, what are you talking about?"
"Isn't Todd flying today?"
"Yes, he is. Why?"
"Do you know his flight number?"
"No, I don't. Why, Elaine? What's going on?"
"Turn the TV on," Elaine instructed. "There's been a
plane crash at the World Trade Center."
I turned on the television and saw the Twin Towers
enveloped in a huge plume of smoke. A second plane had
just smashed into one of the towers, tearing a gaping hole in
the building and setting it ablaze. Commentators described
the scene in shocked, pensive tones. I stood in front of our
television, mesmerized by the horrific sight. Before long the
newscasters reported that two planes-an American Airlines
flight and a United Airlines flight-were missing and might
have been the ones that hit the towers. The broadcasters
speculated about possible terrorist involvement in the
I had no idea what flight Todd was on; I didn't even
know what airline he was flying that morning. He traveled
so much that I'd long ago given up pressing him for travel
itineraries. Most Oracle sales reps booked their travel
on-line, so I didn't even have a travel agent to call for information.
But I knew Todd was going to San Francisco. And
since he often flew Continental Airlines on that route, I
breathed a slight sigh of relief.
Nevertheless, as I stared in disbelief at the events unfolding
live on television, my heart began pounding faster. Oh,
those poor people! I thought. How can this be happening?!
Although unsure of Todd's whereabouts, I really wasn't
too worried about his safety. My husband was a seasoned
traveler, and over the years he'd learned how to deal with
almost any situation frequent air travelers encounter-delayed
flights, missed flights, canceled flights, mechanical
problems, airline strikes-you name it, he'd had to work
around it. By now we'd been married for more than seven
years. Earlier in our marriage I'd sometimes been overly
agitated when Todd was late coming home, or when I
learned of an airline incident or a bad accident on the highway
in an area where Todd was traveling. My mind had
immediately conjured up all sorts of awful images. But Todd
had always come out fine, and after a while I stopped worrying
about him so much. Neither of us had any fear of flying;
in fact, we often joked that the most dangerous part of our
travel was the trek on the New Jersey Turnpike between our
home in Cranbury, near Princeton, and the Newark airport.
Besides, Todd was a gadget nut who carried two cellular
phones with him constantly-one in the car and one on
his person. I nearly had to wrestle those phones out of his
hands every time we went on vacation. If Todd was
delayed or in any trouble, he'd call.
Still, I was uneasy. I dialed the phone number for
Continental Airlines, and, amazingly, got through to
a customer service representative right away. I was among
the lucky ones. Many calls were being disconnected that
day-partially due to the overloaded systems with so many
people making calls, but also because so much of the
communications system for the tristate area had been
located atop the World Trade Center towers. Cellular calls
fared little better than landlines for the same reasons.
The Continental representative refused to tell me
whether Todd was aboard one of their planes, but he did
say that their 7:00 A.M. flight had departed Newark with no
problems. The second flight hadn't yet left the terminal
because the Federal Aviation Administration had grounded
all flights until further notice.
I knew that if Todd's flight hadn't taken off, he would
have called me, so I assumed he was safely aboard the
earlier flight. Okay, there's no need to worry, I assured myself
as I hung up the phone. Todd's probably halfway across the
country by now.
A few minutes later it occurred to me that Todd hadn't
left the house until around 6:15. Even on a good traffic day,
Newark International Airport is a 30-minute drive from our
Home-not counting delays due to the perpetual construction
at the aging airport. That certainly didn't allow Todd
much time if he had booked the early Continental flight.
My stomach churned as I recalled that Todd sometimes
flew United Airlines to San Francisco. I'd better call them, just
to check, I assured myself.
Completing a phone call was becoming ever more difficult.
I paced back and forth while waiting through busy
signals and negotiating the phone-tree maze, hoping to
reach a human being. I was disappointed. United Airlines
representatives were all "helping other customers." I was
soon to find out why.
Increasingly frustrated in my attempts to get any information
about my husband, I was growing more anxious by
the minute. Finally I called Elaine back.
Her husband, Brian, was working at home and
answered the phone. I told him of my failed efforts and
asked, "Can you try to find out what flight Todd is on? I
just can't do it right now."
Brian must have sensed my uneasiness. "Sure, Lisa. Let
me see what I can find out. I'll get right on it."
"Lisa? Elaine is going to come over."
I hung up the phone, turned away from the television
set, and walked back to the laundry room, where despite
my best efforts to maintain composure, I burst into tears.
When David came in and saw me crying, he asked, "What's
"It's okay," I answered, trying to hold back the tears.
"I just don't know where Daddy is right now. But don't
worry. We'll find him. I'm sure he's fine; I just don't know
what's going on."
David returned to his toys, and I picked up the phone
again. I dialed Todd's business cell-phone number and
listened to his voice as his prerecorded message played
through. "You've reached Todd Beamer with the Oracle
Corporation. Please leave a message."
I left a message. "Todd, I know you're fine. But when
you land, please call me right away. I don't know where
you are and I need to hear from you."
* * *
A few minutes later my phone rang. Hoping it was Todd
on the line, I hurried out to the kitchen to answer it.
There was no answer. The line had gone dead. I glanced
at the digital clock on our kitchen oven. It was 10:00 A.M.
I took the phone with me back to the laundry room. A
few seconds later the phone rang again. I quickly picked up
the receiver, but the phone had already stopped ringing.
"Hello! Hello?" I nearly screamed into the phone. Disconnected
Todd! Where are you?
In my wildest imagination-or my worst nightmares-I
couldn't possibly have dreamed what Todd was actually
experiencing at that precise moment.
* * *
Soon afterward, Elaine and her three children arrived. She
and I went into our family room and sat down on the couch
in front of the television while the kids headed for the playroom.
Just then the network switched from New York to
Washington, D.C., and scenes from the Pentagon came up
on the screen. Another airliner had crashed into the side of
our nation's military headquarters around 9:43 A.M., and
the awful curl of thick black smoke had already risen high
into the otherwise clear skies above the city.
And then the unthinkable happened. While rescue
workers feverishly attempted to get people down and out
of the World Trade Center, the south tower collapsed. Its
steel girders, superheated by the ferocious jet-fuel fire, literally
melted and crumbled in a massive, mangled heap. Less
than half an hour later the north tower collapsed, releasing
a horrendous cloud of smoke, ash, debris, and dust. Surreal
scenes of ash-covered people running through the streets
filled the television screen.
Now, like most Americans, I was reeling, attempting to
comprehend the reality of what I had seen and the enormity
of the destruction and loss of life. Questions I feared to ask
aloud raced through my mind. Are there any survivors? Are
there more attacks to come? How many more planes are out there
with terrorists aboard? My heart hurt for the unknown
number of victims, and my concern for my own husband
mounted. I fretted inwardly. Where's Todd?
At first Elaine and I sat on the couch with our eyes and
ears riveted to the television set. Though shaken by the
attacks on our nation and deeply grieved over the loss of
life, I remained relatively calm until the networks showed
yet another downed airliner. This one had crashed in a field
in Pennsylvania. I knew that Todd's flight would have traveled
in that general direction. Cold shivers ran through my
body, and a sick sensation clutched at my stomach as I
gazed in horror at the crash site. Smoke still hovered in the
air, and even from a distance I could see the charred
ground. It was obvious the plane had been obliterated. No
one could survive that sort of impact.
The newscaster's subdued voice reported that the
downed flight was a United Airlines flight that had been
bound for Chicago.
Chicago? Whew! Again I felt a rush of compassion for
those people aboard the plane and their families, but I
breathed a little easier for our family. We were off the hook
again. Todd had an afternoon meeting in San Francisco;
he wouldn't have had time for a layover. So surely he
wouldn't have booked anything other than a direct flight.
I got up nervously and stepped behind the couch, still
staring at the television, when the newscaster's voice
intoned, "We have an update on the airliner that has
crashed in Pennsylvania. It was not en route to Chicago as
previously reported; it was actually a United flight out of
Newark that was going to San Francisco."
"No!" I screamed helplessly at the television.
Without a shred of hard evidence, I knew intuitively
that Todd was on that flight. Suddenly I felt as though my
body weighed a million pounds; it seemed my heart might
explode. I fell to my hands and knees and gasped again,
In an instant Elaine joined me on the floor, wrapping
her arms around me. "It's probably not his flight, Lisa. He's
probably fine. We don't know what's what. Don't worry.
"No, Elaine . that's his plane," I managed to say
through my tears.
"We don't know that"