Life after 9/11: One family's story

Abigail Carter, 45, lost her husband Arron Dack 10 years ago on September 11. He was attending a trade show on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower. The former Torontonian talks to Todaysparent.com about parenting two kids, now 16 and 12, through her high-profile loss

Arron and I met at a party in Toronto in 1985. I was 20 and he was 24. It was a going-away party and the house was empty and I was kicking over the beer cans on the living room floor while dancing. I guess he thought it was charming.

We wound up riding in a car together and I got dropped off. That was a Friday night. On the Monday night I was at home and there was a knock at the door. It was Arron: he remembered where I got dropped off.

We dated on and off for a few years and got serious after we both finished school. In 1990 we got married and moved to Brussels and then to Boston for Arron’s work. Olivia was born in 1995 and we moved to New Jersey two years later for Arron’s job at Encompys in Manhattan. Two years later Carter was born.

He’d leave the house at 6 a.m. and often would not get home until 8 at night. So when he was home, he was really home. On Sundays he made Minnie Mouse pancakes. He’d work out in the basement; he’d crank up music really loud and would use Olivia like she was a set of barbells, bench pressing her, and she’d giggle the whole time.

His other favourite place was Home Depot. He’d take Carter and they’d be gone for hours. I suspect he’d get one of those carts you can put lumber on and just roll Carter around the store in it.

On September 11, I was between jobs so I was at home with Carter and getting Olivia ready for the bus when the phone rang. “I’m at the World Trade Center, there’s been a bomb, call 911,” Arron said. I knew he had a flair for the dramatic, so I just assumed someone had set off some firecrackers in the bathroom. “I’m going to be late for the bus. I’ll call 911,” I told him as we rushed out the door, even though I couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t make the call. I spoke to New Jersey dispatch and they contacted the NYPD and then called me back. “A plane has hit the World Trade Center, you’d better turn on your TV.” I turned it on just in time to see the second plane hit. That’s when I knew.

Within a few hours, my house started filling with people. The next day, the kids started asking where Daddy was. I told Olivia, “You know you heard there were planes hitting a building. Well, your dad was at the top of one of the buildings and it fell down.” And she said, “Is he hurt? Is he dead?” And I said: “I don’t know, but I think he might be.” We cried and then she stopped crying and looked at me and said, “The bad guys who stole the planes and flew them, are they dead too?” “Yes.” “Good.”

The house was full of people for about six weeks and it was October before I found myself home alone, making dinner for the kids. I needed it to be quiet and it hadn’t been. I realized that we’d had a routine: I’d make dinner, he’d do the dishes. So every time I cleared the dishes after that, I’d be resentful. One day I had to mow the lawn. I had to start the lawn mower, and I hurt my knuckle trying to do it. I kicked the mower and hurt my toes.

The kids have dealt with their grief very differently. My son was very vocal. He’d say things like: “Daddy angel now, only Mommy now.” He’d point to a building, any building and ask: “Is Daddy there?” As he got older, at each new developmental milestone, I had to explain it again, but I was able to give him more and more explanation. When he was four he went to preschool and they were making things for Father’s Day. For the first time he realized he was the only one without a dad and he became really angry.

Olivia decided she just didn’t want to be an unhappy person; she didn’t want to cry anymore. So she switched off and she’d be just horrified if she caught me crying. I think she’s starting to come out of it a little bit. Recently, she’s been saying: “I wonder what my life would be like if Daddy was in it.”

Six years ago, we moved to Seattle. I had to get out of that house: everywhere I turned was another reminder of him. I didn’t want to raise the kids in a town where everyone knew them as the 9/11 kids. I had a girlfriend in Seattle and my sister is nearby in BC.

I think I’ve now reached the point, 10 years later, where this is my way of life now. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a two-parent family anymore. But I still miss his sense of humour, his goofiness, his touch. The simple stuff. If he was here and he never took the garbage out, I wouldn’t care.

I miss his opinion and having him around to make decisions with the kids. Olivia is testing boundaries now. I think he would have been the stricter parent. Right now I need his brand of strictness.

This year on September 11, we’re going away where there’s no Internet, no cable. That’s what Arron would have wanted to do. I don’t have a choice but to remember the day of his death, but it’s not the day I want to remember. I’d rather remember his birthday or our anniversary. But the world has to mark that day, and I get that.

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