I hadn't realized how tired I was and sounded almost casual when I asked, "How's it going?"
Hours later, I finally made it home to the Upper West Side, where my little night owl, Louisa, opened the door. "Mommy, Mommy, your hair is gray!" she screeched. Ben was sound asleep, but as promised, I woke him. Fear welled up in his face. He grabbed me by the shoulders. "I'm scared, Mom," he said, and started crying.
I showered, put on a pair of white pajamas and took both of my children to bed with me.
This summer I went back to find the flower shop. It is gone, replaced by a chain coffee shop known for cutting-edge barista technology. St. Vincent's is also gone, now that a charity hospital is no longer needed in the upgraded neighborhood. Its main building is slated to become apartments.
My friend Linda is gone as well, to Canada.
Kelly Badillo was out of work for six months after the attack. He drank too much and was plagued by nightmares, he recalled when we had lunch the other day. But his union eventually found him a new job running the elevator at the Bank of New York, a sturdy old cement building close to the trade center site.
"I was hoping after 10 years everything would be finished and the trade center would be open," says Kelly, now 50. "I think it will get done before I retire. Then I can leave, move to Florida, knowing what I went through is behind me."
Walter Pilipiak, the insurance broker whose name I had misspelled, has a new office near the site.
"I always forget you're not a blond," he said this summer. My dark hair had been covered in ash when we first met.
We had seen each other only once since Sept. 11 — the following Monday, when I showed up at 5 a.m. at his suburban New Jersey home to chronicle his return to work in a midtown high-rise.
In the last decade a lot has happened to Walter, now 58. He left one job and landed another; one son is about to marry and the other is just out of college. His wife, Carol, who had also been working in the financial district, was more traumatized than he had initially understood. She still won't set foot in Manhattan.
In the months after Sept. 11, Walter was preoccupied with trying to find who led him and his co-workers to a stairwell, saving all their lives. Finally, he was able to identify "our hero" — Pablo Ortiz, a Port Authority employee who had died helping others. A photograph of Ortiz's family hangs on Walter's office wall.
During our visit, he kept fiddling with a charm on a chain hanging around his neck. It's a replica of the twin towers. First he bought a cheap one from a tourist vendor. Then he had one made of 14-karat gold. "This is my little baggage," he says. "That was my World Trade Center, where I became president of a company. That was my life and it is what it is."
I am still not sure why we save mementos from a day we would all just as soon forget.
Walter boxed up the tassel loafers and the hockey jersey he'd worn around his neck as he descended the tower. Kelly Badillo kept a ring of about 30 or 40 keys. They are to utility closets, lockers and offices that no longer exist.
Just an hour after the towers had fallen, Ryan Sheehan, then 17, filled a bottle with the soot. Ryan had been looking for his mother. I talked to him briefly that day. "I'm going to save this," he said.
How could he have already been thinking about a time when the calamity would be over? The diary holds no explanation.
But just as they saved shoes and keys and dust, I still have my journal.
I also live with two realities of Sept. 11 that still stagger me — the people plunging off the buildings and the children. Nearly 3,000 children, average age 9, lost a parent. My son was close to that age.
Like many parents, I measure my life by the progress of my children. We will soon be dropping the kids off at school again.
Louisa is starting at a big public high school in the Bronx. And on Sept. 12, we get to take Ben to college.