Chapter 19 - September 11, 2001
I tossed and turned all night, wrestling with the many thoughts running through my head.
What do I do about Michael?
Why did I tell him I love Drew when I’m still unsure?
And knowing he’s back to using, what am I supposed to do when it comes to him and the kids?
I can’t keep them away from their father, but I refuse to let them stay around him if he’s high all the time.
Everything in me tells me to give him some time to get through it, but he’s been here before. And even with him having kids, he’s going back to using the same drugs that landed him in rehab the first time. He’s going back to being selfish.
I don’t know what to do…
“Still up?” Drew wrapped his arms around my neck and kissed me on the cheek before coming around the couch to sit beside me.
I let out a light laugh, “he stresses me out, and we’re not even married anymore.”
“Isn’t that how it always is?” He joked.
I shrugged, “Ion know. I’ve never been divorced before.”
“What’s been keeping you up?”
I sighed and shook my head, “I can’t allow my children to be around their father if he’s taking drugs.”
“Mmm,” he nodded. “Yeah…”
“It’s just tough. I don’t want to keep my kids away from their daddy… But until he gets the help he needs, I feel like that’s the best thing for them.”
“It might be. No child should ever have to grow up seeing that….”
“I’m really worried about him… I’m sorry if this makes you uncomfortable,” I looked at Drew to see what he was thinking, but he was neutral. He understood.
“No,” he shook his head. “It’s completely understandable. If my kid’s mom had something severe like this going on when they were still children, I’d be just as concerned.”
“Thanks, baby,” I sighed and looked out at the window of our penthouse suite atop the hotel Drew owned. While Michael was at The Plaza in Central Park, we were all the way in Brooklyn, right on the East River at BK Heights. The sky was a beautiful hue of blue. Not a cloud in sight. And the sun shone exceptionally bright amongst the clear blue sky. The New York Skyline was breathtakingly beautiful on this Tuesday morning.
I felt a sense of peace, although I should be feeling the complete opposite based on last night.
Our flight to head home is at three p.m., and I know, judging by this clear sky, it’s going to be nothing short of being smooth. But I may have to postpone our flight just to go out and get some fresh air. I need to clear my head. And going back home feeling this way is probably not the best idea.
“What do you want for breakfast?” Drew asked me, pulling me away from my thoughts.
He scoffed and laughed, “no. Room service has been open for quite some time now.”
I laughed and told him what I wanted, adding meals for the twins once they woke up.
Despite the mess that occurred last night and the lack of sleep I’ve gotten, something about the beauty of today just makes me feel so still… It’s different.
I turned on the television and flipped the channels until I finally stopped on the Today Show, just as Matt Lauer was introducing Richard Hack on his latest novel “Hughes.” I have yet to read the book about Howard Hughes, but the book is on the top of my list to purchase. I looked out at the window again, the skyline captivating, tearing me away from the interview.
Drew came to sit beside me as he pulled out his iPaq. If there’s one piece of technology that he loved, it was that device. I could never get into it. I’m still stuck on my outdated PDA.
As I looked back out of the window, I took in the Twin Towers, standing in all their glory in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan.
I glanced to the right, noticing a plane flying painfully low over the city, and nudged Drew, “that plane shouldn’t be that low, right?” Just as he turned to see, the plane crashed right into the North Tower, producing a blood-curdling scream from my lips.
“JESUS!” Drew shouted.
I immediately stood up and hurried toward the window. A vast explosion emitted from the side of the tower. Fire and smoke rose high into the air covering the top of both the North and South Towers from view. My heart raced with angst thinking of all those people at the top of the North Tower and in the airplane. “Who would do such a thing?!” I covered my mouth in shock.
In 1993, a bomb was set in the parking garage beneath the North Tower. Six people were killed, and one thousand others were injured. I was on my book tour while Michael was home in California, catering to that family that ultimately ruined our lives. But hearing the news of the bombing shocked us both. Michael and I couldn’t get over the fact that one of the victims was pregnant and donated proceeds from his Heal the World Foundation to the victims' families.
Seeing the North Tower on fire at some of the highest floors makes this far worse than the bombing of ’93…
“Mommy…” I turned around to see MJ and Mimi come out of their room, rubbing their eyes. “What’s going on?” Mimi asked me.
Drew hurried to close the curtains as I pulled myself together. My scream woke them.
I bent down to pull them in for hugs, “did Mommy wake you?”
“Why were you screaming?” MJ asked me.
I shook my head and swallowed. How do I explain this to my children? “Are you hungry?” My voice unintentionally shook. “Drew just ordered pancakes with blueberry syrup for the both of you. It should be here shortly.”
“…apparently, a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center here in New York City. It happened just a few moments ago, apparently. We have very little information available at this point and time….” I looked behind the twins to see live video of the North Tower burning uncontrollably as Katie Couric spoke.
The twins must have seen the fear in my eyes because just as they turned to look, I quickly turned them away so they wouldn’t see what was on TV.
“Let’s go to Mommy’s room,” I held their hands and escorted them to our room, and quickly closed the curtains upon entering.
“What’s happening?” Mimi asked me.
“Breakfast is on the way. I’m gonna turn on cartoons. Don’t open the window and don’t change the channel. Understand?” I looked them in the eye to make sure they understood.
“Yes, ma’am,” they replied and nodded in unison.
Once I finished setting up the TV, I took the remote and closed the door behind me.
As Katie Couric and Matt Lauer interviewed someone who had seen the same thing Drew and I did, I opened the window to witness the burning tower firsthand. The woman on the phone they were interviewing said she didn’t know what it was. But Drew and I saw it. It was an airliner. And it had to be carrying a decent amount of people. What kind of pilot would do such a thing?
I was in a daze as I stared at the burning tower. The same tower Michael and I took the kids to six months ago was now on fire. A pilot recklessly crashed his plane into it, not only killing himself and the passengers onboard but everyone who was at their offices at the point of impact.
“We have to book an earlier flight,” Drew stood beside me. “We can’t stay here.”
“I know,” I swallowed. “I’ll start packing and…” A second plane came in from the left, heading straight for the South Tower until it finally hit.
“SHIT!” Drew shouted.
“Oh my god…” was all I could say this time. This time feeling faint, I did my best to fan myself. These planes were hitting the towers on purpose!
“We’re under attack,” I heard him say as he hurried away from the window and picked up his phone. I really wish he hadn’t been so loud.
“What’s wrong, mommy?” Mimi hurriedly opened the door. I quickly closed the curtains.
“Drew said a bad word,” MJ alerted me.
I sighed. My throat was tight as tears threatened to fall. I can’t let my children see me cry. I’m doing my best to ensure they don’t know what’s going on. If they see me cry, they’ll know for sure something is wrong. I just witnessed maybe hundreds of people lose their lives right before my eyes. That’s unnatural. No one should ever see that. No one should ever do that to other human beings! How could someone be so heartless? And how am I supposed to shield my children from this?
“Is that what the huff is all about?” My son pointed to the television behind me that I had failed to shield from him for a second time.
“Oh, mommy,” Mimi began. “It’s just the news.”
That sentence alone reminded me of the innocence of children and how “normal” this is for children to see on tv. So much so that they’re minds can’t comprehend how real some things can be.
I couldn’t control the tears that rolled down my cheeks as I stood up to turn the television off. As I opened my mouth to explain in the best way I could, a knock came on the door. I went over and looked through the peephole to see room service and opened the door. The breakfast cart was rolled into our room, causing the twins to jump for joy. As I tipped the server, I recognized the fear in her eyes as well. She, too, had known about the towers.
“You don’t have anyone who works there, do you?” I asked. She nodded yes. I closed my eyes and exhaled slowly to calm my racing heart. “Please make sure they get to safety. Call them as soon as possible. Let us know if you need anything, okay?” She mouthed “thank you” and went about her way.
As I instructed the twins to go to the dining table, Drew went to our room, shutting the door behind him as he rattled off instructions to whoever was on the receiving end of the call.
Without saying a word, I got breakfast together for the twins. I need to call Katherine and Joseph to see if they’re okay, and I need to call my parents so they know I’m okay. But one thing’s for sure, we must get out of here.
“Mommy’s gonna make a call. I’ll be back. Don’t turn on the TV. Don’t open the curtains. Just eat,” I instructed my children and went into their room to use the hotel phone.
I dialed Katherine’s cell phone number only for the busy signal to ring in my ear. I hung up the phone and tried again, only to be met with the same thing. I went back to the living room to retrieve my cell phone. The twins were having a hearty conversation about Winnie the Pooh while eating their pancakes. Sometimes, I miss the obliviousness of being a child.
Once I went back to the twins’ room, I looked out the window to see both towers burning uncontrollably. Black smoke was filling the sky at an alarming rate. No. This isn’t just the news. This is happening in real-time right across the bridge.
I dialed Katherine’s cell phone number from my phone, and the call finally went through. The phone lines must be down if I couldn’t get through on the hotel phone.
“Shayla? Are you and the twins okay?” Katherine answered immediately in a panic.
I took a deep breath and swallowed, “yes, ma’am. We’re fine. We’re still in our rooms."
“Oh, thank God! Have you gotten ahold of Michael?”
“Not yet. I just called to make sure you were okay. I was going to call him and my family to let them know I’m fine.”
“Get a hold of him as soon as you can. Rebbie and I were with him last night after everything between you two happened. He said he had an appointment at the North Tower at….”
Her words fell on deaf ears as my heart sunk straight to my stomach.
No way was Michael there. No way.
“Mom, Ima call you back,” I hung up without so much as a goodbye as I immediately dialed Michael’s cell number. “God,” my throat was tight as I tried not to choke over another set of flow that threatened to come forth. “Now, I’ve done some things in my life that I’m not proud of, and I’m sorry. I’ve been through a lot, but one thing that’ll never change is my unwavering love for Michael. We may be divorced… We may be raising our children separately, but God…” tears streamed down my cheeks at the mere thought of something terrible happening to him.
The dial tone kept ringing in my ear as I impatiently waited for Michael to answer.
“Please don’t take my children’s father away from me. Not like this,” I shook my head. “Not like this. Last night was the worst thing I could have ever done. It should have been a night of celebration and congratulations. But my feelings got the best of me. I was upset for his use of drugs, and I shouldn’t have gone off on him. I shouldn’t have. I should have been kind about it. I should have told him that I still care about his wellbeing, and I just want him to be healthy… But to know that this could be our last interaction….” I choked. “The last thing I would ever want is for one of us to go away from this earth without knowing we still loved one another. I’ll do anything! Anything, if you just let him answer this phone and for him to tell me he’s okay. Please…” I begged as I tried to wipe the tears streaming down my cheeks.
The dial tone just kept ringing, and with every ring, the pain in my heart grew stronger and stronger.
“Hello?” A very groggy voice answered.
“Michael?!” I gasped. “Areyouokaywhereareyou?!” The words fell from my lips like vomit because I asked him so quickly.
He sighed nonchalantly as if the world wasn’t going crazy right now, “I’m in my suite… sleeping. Are the twins okay?”
“They’re fine…” my voice cracked. “We’re all fine. Katherine told me you had a meeting at the World Trade Center today.”
“SHOOT!” He became immediately alert. “I’m late!”
“Don’t bother….” I sighed.
“What do you mean, ‘don’t bother?’ I’ve gotta hurry up. I’m gonna call you b-”
“The twin towers are on fire,” I cut him off.
He paused, “…what? Both of them?”
“Turn on the news. We’re in Brooklyn. Right across from everything. I watched one plane hit the North Tower, and about fifteen minutes later, a second plane hit the South Tower.”
“Planes?! Are we under attack?”
“I don’t know… At first, we were unsure, but once the second plane hit, it certainly felt that way. We’re trying to figure out a way to get out of here. I’m just glad you’re okay. I freaked out when your mother told me you had a meeting in the North Tower. She probably hates me because I hung up on her, but I’m sure she understands.”
He was silent for a moment. We both were.
The realization began to settle in. Had he been on time for that meeting, we wouldn’t be fortunate enough to be on the phone right now.
Had he not overslept, I wouldn’t have woken him up with my phone call begging to know if he was okay.
Had he made it on time to that meeting, my children would have lost their father. And although I’m considered a single mother because of my divorce, I’d certainly be a single mother had I lost my ex-husband to an attack on the World Trade Center.
He cleared his throat, “…um… had it not been for you confronting me last night, I probably would have made that meeting on time.” Hearing him say the words started another flow of tears from me. “After you left, my mother and Rebbie came with me to make sure I’d be okay. They stayed until three-thirty in the morning. I didn’t go to bed until four-thirty… Had none of that happened, we wouldn’t be on the phone right now…”
It’s strange how everything happens for a reason. We may never understand the chain of events before or during an occurrence, but there’s a reason for everything. Even the twin towers being hit… We may never understand why that happened. I’m so fortunate to have this conversation with him right now. Whereas many of the families from the people on those planes and the point of impact in the towers are simply hoping for a call…
“Kiss the twins for me,” he said.
“No,” I shook my head. “I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure I can bring them to you so you can kiss them yourself.”
Drew came in the room, closing the door behind him, “another airliner just hit the Pentagon, and the FAA has grounded all planes.”
I looked out the window, the phone still close to my ear, “it’s bad out here, Michael… Be safe. Call your mother, okay? We can coordinate something when you get a chance.”
“Did I hear Drew say the FAA grounded all aircraft?” He asked.
I nodded as if he could see me, “yeah.”
“Who’s that?” Drew asked me.
“Is he okay?” It’s amazing how whatever happened last night didn’t matter anymore. We just want to make sure everyone’s safe. Today just reminded us all that life is too short.
I nodded, “Call me when you get a chance, okay?”
“I will,” Michael replied.
On the very tip of my tongue sat the words, “I love you.” But I can’t say that. Especially not in front of Drew. And considering the situation… I don’t even think it’s odd that those are the first words I can think of.
“Thank you,” was all I could say in response before hanging up and turning to my lover. “Katherine told me he was supposed to have a meeting in the North Tower this morning.” Drew’s eyes grew wide in shock. Literally, every feeling we felt last night or about last night was out the window. Today is a new day and judging by what’s going on outside our penthouse window, the world will never be the same after this. “He overslept,” I shrugged, trying to shrug away the tears coming back to my eyes. “And I was the one to wake him.”
He didn’t know what to say. What do you say to the woman you love after she just told you her ex-husband could have been in the towers you just saw attacked?
The smoke was dark and intense. White specks flew from windows. The top of each building could not be seen. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. I have never seen anything like this in my life.
My cell phone rang loudly, and without looking at the caller ID, I answered, “hello?”
“Shayla?! Are you okay?!” My mother asked in a panic.
I closed my eyes. I forgot to call my parents. I should have called them first. “I’m fine. We’re all fine.”
“We saw the Twin Towers were hit. We knew you were fine, but your mother wanted to make sure,” I heard daddy say from the background. That tiny bit made me laugh a little. It’s just like my dad to not be too worried.
“She’s in New York, James!” Mom reminded him.
“In Brooklyn,” he retorted. “She’s fine. If we should be worried about anyone, it should be that ex-husband of hers. Lord only knows where he stayed.”
“He’s staying at the Plaza in Central Park. He’s fine. He didn’t even know what was going on,” I told them.
“Didn’t know what was going on?” My mother asked. “It’s all over the news! How could…”
The South Tower quickly yet slowly fell right before our eyes, creating a thick cloud of white smoke.
“JAMES!” My mother shouted in my ear. Because of the slight delay, no doubt were they finally seeing what we just witnessed before our very eyes.
“Get the kids,” I heard Drew say, but I couldn’t move. My feet were glued to the floor.
All of those people… Please tell me everyone got out. Please tell me no one was crushed.
All of those people!
“Shayla!” He grabbed my phone from my hands and hung up. “Get the kids. We gotta go!” he rushed out of the room.
I couldn’t help but stare at where the South Tower once stood.
Just six months ago, I was telling my children how their father kissed me at the top of that very tower years ago.
We were having lunch at the Windows on the World restaurant just six months ago.
My eyes went to the North Tower. It was leaning.
It’s going to come down next, and I can’t bear to watch.
I closed the curtains and went out to the living room, where my children were oblivious to the chaos of the world around them. Playfully chewing on their food. In their world, everything is fine.
I went to our room and shut the door behind me. Drew was throwing any and everything into suitcases. “What are we gonna do?”
“We have to go,” he sighed. “We can’t stay here.”
“I know that, but how? All planes are grounded. The roads are probably blocked off. Where are we even going?”
“I’ve got a bus. An RV that can take us back home. We’re leaving.”
I shook my head, “I’ve gotta go see Michael so he can see the twins before we leave. We’re gonna have to wait a little.”
“Wait?!” He stopped what he was doing and looked at me. “Shayla, we’re under attack right now, and you’re saying we need to wait?! Wait for what? For the rest of New York to be under attack? No! We have to go!”
“I can’t leave here without my children seeing their father! He could have died out there! So, either you wait, or I’ll just meet you in California. Your choice.”
He sighed and closed his eyes, “if we go see him, I’m waiting in the RV.”
“That’s fine,” I left and went out to the living room to gather the twins.
I just need to see him. Let him know that we’re okay. Let him know that I’m proud of him. Tell him I’m sorry. And then I'll go with Drew to go back home.
The sound of emergency vehicle sirens was everywhere as we drove into the city. The twins looked out every window for police cars or sirens but never saw them. Because they were long gone but loud enough for us to hear.
They continued to ask me and Drew what was going on and why there were so many sirens going off. We didn’t know what else to say other than that New York was notorious for having sirens going off all the time. It wasn’t far from the truth.
As we made our way to Central Park, we received reports that the North Tower had fallen as well. I was stunned, but I couldn’t show it. I felt numb to the news since I could feel that it would happen. The US is under attack, and I could only wonder where these people will hit next.
When we pulled up to the Plaza, Drew rambled off more instructions and details to whoever he was on the phone with. He’s in a rush to leave this city. I understand completely. But this pitstop means more to me than just hitting the road. Getting from Brooklyn to Central Park was enough of a hassle, so hitting the highway to get out of here will be even worse.
“Is Daddy okay now?” Mimi asked me as we went up the elevator.
I nodded, “he’s okay. He just really wanted to see you.”
“Is he coming back home with us?” My son asked.
“I don’t know… We can ask him.” I hope he has some kind of escape plan.
When we got to Michael’s suite, the twins knocked on the door rapidly, impatiently waiting for their father to open the door. Honestly, I don’t know what I’ll do when I see him. One thing I am sure of, though, is that I want to apologize.
Michael finally opened the door, and after looking at me for a while, he bent down to hug the twins as tight as he could and kissed them all over their faces.
I couldn’t help but smile. I was happy to see him hug and kiss our children any other time. But today, seeing this meant the absolute world to me.
“Okay, okay, okay,” he laughed as MJ and Mimi returned kisses to his cheeks. “Let me speak to your mother. You guys go play.”
Once we were all inside, he directed me to his bedroom and shut the door behind me.
We stared at his other.
Not saying a word.
It’s interesting how I was cussing him out about his drug usage just thirteen hours ago. Now? The last thing I would ever do is utter such hateful words.
“I’m sorry,” I finally said.
“No,” he shook his head. “Don’t be. You saved me.”
I bit my lip, trying to hold back another flow of tears. I feel like that’s all I’ve been doing today. Is crying. Crying for the death of all of those people. Crying because I regret what I said to Michael last night. And crying because Michael could have been in the North Tower this morning. Now he’s telling me I saved him?
“Had it not been for you, I wouldn’t have overslept. You saved me, Shayla. Thank you,” he came over to me and pulled me into his arms for a hug.
I broke down, melting into his arms. I can’t imagine not even receiving this simple gesture from him. Last night, the last thing I would have ever wanted was for him to touch me. Now? I’m practically putty in his arms. I still have love for this man. A lot. And I could have lost him today.
“Why are you crying?” He continued to hold me.
“I could have lost you. We could have lost you!”
“But you didn’t…” he reminded me. “I’m right here. And I always will be. I’m right here…” he whispered. “I’ll never leave you.”
“I’m sorry… I’m so sorry!” I cried. “You didn’t deserve that last night. I’m so proud of you. I’ll always be proud of you. I just want you to take better care of yourself. That’s all I want. I want you to be happy and take great care of yourself. That’s all. Your children need you. I need you!”
He simply said, “I know,” and continued to hold me as I broke down.
We’ve been divorced for four years. I’ve done the work to move on in the best way I know how. I’m dating someone who loves me and who I care for a lot. But I’ll always love Michael. I always will. No matter what. And I could never imagine losing him. No matter what we went through, losing him would simply kill me.
We stood there for a while. Still hugging. Still holding. Michael didn’t cry, but I was a mess. A pure mess. And he let me be a mess while this world is in the midst of pure chaos. He let me be a mess.
I can’t bear to let him go. If I could stay here all day, I would, but I can’t.
The US will never be the same after this.
But because of this, Michael and I’s relationship has now turned over a new leaf. I can feel it. In the same way, I can feel that our country will be different.
No matter what pain and hurt I’ve harbored toward Michael, that’s all out the window. I care about him entirely too much for me to hold onto that.
Sadly, it took a tragedy such as this to happen.
Life is short.
And I refuse to leave this earth or let Michael leave this earth without him knowing that I will always love him.
“I still love you,” I said against his chest.
“I know. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have saved me.”