DarielB – Flying Under the Radar

Putting a Face On Sept.11th

Posted in Personal Essays by darielb on January 29, 2009

On September 11, 2001, I watched in disbelief with the rest of the world as a jumbo jet exploded into the South Tower of the World Trade Center while the North Tower burned. It was almost surreal. My brain was slow to comprehend what I was seeing. How could this happen, and how could it be intentional?

I immediately called my brother in New Jersey, who, thankfully, was out of harm’s way and watching it unfold on television. Then I called Brian, my good friend from college who lives on Manhattan’s Westside, down in Chelsea. Brian works for Time Magazine on Sixth Avenue at 49th. He was upset, but unhurt and miles from the World Trade Center.

“What about Jim?” I asked. “No, Jim works midtown like I do,” came the instant reply.

But it wasn’t true.

Jim’s employer, Marsh & McLennan, had relocated his department downtown to the 92nd floor in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Jim was dead.

Jim Potorti was my first big love. We met in college and spent the next four years together. Our relationship was full of love and music and dancing and angst and bickering and making up, which, when you’re 20 is enough to sustain any relationship.

Despite all the making up fun, we split up the year after graduation but kept in touch, meeting occasionally when I was back in New York. He grew up to be a peach of a man. There was a kindness to him that I don’t remember from college. I was so proud of him and so happy for him. He had found the woman of his dreams. They had built a life together; they had a wonderful life ahead of them, and in one instant it was gone. He was gone.

His brother, David, is a writer in Cary, North Carolina. I read in one of his pieces that Jim’s office had been right at the point of impact, so the chance of even finding any DNA was slim. They did find a piece of him though, a tiny shard of leg bone smaller than a fingernail. Did his wife find consolation in that? Not much, I imagine. Maybe it gave his parents something tangible over which to grieve. I hope so. For me, I can only see the obscenity in it.

In fact, I have no platitudes, no newly gained wisdom, no noteworthy philosophical view, no understanding to offer. When I think about September 11, I just hurt all over. I’m sick that Jim had to go through that horror. For me, the face of September 11 will always be that of Jim Potorti, who was a peach of a man.


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