Searching for Normal 

She watched the tower come down, knowing that if her brother was in that building he did not survive.

I had to call my brother's wife, Tara. At that point it was pandemonium. I still didn't know what was happening. They kept showing Flight 93, and I thought, Why the f— are they showing that? What does that have to do with the World Trade Center? I couldn't connect the dots.

I didn't know what tower Michael worked in. I had to call my dad. He told me Michael was in Tower One. I asked, "Is that the one that's still standing?" He said yes.

When you look at the towers you always think there are 200 floors or more because they're so tall. I asked my dad how many floors there were, and he said, "110." Then I asked what floor Michael was on and he said, "100. It doesn't look good."

I watched his tower come down. And I knew if Michael Bane were in that building, he did not survive.

All day I was crying and shaking in disbelief, not understanding. How can you?

That afternoon I needed to get out of the house. It took me a couple tries. My neighbor was going to take some food over to a local animal shelter. I thought, I need to get outside, I need to go give blood.

We went to feed the animals. But when we went to give blood they already had enough and the lines were so long. By then I was wiped out.

Andrew and I left the next day for his parents' house. The day after that we left for New York. On the way it was uncanny, as we passed Baltimore and Philadelphia, to see nary a plane in the sky or a boat in the water, and I felt as though the roads were deserted. It took forever to get there. It's a five-hour trip but it felt like it took days. I think we were just going through the motions of shock.

Michael was 33. He worked on the 100th floor of Tower One, the North Tower, for the insurance broker Marsh & McLennan. He and his wife, Tara, had been married four years. They were trying to start a family. I'm angry, pissed off, because I'm never going to see his children. I wanted to see him flourish. He had worked really hard and was well on his way. He was my baby brother.

We stayed at Tara and Michael's in Pennsylvania for five days. It was the same thing every day — on the phone, checking hospitals, waiting to hear any word on the rescue of people. I didn't want to leave Michael's house. I think everybody knew there was no way he could have survived. I needed to come home and prepare myself. I don't know how anyone does that.

I didn't leave my house for a good two weeks, only to walk my dog. I was absolutely terrified of people and couldn't look them in the eye.

We had to wait a while for a funeral because there were so many funerals going on, so many memorials. We didn't have our first memorial for Michael until a month later. That was surreal because I couldn't believe he was gone. I had all these guilty feelings like: Could he be in a hospital somewhere? But there was no body. I had to send two DNA samples — they lost the first one — to the New York Medical Examiner's Office in case they found his body or part of it. They didn't. My dad applied for a death certificate.

The first time I went to Ground Zero it was in October. I couldn't wait to get there. You had to go through this long process. It began on Ellis Island. You had to plan it days in advance. You had to show your ID because there were so many families that needed to be accommodated. Once you got to the site, members of the Red Cross would walk you over to Ground Zero and cloak you so reporters or photographers couldn't take pictures of you viewing. I was getting ready to go over when that plane crashed in Queens. I saw the smoke and thought, Oh my God, is this another terrorist attack? All I had really cared about was getting over to Ground Zero to make sure what I had seen and heard for weeks had really happened. I don't know if I thought I'd see Michael. I needed to be there, to visit with him. But the trip was canceled. All the planes were grounded in New York and the tunnels were closed. The next day I got to go.

The World Trade Center was known as the Towers of Power, this symbol of New York. They belonged to everyone. They were not only strong and tall, they were always there. To see the skyline now without them is eerie. Even though they're not there, you still see them because they're etched in your mind forever. I actually like watching films that show the towers because I think, "That's when everyone was safe; that's when things were normal."

In some ways I think, like the towers, everybody that died that day belongs to everybody, not just my family or other families. We all watched in horror. We lost our innocence and our safety. People I haven't even known have offered kind words every day. They still are sending me things in memory of 9/11.

I understand people lose siblings, parents and loved ones every day. I'm not dismissing that. But having 9/11 so public means you read in the newspaper "Before 9/11," and you're like, "Yeah I got it, I understand."

I know a lot of people are really sick of hearing about 9/11, and that's fine, because sometimes I am, too. It's in my face and all I think about. There are some days when I turn on the news and I can't even watch it, I don't want to be a part of it. I'm already a part of it.

Finding normal is one thing I've tried through sticking to my routine. I walk the same way to work. Get my paper and tuck it under my arm, get my ritual cup of coffee and walk into work. Then I read the sports section. It's bittersweet because Michael and I both love the Yankees and watching tennis.

Normal now is picking up the pieces. Normal is finding a life without Michael. Leaving him behind while I go ahead. I'm not a plant person, I don't have a green thumb, but I had bought all these flowers, and I was planting them out front of my house, working in the soil. It felt so good. Just like laughter, when it comes. Now I am conscious to laugh out loud and hard when I hear something funny. It's such a relief. To find that coming back to you is — normal, I guess. It's life.

I can't even believe that it's been a year. Since I live with it so acutely I feel like it happened yesterday. Part of me wants to run from the anniversary of September 11 kicking and screaming. I don't want it to come. It's the day when the rug was pulled out from everybody's feet. We all walked with this sense of purpose that we thought we had.

But at the same time I want it to come and go. Michael and I had always been private people. Now I feel like I'm Michael's voice. I can't just let this date go by and not say a word. It's too big, too important. I can't just say, "It happened; I'm getting on."

I don't think any of those people died in vain. What pisses me off more than anything is they were just going to work that day. They were at their desks or on the phone or were getting their cups of coffee. The day was about to begin. It was a stellar day in New York City, stellar — beautiful. The U.S. Open had just ended that Sunday. Everything was right with the world, to some degree.

With the anniversary coming up it's going to be fresh. My take is that I'm taking two days off from work and I'm going to be in the country. I want to go fishing, and I'm going to learn how to sew. I don't want to see the TVs because I think that's for other people to watch. It is important for them to remember. But I don't want to watch 13 hours like I did that day.

I'm not looking for closure. I'm going to leave the door ajar a bit. There are so many stories and I cannot wait to hear them come out because this is history. We're living it. I know everybody's apprehensive about September 11 coming up. And this is my way of saying it's OK to talk about it.

I just went on a trip for a family wedding. It was the first thing our family did together without Michael that was a happy occasion. It was in Arizona so I had to take a plane. So I got on that plane and went.

I still have nervous moments. I hear a really loud noise and it startles me. A plane flying really low brings the whole 9/11 thing rushing back at me. I am a little apprehensive of the anniversary and think, "Is something going to happen?" But I'm going to soldier through the day. I'm going to lick my wounds. I'm with this 9/11 family. And not just with the families who suffered but with everybody.

I recently saw a preview for a special and it showed the towers burning, and I thought, my God, I've come so far because I don't want to see this. It's something I live with like a brand upon my heart. I look forward to the day when I don't see the towers burning in my mind. Instead, I see Michael Andrew Bane with his wife in his house with his animals. That' s the memory I want to hold when I search for normal now. S

Chris Bane Hayes is an avid cook, writer and animal lover who lives in Richmond.


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