Thanking God for Her Sister Who Survived

by Cathy Rivera

Ten years ago I was planning a trip to South Beach for Labor Day weekend. I was also finalizing arrangements for my parents’ trip to San Francisco for their 60th birthdays. I was a 23-year-old administrative assistant working for Morgan Stanley in the greatest city in the world, in the busiest area of Manhattan, Times Square. I was single, and full of life.

You will hear many people say that Sept. 11 changed their lives, changed the world we live in, changed everything. But for many of them, that novelty wore off in a few weeks, months, maybe even years. Nearly 10 years later my life is still changed, as is the world I live in.

Ten years ago I thought I lost my best friend – my younger sister. For a few short hours, my family and I had no contact with her while she was on her way to work at Cantor Fitzgerald, in One World Trade Center. The phone calls would not stop. And then finally, the miracle we had all prayed for came true. She was safe, above ground and on her way back home. My miracle. This miracle that so many others had prayed for and sadly did not receive.

We had always been close – closer than any sisters we had known. We were each other’s first friends. The days and months following Sept. 11 are still very fresh in my memory. I remember riding the train going back to work and silently crying behind my sunglasses envisioning myself at my sister’s funeral, unable to cope and deal with such an enormous loss.

When we were little girls, I was afraid to go to bed alone, so every night whenever I got tired, I would say “C’mon Maureen, it’s time for bed” and even if she wasn’t tired, she would come to bed anyway. These thoughts flooded my head. The countless times she held my hand as I cried over a lost love. The brutal honesty and kind apology that always followed.

No matter how hard I tried to push those thoughts and images from my mind, I couldn’t. So I let my tears flow and thanked God for my miracle. So yes, she may be two years younger, but in many ways has always been the older one. So, what would I be without her? I had no idea. All I knew was that I was spared such an enormous loss. A loss that is so unbearable to fathom that it still brings tears to my eyes.

I remember walking home a few weeks later and seeing all of the beautiful American flags in the windows of stores and homes, candles on doorsteps and barrages of flowers in the driveway of the local firehouses. The world certainly changed in just a few short weeks. Neighbors smiled at one another, said hello. When someone asked “How are you,” we actually listened to the response and we cared. My friend Meg and I decided one night to take a trip down to the West Side where the firefighters, NYPD and EMS were working tirelessly – looking for remains.

Throngs of people cheered, clapped and cried as the fire trucks came by and then the mood turned somber as the dump trucks passed. Men took their hats off and we all bowed our heads. Someone’s loved one could be in there. And the thought was enough for anyone passing by to show respect. Weeks after this mass killing, thousands and thousands of people still flocked to the streets of Manhattan in support of our fallen heroes. They were doing something we all needed. They were looking for closure. I know this because my roommate at the time was an NYPD officer. She searched remains on a conveyer belt for hours and hours on end. She was looking for something anything that could be identified and give peace to one family.

We later walked downtown to the site that was now being called Ground Zero. And I will never forget seeing the flyers plastered to the walls of buildings, gates, light poles, garbage cans, basically anything that could hold an 8.5 x 11 in sheet of paper with a picture and brief description of my husband, my sister, my mother, my brother. The word “Missing” screaming out at you. “Missing!” “Missing!”
The hope that was still in the hearts of those people was enough to break even the strongest man down. Because seeing the damage firsthand, there was really no such thing as “missing.”

The mention of 9/11 will create a very solemn silence in a room. Most people are brought back to that day and that small sliver of silence is a remembrance for us. For those who lost someone. When my sister and I are in the same room, we share a glance. Well, I guess we don’t share it.  I always look to her first to see her reaction. She’ll give me a knowing nod that menas, “Yeah, I’m okay Cat.” And my nod in return is really to God – thanking Him again for my miracle – just as I have done for the last 3,650 days.

Cathy Rivera is a resident of Woodside.