This year, we wanted to commemorate September 11 in our first issue, but we wanted the article to not only honor the lives lost and changed by the attacks, but to also reach out to the community and tell a Groton story. For weeks, we searched for an adequate yet relevant tribute.
Then, a few weeks ago as we were discussing graphics for the issue, Gardner Thors ’20 nonchalantly reminded us that he and Andrew Mazza ’20 were both born in New York City on September 11, 2001.
The article on page one is the product of the Mazza’s and the Thors’ bravery and kindness in letting us publish their experiences. Moreover, their letters answering our inquiries were so moving that we’ve published them in full. We encourage you to read what these families have to say about a dark turning point in our history that honors both death and life.
To Ms. Christine Mazza and Mrs. Melissa LaBarre Thors: thank you for sharing your story with the Circle.
-Cara Chang and Powers Trigg ’20
<From Ms. Mazza>
Dear Cara and Powers,
Thank you for reaching out and inquiring about the days and months after September 11, 2001. This is always a very sad and very difficult topic for me to discuss. While I celebrated the birth of my son, Andrew Mazza ‘20 on September 11, 2001, hundreds of souls were lost, some of which I knew. It is always heavy on my heart knowing something so horrific happened on the greatest day of my life. What is fascinating though, is that the magnitude of 9/11 was not felt or understood by me until about a week later. I can honestly say, I knew very little about it for almost a week. Here’s my story.
Andrew was born in Plainview Hospital about 35 miles east of Manhattan on Long Island. He was born at 9:01am. At approximately 9:10am I was moved from the operating room to a recovery area that had televisions on. I saw on the television “re-runs” of the North and South towers being struck by planes. Honestly though, I was a bit loopy from the anesthesia, but I do recall saying to my doctor that now as a new mom I will definitely monitor the choices of TV programs he watches. I thought I was watching a cartoon. It seemed unimaginable that what I was seeing was real.
Soon afterward I was taken to my room. My mom came to visit and chatted very briefly with me that something bad happened but that things were unfolding and she would update me as more information became available. She sort of glossed of the severity of the situation. I spent most of my time in the hospital with visitors in and out gushing over the new baby.
I was released from the hospital on Saturday. Once home and settled, I turned on my TV to watch some programs that were recorded on my TIVO (today’s DVR) and every single recorded program was newscast about the 9/11 attacks. I watched in horror. I had no idea there was a plane that went down in Pennsylvania, I didn’t know about the Pentagon, I knew the towers fell but I didn’t realize people were trapped, and worse-died. I felt hollow and numb that my city had suffered so tremendously and I was completely immune to the entire situation.
For many years Andrew’s birthday was celebrated during Labor Day weekend. It was hard to celebrate his first birthday on the one-year anniversary, or his second on the second anniversary and so on. Instead, we went to visit the lights that emanated from ground zero and shone to the heavens, said a prayer, and remembered all those that were lost.
For me, 9/11 was a light switch that made our nation dark. September 11, 2001 is a harsh line in our country’s history- there is pre-9/11 and then there is post-9/11. How we lived pre-9/11 and how we live today are widely different. Security everywhere, steel doors on cockpits, heightened awareness, new travel rules, the creation of Homeland Security, and the list goes on.
Andrew and I have been to each of the three memorials, NYC, Washington, and Pennsylvania. He understands the enormity of the day, but he and many other kids his age will never understand when the world was bright, pre-9/11.
<From Mrs. Thors>
We were safely settling in one of the state-of-the art labor rooms at New York Presbyterian Weill-Cornell Medicine Hospital on the morning of September 11, 2001. It was a beautiful, quiet, crystal blue sky, clear Tuesday morning on the Upper East Side. We were apprehensive for a long day of painful labor and praying for the safe birth of our first child…and so were grateful for our beautiful, calm room overlooking the East River.
One of the nurses monitoring my progress stepped in from the nurses’ station, where they had a radio quietly playing. She said she overheard the breaking news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center North Tower at 8:46 am. We immediately turned on the huge flat screen TV for the news and our uncertain peace was broken by the unbelievable, unimaginable and shocking tragedy unfolding on live TV.
With IV feeds in my arm, and sitting in the most vulnerable state, on a hospital bed about to give birth, I watched with an incredulous disconnection as the second plane hit the South Tower live at 9:03 am …people jumping to their deaths rather than burning alive … and then first the fall of the South Tower at 9:59 am followed by the collapse of the North Tower at 10:28 am.
While the falling towers were many blocks away in lower Manhattan, the fear of terrorist threat spread up through the city like the black smoke from the towers. Were other attacks in the works? Dirty bombs? What kind of panic would happen that might hurt us and our newborn? The impending birth of our child transformed from a life challenge to an emergency, survival situation. Images of women giving birth in war zones and natural disasters flashed through our minds in spite of the hushed quiet on the ward.
The hospital started buzzing with activity as staff checked out all patients in stable condition in order to make room for trauma victims, as Weill-Cornell has one of the most highly recognized burn centers in the country. It was designated to receive survivors, but none came, as almost 3,000 people were annihilated completely as the towers came down. Hundreds of forlorn local residents, wanting to help in some way, came to the hospital and lined up to donate blood which was not needed. My husband Thor went down to the quickly prepared donation area in the courtyard but was sent back upstairs by a kindly staff member to our ward where he was needed in support of his wife and new child.
The maternity ward was a ghost town with just us and one other couple in our wing. It was broken only by one cavalcade of smoky firemen, pushing a gurney with a hysterical pregnant woman on it. She had been near Ground Zero and her labor induced by the trauma around her.
We spent the morning in our quiet, seemingly safe ward, watching the live coverage while trying to connect with family on the chaotic outside. There were strange reports of people buying up all the cold-cuts at local deli’s to prepare for shortages and crisis.
We made attempts to contact my sister who was in harms way, just blocks north of Ground Zero expecting to close on her first apartment, and my father who was in transit at LaGuardia Airport for a morning flight out. We were anxious for them, but happily, both made it safely to the hospital via circuitous routes and good Samaritans in time for Gardner’s birth at 8:54 pm.
We operated in a kind of directed survival mode during the birth, immediately afterward, and for the following weeks. The city was on edge with every day bringing new information on potential toxic threats, anthrax attacks and new ramifications of the terrorists’ actions. Thor made sure to shower and put on clean clothes when coming into the apartment before holding baby Gardner. At the same time, it felt as if NYC had developed a stronger sense of community and camaraderie, with strangers helping each other in simple daily tasks, no longer typically rushing by with a blind eye.
We had very little objectivity or sympathy for the terrorists regarding the response to the attacks. Our children may experience and may someday understand what it is like to bring a fragile little baby into the world in the midst of chaos in your city and growing crisis around the globe. For us, the attacks and further threats were as personal as they possibly could be.
Thor remembers his mixed feelings of joy and guilt (for being happy) when carrying balloons home to celebrate Gardner’s first birthday. People’s reactions to Gardner’s birth date have been varied with most asking “What was it like giving birth on such a scary, sad day?” Some, however, feel as we do, that we are blessed and grateful to share our very different story of bringing life into this world on an otherwise dark day.
-Melissa LaBarre Thors