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If only it were just a nightmare

Sep 24, 2001  •  Post A Comment

If only it were just a nightmare
On Sept. 11, I woke up at about 6 a.m. here in L.A. to prepare to take an American Airlines jet to Nashville to cover the annual RTNDA convention. Half asleep, I turned on the TV and saw, like so many of us, my life change forever.
It was too surreal, and I wished it were just a nightmare. Watching, I knew my dad, a banker at First Commercial Bank, worked on the 78th floor of 2 World Trade Center. On live TV, I saw what seemed like a small plane hit that tower. I quickly called his office, only to get a fax line signal. Then it became busy. I hoped and prayed he got out. I would hear later that night that everyone in his bank got out and went home safely-everyone except my dad and one other employee. No one knew what became of them.
The first thing his close friends said to me was he was probably helping others and just hadn’t made it home. I thought to myself, yeah, that describes my dad. Still, I was worried sick. Why hadn’t he called? My mom passed on a few years ago, and I’ve got no brothers or sisters. My mom still has relatives in New York, but my dad’s only other relatives are in Taiwan.
I would also hear reports from friends that he was helping a young woman who became hysterical in the scary situation. My dad was athletic-in college he played basketball, ran track and rode motorcycles-so surely the only reason he hadn’t called or hadn’t gone home was because he was helping someone.
But I still haven’t gotten that call. For several days, my arms and legs seemed to go soft. I got chills at night.
I’m shaken to the core of my being. Each time the phone rings my heart stops.
I refuse to give up hope. If I were lost, I wouldn’t want him to give up on me.
One of my earliest memories after coming to this country at age 2 is sitting in the plaza of the Twin Towers as a newcomer to America, listening to a live performance of a ’70s tune that my dad would later often hum and whistle in our house. In those early years after coming to New York, our family was always taking visitors to lower Manhattan to see the Statue of Liberty and to show off the Twin Towers. My parents came here to go to graduate school. Like many immigrants, they struggled. As my dad was earning his second of two master’s degrees-in linguistics from
Columbia University’s Teachers College-he moonlighted, peeling potatoes at the famous Nathan’s hotdog stand on Coney Island.
I still haven’t gotten that call. Waiting, waiting, my mind races to my childhood in Astoria and my dad trying to soothe the itching from my chickenpox. He never calls me by my name; instead he calls me “Daughter.”
I try to sleep. Images of him waking me up to give me St. Joseph’s chewable orange aspirin fill my mind. I toss and turn. I see images of my dad when I’m older, when I moved back home to study journalism at New York University. He was my alarm clock, waking me so I wouldn’t be late, and he’d have my breakfast ready.
I still haven’t gotten that call. More thoughts. Remembering how nervous it made me, several years ago, when my dad left his former bank on Fifth Avenue and went to work in the World Trade Center, knowing that terrorists had tried to blow it up in 1993. But also remembering how proud it made me feel that he was working in the structure he had found so grand when we came to America. And what a dizzying view of the Statue of Liberty he had from high atop America in the World Trade Center! He had come so far in this land of opportunity.
I still haven’t gotten that phone call. I feel paralyzed. No, I am not in New York searching for my dad. Lots of friends are doing that. Will others understand? Do I care what they think? My friends have found no trace of my dad, anywhere. The only list with my dad’s name is one labeled “Missing.”
I have been shell-shocked from the helplessness of my own tragedy and the sadness for my hometown. For the past week, my brain has been numb and I have been frozen with fear. The only thing I can get myself to do is watch the news. I’m touched by a lot of the coverage. People reaching out to strangers to comfort them and each other. It helps, somewhat.
Hope is a funny thing. I can’t give it up.
But still, I haven’t gotten that call.
Ms. Wang, a staff reporter for Electronic Media, is on personal leave. She asks that her many friends in the industry do not try to reach her by phone. However, she can be contacted by email at kwang@crain.com. Ms. Wang appreciates your understanding that she cannot respond to most e-mails at this time.