Carl was walking down the busy street talking to his wife on his cell phone. He was late and had called to apologize to her. Carl was a Lieutenant in the Coast Guard and Executive Officer of a small Cutter stationed in New York City. He had a meeting that ran longer than he anticipated and was late getting off his ship. Now he was on his way to the World Trade Center to meet his wife and parents. While they had waited on him to finish his meeting Charlotte had taken them to her office to show them where she worked and discuss some investments with them. She worked as an investment advisor and wanted to provide them with some information on what her company believed would be the next hot investment.
"Honey I'm only about seven blocks away now. Why don't you all meet me in the lobby and we'll take off from there. I have the rest of the week free." Carl heard a whistling roar and looked up. There, just over his head was a huge aircraft flying low. It didn't appear to be in any trouble but it was way too low and heading straight for the North Tower.
"JEEEZUS," Carl shouted.
"What's the matter Honey," asked Charlotte.
Carl didn't even have time to answer. He watched in horror as the huge aircraft slammed into the building. Fire and debris exploded everywhere. Almost as an afterthought Carl noticed Charlotte was no longer on the line with him. In a panic he slid his phone into his pocket and took off in a dead run heading for the building. He was dodging people who were standing staring in shock. He heard sirens wailing in the distance, getting closer and closer as he ran. He got within a block of the building and encountered police officers. Even after he explained where he was going and why they refused to let him pass.
In desperation Carl called Charlotte's phone, then his parents over and over. He never received an answer. Police began pushing bystanders back farther away from the building fearing a collapse and falling debris. Another roar was heard and all around stood and watched in horror as yet another large airliner approached then flew into the South tower. Another large explosion occurred and yet more debris showered the surrounding area. Now people were running from the conflagration in fear. Carl and many others just stood and stared at the carnage in shock. He felt empty inside and yet, he felt deep surging anger filling his gut. How could this have happened? He knew his life as he had known it was over. Somehow he knew his wife and their unborn child were no more, gone in a fiery explosion along with his parents. Somehow, he had felt the wrench in his psyche when the life was blotted from his wife and parents.
Carl watched as fire trucks and ambulances, police cars and rescue equipment began to clog the streets. He saw many cases of bravery as he watched firefighters and policemen rush into the burning building. When they returned from within they were sometimes guiding, sometimes carrying survivors from the burning sky scraper. Many times Carl attempted to approach and was turned back by officers. Finally he did what he could, he guided some of those who did escape to a safer area and tried to console them albeit with little success.
Within an hour and a half the towers had collapsed and thousands of lives were forever altered, many snuffed out at the whim of a lunatic. Carl and others with friends and family in the towers wandered around in shock, finally ending up at one of the many centers set up to help with grief, rescue, emergency medical treatment and counseling.
Carl did not know what to do. He had his duty but he needed desperately to know about his family, perhaps to help, to find them. He heard the announcement that Al-Qaeda and someone named bin Laden claimed responsibility. Like all Americans he was outraged.
Carl was torn between his duty to his country and his love for and fear for the safety of his wife and parents. He had answered his phone some time before and knew he was supposed to return to his ship. He had been told it had been ordered to sail as soon as the majority of the crew returned from liberty in answer to the recall.
Finally, knowing he could do nothing for his family in the center to which he had been directed Carl let his duty guide his actions and made his way back to his ship. Duty was all Carl had left now. Duty and a deep soul destroying sense of loss and anger, of hatred, soul destroying hatred, for the animals who would do something like this. The first plane had impacted the building almost directly on line with his wife's office. She had told him she was there while he was talking to her and he knew in his heart she had not gotten out.
When Carl crossed from the pier onto his ship he looked like a walking dead man. His once pristine white uniform was soiled and smudged from the dirt and debris in the air. The Officer of the Deck looked shocked at the way his Executive Officer looked. After returning his salute and giving permission to board the LtJG stepped to Carl and asked if he was ok. Carl just ignored him and walked past him and up to his stateroom. Carl left the door open and collapsed onto his bunk. Shortly thereafter the Captain knocked on his door and walked into the room without an invitation. Carl slowly stood and took what could barely be called a position of attention.
The Captain looked at Carl and asked, "Carl what's wrong? The OOD (Officer of the Deck) said you had returned in a filthy uniform. He said you had not even acknowledged him when you brushed past him. Awww Shit! Charlotte?"
Carl stared at his Captain with his haunted eyes and nodded his head. He said, "Yeah, I was talking to her on the phone when the first one hit. It cut off and if it hit where they say, where I thought, it was almost directly on her office. My parents were with her. I saw it. I was only about six blocks away."
"Carl, stay here. We have orders to sortie but we can get the ship out without you."
Carl looked at his Captain and muttered, "Aye, Aye Sir," then collapsed onto his bunk. He sat leaning with his elbows on his knees. He never even heard the speakers as they gave orders for getting underway. He never even heard his friends come into the room or leave once more. He sat all night, never moving except to go to the head. He stared into space and remembered his childhood with his parents, his finding and falling in love with Charlotte, their love and lovemaking, their happiness when she told him she was pregnant with their first child. Now his life was in ashes—ashes and rubble from a ruined building born from the hate of a maniacal barbarian and his cohorts.
The next morning a steward brought him some coffee and breakfast from the wardroom. Carl did not remember eating or drinking his coffee but he must have. Later he noticed his dishes were empty. Shortly after breakfast the Captain once more came into the room.
"Carl," the Captain said. "I know you've had a terrible loss. I understand that but I need, this ship and crew need a fully functioning Executive Officer. If you can't get it together I'll have to relieve you. I know it hurts, hell, I can't imagine how you must be hurting right now but we need you working for us. For all intents and purposes this country is at war now. We have a job to do. We need to get the Bastards that did this to your family and attacked our country. I've had the Doc get you some sleeping pills. I want you to take them and get some rest then if you can't work for me we'll have to do something."
Carl took the pills and collapsed onto his bunk. He didn't know another thing until after ten that evening. He woke rested but hollow inside. He showered, got in uniform and made his way to the bridge.
Over the course of the next three days Carl began to function better but he was never up to his prior efficiency. Finally Carl's tour as Executive Officer was over. Rather than assume a command as was normal Carl was assigned to shore duty for the remainder of his obligation. Rather than try to make the Coast Guard a career as he had planned before Charlotte died, Carl chose to leave active duty. He spent the remainder of his obligation ashore and was mustered out of the Coast Guard several months later a broken, empty man, a shell of his prior self.
Like many U.S. Citizens, hell, like many people the world over Carl harbored a deep visceral hatred for Al Qaeda and those who supported them. He was able to function but that was all. He was a shell of his former self albeit a much more well off man than before. After collecting insurance on his wife and parent's as well as the small stipend paid to those who lost someone in the attack Carl had over two million dollars. He also inherited his parent's estate as he was an only child. That amounted to a share of a small older 40 room hotel and pier on Key West, FL and a 60 foot Catamaran. His parents were retired and lived on the Catamaran. Several years previously they and another couple, Carl's Godparents, had purchased the land and Hotel. Each couple had a suite in the hotel to live in and use of the pier. His Godparents managed the business for years then when they retired they closed it. Now the resort was just used as a residence. Most upkeep was deferred, property maintenance was minimal.
Carl stayed in the New York area until he sold his home. From time to time friends would drop by and try to cheer him up. Some of the neighbor ladies made sure he ate occasionally. After his home sold he went to Key West since he had nowhere else to go. When his Godparents picked him up at the airport they could not believe how Carl looked. They almost didn't recognize him. He was thin, emaciated and pasty looking. He had large dark spots under his eyes and a vacant expression constantly on his face.
.... There is more of this story ...