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Husband's peril at World Trade Center gives wife new perspective on life

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Posted: Tuesday, September 10, 2002 10:00 pm

This year, my Christmas lights were the last ones down in the neighborhood.

It was almost an embarrassing length of time until they came down. Then they didn't make it up to the attic until well into March when the Easter decorations came down. They sat, packed up, waiting in the garage for someone to notice them.

We have lived in our house for almost a year. During this year, my husband has unpacked about two of the 20 boxes in his office.

Sometimes the garbage in our house doesn't make it to the outside garbage until the day after it is full. It sits, spilling over to the floor, waiting for someone to trip over it or be repulsed by the smell. These unfinished projects and disregarded chores are my husband's.

Editor's note: This is a first-person account by Kimberlie Daniel of Lodi, whose husband, Corey, survived the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

They are the things we decided long ago in our marriage would be his responsibility.

They used to get done immediately. Not because of my husband's desire to do them quickly, but because of my desire to see them done quickly. Obsessive, compulsive, or just outright anal as my husband says, if they weren't done in a timely manner, a long series of whining and nagging would commence and continue stronger and louder until all was complete.

This was before, this was a year ago August, before Sept. 11, 2001.

Because on Sept. 11, one year ago today, for one short hour - for one long hour - I thought my husband was dead. My husband, a California native and resident, was in the World Trade Center on the 61st floor.

He has told his story many times. There is always someone who does not know about his brush with death. It is his story that causes people to stop and inhale their breath in disbelief. It is one of those things that you can't believe happened. It doesn't seem possible.

For me, it is one of those things I can't believe happened, and I can't believe we were involved. We live in California. The people involved here were on planes. There were no happy endings or stories of triumph for the people on planes.

The stories in California were sad, about people who were not coming home. My husband's story is happy; it is about survival and triumph on a day when there was nothing to celebrate. My story is a little less about Sept. 11 and a little more about every day since.

On that Tuesday, I had the phone off the hook. My 4-year-old came in and crawled under the covers with me, her warm body snuggled against my pregnant belly.

"Mommy do you want me to answer the door?" she asked. "No sweetheart, it's 7 in the morning; no one is at the door," I told her.

Then I heard it too. I was too sleepy to be alarmed. It was my best friend. She stood awkwardly, alone, nervous-looking in sweats.

"Are you OK?," she asked.

I was OK, just confused.

She sat me down, she told me and we turned on the TV. With no background information, I watched a tower fall.

I am a realist, a bottom-line gal, everything black and white, very little gray. I remember thinking, "Well, that's that. Nobody could survive that. He's dead." I didn't verbalize it, but I felt it.

The next hour felt like five minutes. Turn on the phone, get messages, friends sound concerned, but not panicked, he must be somewhere else, not in the towers, because, well … because.

Corey's boss has called. He doesn't sound like he thinks Corey is dead. Return his call. He thinks Corey is out, but he doesn't know for sure.

Think about calling my dad; if Corey is dead I want the children out of the house when I hear this.

Stay calm, don't want to lose the baby.

Brother arrives to help.

Best friend and brother try to make pancakes for my children.

Call Corey's mom. Tell her he is there, she doesn't believe me, he isn't in that building because, well … because.

Message comes in while I am on the phone with mother-in-law. I get it right before 8. On my voice mail I hear, "Collect from Corey." I drop to the floor, crying.

He is alive.

I missed the impact the rest of the world felt. I was completely self-involved, in my own world, not understanding the magnitude of the event.

Standing in front of the TV at about three in the afternoon, watching it all I realized for the first time, "This wasn't an accident or a plane crash. It was terrorism."

My husband came home.

He rode a bus halfway across the country and then bravely got on a plane in Tulsa to be home with his family.

There are many men, women and children whose stories about that day are not happy, they do not end well. I think of the women, the pregnant women, most often. Their stories are on "Dateline" and in People magazine. I watch and cry, I read and cry. I feel guilty.

Why were we blessed?

Why did my husband come home?

Why did my husband get to be there when our third girl was born in November?

Why did this happen?

The only way I can answer is with my life. My answer is to live a little more and worry a little less. My answer is to have more fun with husband and children and treasure my family. Let go of the things that used to bother me, and really aren't that important. I have put some perspective into my life, a perspective that wasn't there before.

When my husband is late and I am overwhelmed with three children at bath time, I am reminded that this could have been a permanent situation. It could have been me every night, every morning, every day, alone.

This perspective has changed me, for the better. I am different now. It sits there, 9/11, in the back of my mind a reminder as to what is important. I'm not perfect, I slip. As the time passes since Sept. 11, I find myself concerned about the garbage, the boxes, the things I want done.

I hope if next year's Christmas decorations sit in the garage until Easter that I will ignore them and realize how unimportant it is. I pray I will keep my new found perspective and know what is important to my family - our health, our love, our life.

Sept. 11 took so much away from our country. God willing, I will cherish all that it gave me for a very long time.

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