“I've had the BEST day EVER,” six-year old Samantha excitedly exclaimed as she bounced into the waitng car. How sad that it was about to turn into her worst day, ever.
Melanie was poised to graduate from Colby-Sawyer College and finally knew what she was going to do. Changing her major in the eleventh hour had been rough and every waking moment for the past year and a half had been dedicated to the additional coursework and practicums necessary to graduate on time with her class. Packing her last requirement, student teaching, into the final semester of her senior year was risky, especially when she realized with horror that she HATED teaching, just as her mother had predicted.
Panic ensued while she considered the alternatives, but after much consideration and consultation with her school advisors, the decision was made to alter her direction by transitioning right into grad school. Best yet, they knew a family in Boston that was looking for a nanny and from the moment Melanie, Lisa, and David exchanged greetings and Samantha and Carly bounded into the room to meet her, there was an instant bond and they all agreed it was a perfect fit. Melanie moved in with them right after graduation and started applying to schools for January admission.
Melanie learned quickly that Lisa was not the typical executive. It wouldn't be entirely unusual for her to rush though the front entrance of TJX, late for a meeting with the other Vice Presidents of this major corporation, only to discover a sticky lollypop adhered to the back of her suit hours later. She was fun and carefree, but also a dedicated employee and mother, so this type of episode was considered the norm where Lisa was concerned. The rest of the executive staff would exchange knowing smiles as Lisa went through her day with momentos of her children's presence in her car plastered somewhere to her body, just as her children would exchange excited smiles as they gleefully discovered post-it note messages from their mother stuck in inconspicuous places around the house for them to find during their day.
David was the polar opposite. The busy photography supply store that he had recently started was booming, requiring him to work long hours. He left the care of the children to Lisa and the nanny. While his love for his children ran deep and sure, he was never afforded the opportunity of enough time to understand what really made them tick.
He did understand enough though to object when Lisa awakened them in the dark before dawn for groggy goodbye kisses as she prepared to leave on her first business trip since Melanie came to live with them. He had just arrived home only hours before from his own business trip, but Lisa was able to say her goodbye's and lull them back to sleep. The sticky notes were in place for the day, including the one at the kitchen table promising gifts and kisses upon her return. She secretly slipped a poem under the locked door of David's home office and dashed off to the airport to meet the six associates accompanying her on this early morning flight.
With Samantha off to school, Melanie prepared three-year old Carly for her day. They didn't have much planned. She didn't attend pre-school on Tuesdays, so they would run some errands until Samantha came home from school in the afternoon. Sipping her first coffee of the day, she reached for the ringing phone to find Steve, her long-time friend, but newly-acquired boyfriend calling to report news in Melanie's home state. “Turn the tv on. You're not going to believe what's happening in New York,” he exclaimed. “A plane has flown into the World Trade Center.”
Melanie watched in disbelief as she witnessed the mayhem that ensued as the second plane flew into the South Tower. The Twin Towers was something she always took for granted. It was something her eyes were naturally drawn to every time she had been in New York City or in a car cruising down the New Jersey Turnpike. She had even been there on a school trip. She had stood with the rest of her eighth grade class on the top floor of the North Tower, peering out of the panes of glass at 'Windows On The World' to the vast city below. Now the building was in flames and had a gaping hole in it's side and it's twin was in the same greusome condition. She felt a personal sense of betrayal. The phone rang again and Melanie reached for it, not taking her eyes off the screen. “Where is Lisa?” Lisa's best friend asked anxiously. Melanie reassured her that Lisa wasn't in New York; she was on a plane enroute to California.
Enroute to California from Logan Airport. Enroute to California, detoured from Logan airport. Melanie's heart rose to her throat. She picked the phone back up immediately and dialed Lisa's cell phone frantically. Tones. Three tones and a message, “This number is no longer in service.” She held her breath and slowly redialed the phone to David's cell. “David, what flight was Lisa on this morning?” she asked.
“I have no idea,” he answered.
It took hours to receive confirmation, but they knew. Deep in their hearts, they knew. David called TJX repeatedly, and each time they told him they would call him when they had news. He decided to wait for the news at home and Melanie took Carly to a neighbors house to play, shielding her from their suspicions for as long as possible. Without any words spoken, Melanie received confirmation of Lisa's passage on American Airlines Flight 11 when she heard David's agonizing wails from three houses away. She had been on the plane piloted by Mohammad Atta at the direction of Osama Bin Laden. Her final destination had been the North Tower of the World Trade Center. She wouldn't be coming home with gifts and kisses as promised.
They decided to tell the children together after school. They both needed time to compose themselves before tackling the monumental task of informing Samantha and Carly that Mommy wouldn't be coming home. Ever again. Melanie headed to the school to gather Samantha. She didn't expect the glee she would be met with. “I've had the BEST day EVER,” six-year old Samantha excitedly exclaimed as she bounced into the waitng car. How sad that it was about to turn into her worst day, ever.
The house was flooded with visitors in the week that followed. Hundreds of business associates, family members, and friends poured into the home and Melanie found herself not only protecting the children from well intentioned but overwhelmed visitors, but coordinating a week long event of food and general madness. She was embarking on a journey that so many people, even the advisors that made this connection for her, told her to back away from. She heard repeatedly, “You didn't sign up for this. You don't have to do this. It's too big. It's too intense. You're only 21 years old.”
Melanie got her tuition back from grad school and dedicated the next fifteen months of her life to saving three devestated people. She took over the household and every aspect of the children's lives, keeping everything organized, running smoothly, and moving forward. She served as the liaison with the NY Medical Examiner's Office every time they discovered a piece of Lisa; when they sent her head home for burial.
She tried desperately to teach David how to take care of his children, but it took everything he had to get through his own day. It was too painful for him. It would be entirely up to her. Up to her to nurture them through the most difficult time they would possibly ever endure. Up to her to explain why things like this happen. Up to her to try to turn their worlds right side up again. It was up to her to maintain a strong relationship with Lisa's family. It was even up to her to get them on a flight to Florida four months later.
She filled their calendar with outings and classes to help them define a new world and she intertwined the spirit of their mother in their very existence. Even when Carly started calling her 'Mommy,' Melanie held her close and confessed, “I will always, always love you, but you already have a Mommy. You can talk to me any time and you can talk to her any time. You just have to listen with your heart to hear her answer.”
Melanie's life changed progressively throughout her stay with the family. One by one, her friends pulled away. They wanted to talk about what was going on in their lives; the parties, the events, the night life. Melanie's existence revolved around raising children and running a household. Night life? She worked fifteen hours a day. There was no time or energy for night life. She was a 21 year old living a 40 year old's life. Even Steve included the children when making plans with Melanie, but it was becoming clearer and clearer that while the children proceeded to grow stronger, Melanie continued to lose herself in the process.
After 15 months, Melanie delegated the care of the children to a new nanny, but remained present to supervise, advise, and provide support, just as Lisa would have wanted, until David remarried in January of 2004. With the marriage, the girls inherited a mother that Melanie really cared for and a live-in grandmother, which was exactly what they needed. They also inherited two brothers and since then, have become older sisters to baby Lily, named in Jewish tradition in Lisa's honor.
Eight years after that terrible day, Melanie remains in touch with the family and they are all doing as well as can be expected. Melanie went on to become a teacher and then the Director of a Child Development Center. She married Steve, the wonderful man who stood steadfastly by her side during the most challenging years of her life and is now a stay at home Mom to two-year old Celia. She carries with her an appreciation for life that most people will never grasp and a powerful ability to overcome any challenge that comes her way. She also carries with her a sadness and understanding of how a tragedy that can change your life in an instant and forever can at the same time be so easily forgetten and disregarded by many.
In retrospect, certain moments stand out in Melanie's mind that seem prophetic. Like the day only a couple of weeks before September 11th when Samantha told her grandmother, “You've had Mommy for 42 years and I've only had her for six. It's my turn now,” or one week later when Carly begged Lisa to stay home from work, only days before she lost her forever.
They wouldn't find the poem, 'Attidude' by Charles Swindoll, that Lisa slipped under the door of David's office on her way out to catch her flight until days later, and would never know what had inspired her to clip it, but David had it engraved on a stone commorating Lisa in a garden at TJX alongside six other tombstones symbolizing the lives they all lost that sunny day in September of 2001.
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.
Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.
And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes.
God bless all the victims, living and perished, of the terrorism inflicted on our country, September 11, 2001.
I love you, Melanie. You are my hero.