19: Audrey and Annie

19: Audrey and Annie

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America

Audrey and Annie

My mom once told me that when I see tragic disasters and accidents to look for the good. People are always helping each other out. There’s still some good left in this world.

~Marisa Stein

Audrey: Paul left for the airport before the sun came up. I held our baby in one arm, and we waved to Daddy as the cab pulled away. Relishing the last day of my maternity leave, we were off to the YMCA and then to visit Grandma.

Annie: September 11, 2001, was a home-office workday for me. I had been traveling a lot with my job at American Airlines and was happy to have the day to catch up on paperwork.

I turned on the TV as I organized my desk. A news flash reported that a plane from Boston had hit the World Trade Center. I was paralyzed with shock and fear as billows of smoke poured from the north tower.

Audrey: With my son happily in childcare, I was oblivious for one marvelous hour to anything but the form of my backstroke. By 8:45 a.m., we were back in the car, headed toward the highway.

Ten minutes later, my phone rang. Paul’s boss wanted to know if Paul had made his flight to Los Angeles. He told me what had happened to the Twin Towers. “People miss flights all the time,” he assured me.

But Paul hadn’t missed his flight. He had called me from his seat aboard the plane. I’m sure I stopped breathing. I turned on the radio and pulled into the breakdown lane.

Annie: My fear that it was an American Airlines plane was confirmed when I checked my computer. The morning BOS/LAX flight was blacked out. I knew what that meant. It was time for me to pack and be ready for my call to duty as a CARE (Customer Assistance Relief Effort) team member.

Audrey: I don’t know how long it took me to get home.

Still incredulous, I checked the flight itinerary Paul had taped to the fridge.

I was a widow.

I walked outside into the pristine air. Wally, our mailman, waved. He was the first person I told. Wally must have told everyone on the block because my house was full of people within thirty minutes.

Annie: The call came, and I was told to drive to the Marriott at Boston’s Logan International Airport. The turnpike was eerily empty. Even the tollbooths were unmanned. The whole world must have been glued to their TVs.

Upon arriving at the hotel, I learned that the last name of the family I would be assisting was Friedman, the same as mine. The woman’s first name was Audrey. Her husband had been on the first plane to crash into the towers. The fact that our surnames and religious culture were identical made me feel a kindred spirit to this family.

I called Audrey. She took the call, but clearly was in no frame of mind to talk to some stranger from the airline.

Audrey: A woman from American Airlines called. Her name was Annie. She assured me they would do everything they could to help. Did we need money? Childcare? Food? I was numb. No, thank you. None of those things was what we needed.

Annie: Being able to help and comfort people during a crisis has always helped me as much as I’d hoped it helped them. But this time I was scared. I could hear how fragile Audrey was by our fragmented phone conversation.

After extensive briefing about this crisis, I was finally allowed to visit Audrey at her house. I was very nervous and didn’t know how I would be received.

The house was full of company, but I focused on Audrey, the baby, and Hercules, the little Yorkie that never left her side. I knew I was where I was meant to be.

Audrey: Although everyone who came to my house during the days and weeks after 9/11 wanted nothing more than to comfort me, I felt exhausted and “on display.” When Annie introduced herself, I felt an immediate connection. I wasn’t sure why she was there, but I wanted her to stay.

Annie: I called and visited frequently. This was a challenging time for me because I hurt so badly for Audrey while still trying to understand what was happening in the world around us. I struggled to keep it together. Alone in my hotel room, I often broke down in tears.

Audrey: It was a terrible time. I was inconsolable, and my family and friends struggled to know how to comfort me.

Annie came as unexpectedly as the events that jettisoned her into my life. Maybe I saw her as particularly strong and steady because that’s what I needed her to be. Annie was totally “in” but objective; open hearted but sturdy; pragmatic but able to absorb my rants and mood swings.

She lingered into the evening after everyone else had gone home. This gentle stranger, with a name that reminded me of a well-loved rag doll, showed me the joy in my baby’s eyes when all I saw was pain.

With Annie, I could crumble.

Annie: Some nights, we talked for hours on her flowered couch. Some nights, we just sat in silence. A hand on her knee or a hug brought us closer than words. To this day, I picture the baby in his swinging chair and Hercules staring up at me from the floor, protecting his humans.

Audrey: How long was Annie in town? Weeks? Months? It never occurred to me that she would go away someday.

I don’t remember the day she told me she would be leaving. But somehow, my pre-9/11, polite self invited her for a thank-you dinner.

Annie: Nothing could have shocked or endeared me more than when Audrey invited me to dinner. Her kindness seemed surreal in light of what she was going through. I felt like I had known her for years.

Audrey: It felt so good, so normal, to have Annie sitting at my dining room table. It was the first time I had cooked a proper meal in weeks. For the first time, I asked Annie about her life. Did she have kids? (Yes.) Was this her first time responding to an air emergency? (No.) Where did she live? (Upstate New York.) I had assumed that Annie’s role as a CARE member was part of her job. It wasn’t until this dinner that I learned it was strictly volunteer.

Annie: In the early years after the tragedy, I hesitated to contact Audrey because I didn’t want to be a reminder of that terrible time in her life. When I brought this up, she assured me that would never be the case.

Some years, we speak often; sometimes, only on 9/11. But I think of Audrey and her son frequently. The silver lining of that horrific experience is that I got to know and love her.

Audrey: Annie played a huge role in my recovery from 9/11 and will always be part of the loving circle that got me through those wretched first months.

Annie is in my thoughts more often than she knows. Far from triggering bad memories, she reminds me that healing sometimes enters unannounced; gently offering support and friendship, and never really saying goodbye.

~Audrey Ades and Annie Friedman

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