9/11/2001 Jack

About Jack

This is the other side of my 9/11 story. Everything has its yin and yang, even 9/11. If the chaos of the Towers collapsing was the yin, simultaneously meeting Jack was the yang. He appeared as I was seeking refuge in my friend Nira’s apartment. Jack was calm and elegantly dressed in a lavender linen shirt. Because within a few moments I learned that he had spent many years investigating disasters and I had never known anyone else even remotely versed in disasters, I decided that I would spend the rest of the day with him. Then, as the buildings were coming down, my second decision was that I would not allow myself to die that day. We went back to his apartment for shelter until a time that it would be safe to get to my children. When the second building came down, and, despite huge windows and a brilliantly sunny day, the apartment became pitch dark, Jack reached his hand to mine irrevocably connecting for safety and friendship.

After the Towers fell, we waited. Fire alarms were screaming. I remember holding my ears but I do not remember any sounds that day other than that of the approach of the second plane. I have asked Jack if he remembers the sound of the buildings falling but neither of us remembers any sound, although he does remember the fire alarms. I remember him trying to turn off the alarm in his apartment. We talked about my children, about family, about his life, traveling in Africa, writing, about living in Paris. I felt and continue to feel guilty about enjoying this time. We truly enjoyed the time spent getting to know each other even as we knew that terrible things had happened around us and that I still faced enormous uncertainty about how I would reconnect with my children. I suppose that by enjoying our friendship I was able to keep at bay the reality of the horror and the greater implications of that horror.

We worked seamlessly to make our strategy for the day as though we had known each other for years. We shared no cross words, no flare of temper, no tears. We chatted like old friends in the park. I have no idea if, having met under other circumstances we would be great friends. The special nature of our meeting and the experiences we shared no doubt accelerated our friendship in a singular way. We finally left the building, were hustled onto a tugboat and ferried to New Jersey. We found a diner, for our first meal of the day about 6:00pm, with a TV blaring the only news of the day and we watched the Towers fall and our building disappear in a black cloud in incessant replay. But we had each other and felt enormously lucky to be both alive and in the company of each other. Jack was my life boat. I had not realized at the time what solace I took in his companionship that day. To be anchored to another person through a disaster made the experience more about friendship than horror. We were able to focus on each other and keep our minds away from the world. I had been a single mother for 4 years. I was strong, solitary and stable. But a week later when Jack took his seat in a taxi on his way back to Paris, I crumbled. On a street with lovely trees, no falling buildings, no firehouses draped in black, and for the first time after 9/11, I cried wondering how I could survive now that my life boat was gone.

We have held on to this yin yang balance in our friendship built on horror and luck. Jack still lives in Paris and I still live in the States but we talk at least once a week, he visits at least yearly and my children and I have visited him. There is no question of our friendship. His hand is in mine irrevocably.

—Jean McGavin, October 27, 2009

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