Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The friend I never had who died on 9/11, remembered


The other night, I lay in bed and relived September 11 in my mind: The sight of the burning Twin Towers from the ferry deck on my commute from Hoboken, New Jersey to New York. The unspeakable images I saw on TV in the office conference room. The added terror of military planes flying overhead—were we at war? The horror of the unimaginable number of innocent people killed. Hoboken had the largest death toll of any city, 57 people.

I tried to picture the girl. I no longer could. I'd long ago forgotten her name.

This is the girl whose face I'd seen everywhere on "MISSING" flyers around Hoboken after 9/11—on telephone poles, store windows, mailboxes. "Have you seen our daughter?" they read.

There were so many of those "MISSING" posters, each sadder than the next, but the sheer volume of flyers with her face made her stand out. She had such a nice smile. She looked like a girl I would have liked to hang out with. Her face haunted me.

Long after it was clear there were no more survivors from the towers, I kept hoping that somehow, she'd be found.

The flyers of her stayed up until they were in tatters and then, they were gone.  

I was distressed that I could no longer envision that girl. I owed that to her, at the very least.

My morning ritual on 9/11 is to go to a local park at the time the first plane hit, 8:46 a.m., for a private moment of silence. Last year, the kids and I baked cookies and brought them to the neighborhood fire department.

Nothing ever feels like enough.

I got out of bed, logged onto my computer and started scanning a list of New Jersey residents who'd died on 9/11, 674 names in all. I read down and down, my chest tightening. And then, near the bottom: 

Melissa Renee Vincent—28—Hoboken.

I was pretty sure it was her. I Googled. 

Yes. The girl. That face. That smile. 


I searched and found a tribute to Melissa in the series of write-ups by The New York Times. I wondered why it had taken me this long to look her up. The business of work, parenthood, life seemed like a pathetic excuse. I owed it to her. 

Melissa had moved to New York City from a town near Rochester. She worked as a recruiter for Alliance Consulting Group on the 102nd floor of 1 World Trade Center. She loved opera, movies, Broadway shows and Yankees games.

I Googled some more. Her obituary mentioned a brother and a sister. Elsewhere I read that her father, David, had frequently appeared on CNN in the days following 9/11, begging people to help find his daughter. I learned about the memorial stone in front of the building she'd lived in, and that her alma mater, SUNY Oswego, had created a memorial garden to honor her (class of '94) and the 11 other alumni who'd died on 9/11.

I found a Pinterest post for Melissa on a 9/11 In Memorium board. It featured an article that quoted her mom, Lucille. She spoke of her daughter's generosity and kind spirit. "People really gravitated toward her," she said. "People liked to be around her."

I wasn't sure what I could do to honor Melissa's memory. I ended up at DonorsChoose, where teachers post requests that people can help fulfill. I found a project called "I Create with iPads" started by a teacher at the Northwoods Fine Arts Academy in Sand Springs, OK, described as a high-poverty area. "My students come from a small town environment. Many are underprivileged. Our school strives to infuse the arts into their core learning at every level," read the writeup. Students visited art museums, operas and dance performances. The teacher is hoping to get two iPad Minis so the kids could further explore artists and art methods. 

I made a donation in honor of Melissa Renee Vincent. This would have been her 40th year. Perhaps, like me, she would have been married, with kids. Maybe living in New York—an article said she'd wanted to move there—and still loving Broadway shows and the opera.

I fell asleep, picturing her face once again.

RIP, Melissa Renee Vincent. I will not forget.

29 comments:

  1. It was a tragic day for the world Melissa looks like such a sweet girl.

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  2. Thank you for remembering Melissa. Be well today friend.

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  3. My son attended Northwoods fine arts academy. Where did you read they were a high poverty area school? Of course a lot of school districts have under privileged kids that attend but I had no idea that is the way the rest of the world sees this school and our area. Northwoods is a great school with a great group of teachers. It's awesome that you are giving to them. Of course they always welcome support of any kind. It's especially sweet knowing that in this ladies name, kids are going to be helped. I hope they share her story with the kids. Thank you.

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  4. Thank you for this. Just...thanks.

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  5. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful person. It's a poignant reminder that so many individual people died that day---loved ones who meant so much to so many---and they are not just a number or a statistic. Thank you for remembering and reminding everyone of that.

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  6. What a lovely way to pay tribute on this sad, horrible anniversary. Thank you.

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  7. What a wonderful way to honor a beautiful life.

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  8. I do not have the gift of words like the writer of this tribute. But like them I share in this tragedy. I was eating breakfast in a small dim sum place in Chinatown just a couple of storefronts away from the Parking Garage on Bowery and Canal. I felt the first plane hit about 20 minutes into breakfast. Everyone went outside to look. From that moment on for the next 48 hours I remember everything and nothing at the same time... Those of you who were witnesses that close can understand.

    But in either case I now live with my wife who is from Miss Vincent's home town. We live in Batavia and in this morning's local paper was an article on Melissa and this here blog post summed up my feelings as well.

    Every September 11th I have a ritual too. I walk into a church, any church sometime between 8:45 and 10:08 I say a prayer for the families of victims, the survivors, Then I pray for peace so that no more have to die for God or Allah. After that I try to go on with my day and fight back the flash of images that follows any glimpse of the pictures of that day.

    A heartfelt thank you to the author for putting into words these feelings and sharing them giving voice to my silent feelings.

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    1. Here is the article from today's paper about Melissa, for all to see: http://thedailynewsonline.com/news/article_2928e318-1a95-11e3-8d4e-001a4bcf887a.html

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  9. Thank you for sharing this...I will remember Melissa now too.

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  10. I wrote a similar post about 9/11, how we have moved on and forgotten the true victims. The ones that have died and those who were left behind. How sorry I am that I seem to forget them until every 9/11.

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  11. This is the nicest thing I read all day related to remembering 9/11. As someone who knew people who died and lived that day it is nice to read such a touching remembrance for someone you never actually knew.

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  12. This is really, really lovely, and tragic at the same time. A beautiful way to remember a beautiful day that went so horribly wrong.

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  13. Thank you for remembering Melissa. It seems impossible that 12 years have passed. My daughter, Beth, was in a sorority at Oswego State with her and graduated the same year. Her death touched us - so young, so much of life ahead of her. I pray for her and for her family and although time can't erase the grief, I hope the passage of time has somehow eased their pain and allowed them to savor their memories of a beautiful woman. Bless you.

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  14. Thank you for remembering Melissa year after year, and thank you for honoring her with this post. This will be a treasure to all of those who love her. This really was a blessing to read today.

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  15. sobbing here in England! we were a long way away from actual events physically, but we were shaken to the core! We will never forget either x

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  16. This is beautiful.

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  17. Wow! This was a really amazing and touching article about our fallen Delta Zeta sorority sister, Melissa. You touched all of our hearts, and reminded us all on what a very special and graceful person she was. Thank you so much. You may not have known her, but you nailed it. Thank you.

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    1. It was my honor to do this. I only wish I could do more.

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  18. As a mother, I was very touched by your tribute to the child of a woman you've never meant. I know she would be comforted to think that her daughter's smile reached out to you and still lives with you today.

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  19. Thank you for honoring Melissa. I went to high school with Melissa. She was a very kind and caring person. Your tribute brought tears to my eyes. Although I haven't seen Melissa since high school, I still remember her walking down the halls of our school. Thank you again for this wonderful tribute.

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  20. Thank you for remembering our Delta Zeta sorority sister Melissa. Her smile and spirit live on forever in our minds and hearts.

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  21. Hello all. I had read this story a while ago, and today, I came across a video, of a FOX news clip from the days after the attacks. It has Melissa's father pleading with the public to help him to acquire any info about his missing daughter. The segment starts at 7:40 here:
    http://youtu.be/zCzZztUhANQ

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  22. thank you for this. Melissa touched so many lives, including mine. The angel that is Melissa is on my shoulder every day. I was unhappy with my career as network analyst, and Melissa help me to find my destiny as a nurse. Every month I find some charity to donate to, in her name. God bless.

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  23. I just felt my heart break into a million pieces and heal back together again. In 2001, I was a young professional who had just been transferred to my company's Manhattan office. I moved to Jersey City on Labor Day weekend, and started my new position on Tuesday, September 4th.

    I wasn't there long enough to have made friends. Maybe that's a blessing. Melissa Vincent became the face of 9/11 for me, the "friend I never had" is exactly how I described her. Her face on flyers posted around Hoboken that I would see when I would go to Pier A to grieve in the weeks following when my office was shut down. Her father's face of raw pain on my TV screen.

    I recently went to New York for the first time since the memorial opened this summer, and made a rubbing of Melissa's name on the memorial. My daughter asked me if I knew her, and I told her no, but she was just the kind of person I would have been friends with, and just as easily could have been me.

    Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. Your comments are so beautiful and you articulated exactly how I've felt about Melissa Vincent for the past 14 years. For me, she was the face of 9/11. She was, as you said, the "friend I never had." I remembered her Father and his pleas on CNN when he thought she was missing, as well as the fliers around NYC with her picture. I could relate to her and she seemed like someone I would know and like. I also visited the 9/11 Memorial this past Spring and found her name and traced it with my fingers. I am so sorry for her family and friends who have had to deal with this tragic loss. I grieve for someone I never knew.

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    2. She must be a loveing girl.and sorry for your life.

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  24. I have chills reading this lovely tribute. Like you, I did not know Melissa but lived in Hoboken at the time. I remember all the fliers and the anguish on her father's face. She was around my age and looked like a wonderful person. I prayed and prayed for a miracle. I think of her and her family often especially on this day. God bless!

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Thanks for sharing!



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