September 11, 2001 always gets me thinking.
I remember sitting at my desk in my little office at a company I have long since left, learning about this crazy thing happening in New York. I tried to look it up online but couldn’t, because the Internet was down. So many people were trying to go online at once that the entire Internet had crashed.
I lived near DC, and my family is from New York, and so the news of the shocking attacks on the twin towers always felt way too close to home.
I had no idea just how close to home this day would end up becoming.
Getting the news
I got through my day mildly confused and curious about the world events that I had heard about second hand. I walked through the door of my apartment, and turned on the news. That’s when the chaos flooded my eyes and my ears. To this day, when I think of 9/11, I hear George W. Bush’s voice. I don’t remember what he said, but I will probably forever associate his voice with that day. I simply cannot separate the two.
My phone rang. I numbly answered it, and it was my mother. She was crying. I thought that was strange. She is typically not that affected by world events.
I don’t recall if she even knew that the twin towers had fallen. Her day had been spent sitting in a doctor’s office in Baltimore as a surgeon told my parents that my father’s tumor was the size of a peach, not the size of a pea, as they had been previously told.
They had walked into this office with a sense of hope, their last hope, really. At this point, they knew that there was a tumor, they knew it was on my father’s pancreas, and they knew that pancreatic tumors, even when operable, are often fatal.
But, if the tumor was small, it was potentially operable. They were there to discuss a surgical procedure known as a Whipple, which might just buy my dad some more time.
They walked out of that office leaving their hope behind. The tumor was too big, it had grown around a major blood vessel, and any surgery risked a major bleed-out, and certain death.
They talked about maybe doing radiation to shrink the tumor and buy a little time, but what kind of time would that be? My dad had already suffered quite terribly. He was ready to accept what was before him.
Accepting the imminent death of a loved one is a difficult thing. It means acceptance of a complete change of life, in ways big and small. Everything becomes a “last.” Dad’s last Thanksgiving. Dad’s last Christmas. Dad’s last birthday. He got sicker faster. The end was not good for him, though he was surrounded with love. I suppose that’s something.
Affinity for pens
Before he died, my dad gave me his pen. It was a retractable fountain pen that I loved and secretly coveted. I later thanked him (again) for the pen, and asked if he knew how much I liked it. He said:
I asked how he knew. He said:
Over time, part of the casing broke, but the manufacturer no longer makes that specific pen and so don’t have replacement parts. They offered to replace it with a newer model, if I send in the broken pen.
No way. I’m keeping that pen forever and always, thank you very much.
Fast forward to more recently. I discovered a company called The Goulet Pen Company. This is a store my dad would love. They have everything, every pen at every price point, plus all sorts of fancy inks. He would love their customer service, too. I reached out with some questions, and a lovely woman named Susan replied, with all kinds of great information.
I asked more questions. She replied with, get this, a video that she whipped up on the spot just for me to demo different types of pens.
That’s right: She made me a video.
She noticed that my name is Italian, and we exchanged a few small pleasantries in Italian. She signed off with “Just let me know when I can help, noi ragazze italiane dobbiamo stare insieme!!” which I’m pretty excited I understood.
I feel like signs are everywhere that dad has stuck around. You just have to know where to look.
I struggle every year when the inevitable “never forget” messages flood social media and the news and I can’t turn it off or run or escape or hide. But then, I hear from a complete stranger like Susan in ways that remind me of my Dad, or I hear from friends who supported me through some pretty big life changes recently, and I know that, despite the rough days, there are good days ahead.
“Enjoy every day,” my dad said to me on September 11, 2001, after he got the worst news of his life.
I do my best, Dad.