It was June 2001 and I was the proud mother of a soon-to-be Vassar College graduate. My mom and I flew from Los Angeles, where we live, to New York to attend the graduation and also to visit old friends in New York City, the place where I was born. Mom couldn’t wait to see her childhood friend who was living in Harlem. We planned to stop in Harlem before heading to Vassar in Poughkeepsie, New York just an hour and a half north of Manhattan.
We arrived at his small apartment in a tenement in Harlem. Sidney was frailer than I’d remembered — but his smile and laugh were the same. He greeted us warmly, offering soft drinks. We declined. The surroundings were clean and orderly but pretty bare. It had been 30 years since my mother moved us away from New York. I’d returned to visit many times since then, each time acutely aware that my life was on a different trajectory than it would have been had I stayed in Queens or the Bronx where I was born.
Mom and I were celebrating the graduation of my daughter who also planned to go to law school in the fall, had already been accepted at Georgetown Law and was wait listed at Harvard Law. I, the kid from the projects, was on cloud nine. But I didn’t talk much. This was my mom’s time to visit. So she and Sidney caught up as I sat and listened. As I listened, I felt myself feeling at home again in Harlem, and in Sidney's surroundings.
After Mom told Sidney about her grands, Sid told us of his grandson who was a rising star. His 26-year-old grandson Darryl had a bachelors degree in political science and a masters degree in education. But this young man had suddenly shifted gears and decided to pursue a career in finance. Sid went on, beaming with pride as he spoke. His grandson had landed a job at Cantor Fitzgerald – a brokerage firm in Manhattan. And to top it all off, he was in love with a very nice young woman - Angie - who also worked at the firm. Darryl and Angie were living together and making plans to marry.
I listened as these two proud grandparents shared all of this good news. My mom, proud of her first granddaughter’s accomplishments and Sid proud of his. Both beamed as they talked about the bright futures that surely lie ahead for their dear grands.
We left Sidney and continued our journey to Poughkeepsie. Feeling lifted by the successes of our children and buoyed by the graduation celebrations. I left New York feeling more connected to old relationships and grateful for the progress we were making with each generation. These feelings carried me through the summer as I went through the bittersweet process of helping my daughter move into her very first apartment in Alexandria, VA. She was going to Georgetown Law in Washington, D.C.
On the morning of September 11, 2001 my daughter was on her way to class at Georgetown. Sidney's grandson Darryl and his fiancé Angie were in their offices at Cantor Fitzgerald in The World Trade Center.
My daughter got off the Metro at the station just past the Pentagon, completely unaware of the plane that had hit the Pentagon as her train was traveling through the subway tunnel beneath it. Coming out of the station, she was immediately ushered to a place of safety. She didn’t know the Pentagon had been hit and she didn’t know about the World Trade Center. She was disoriented and frightened by the chaos that greeted her as she got off the escalator that ascended from the subway. But she was safe.
Darryl and Angie were not.
Sadly, the McKinney family lost a son -- Angie’s family lost a daughter and thousands of others lost loved ones that day. From my home in Los Angeles I sat glued to the television, dialing my daughter ever few minutes and not getting an answer for hours until I learned that she was safe.
I will never forget the pride and ear-to-ear smile on Sidney’s face when we visited just three short months before 9/11. How sad — how tragic — how senseless.