Editor’s Note: At 10 years of age, Caitlin Antigua lost her mother, Lorraine, on September 11, 2001. Lorraine worked on the 109th Floor of the North Tower for Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond brokerage firm that lost 658 employees in the World Trade Center attack.
Caitlin was one of the “Wish Kids” featured on The Today Show in 2001, when the show made it possible for her to meet Jennifer Lopez and watch the making of her music video, and again in 2011. (See video below.)
On this, the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, the now 20-year-old college student reflects on that tragic day and shares loving memories of her mother.
My mom woke me up especially early, at five o’clock, to ask me what I wanted in my sandwich for lunch, as she did every day. She then kissed me on the cheek, told me she loved me and went to off work, as I fell back to sleep.It was a beautiful Tuesday morning. I got to school at about eight o’ clock. It was the first week of the school year. I was in fifth grade and very excited for what lay ahead. It was about nine o’clock when suddenly students started being called down to the office for early dismissal. My whole class was wondering what was going on. My teacher decided to stop our math lesson and gave us a free day. Of course everyone was thrilled. We played games as we waited impatiently to be called down.
At 9:30, my name was called. I raced to the front office, excited and curious about what was going on. Once I got there, I saw my neighbor who was in junior high. I asked her what was going on. She told me that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers. At 10-years-old, I did not know what that was, so I just shrugged it off. Suddenly, she paused and asked, “Wait, where do your parents work?” I told her that they both worked at the World Trade Center. Something in her face changed. I was confused, unsure what to make of her expression. But before I could say anything, she grabbed me and started running. As we rushed to her mother’s car, she told me that the World Trade Center was in the Twin Towers.
The beautiful Tuesday morning did not seem so beautiful anymore.
Her mother, who drove my brother, Aaron (who was already in the car) and me home everyday after school, rushed us to our house as fast as she could. As soon as we got there, Aaron turned on the television, and I rushed to the phone to call my parents. Mom had called earlier and left a message for us on our home phone. She said she was shaken, but okay and was leaving because they’d been ordered to evacuate.
Read Related: How A Mother Explains 9/11 To Her Young Daughter
Our phone started ringing nonstop. Call after call after call, we waited, eager to pick up the phone and hear Mom and Dad’s voices. We were disappointed repeatedly, each time it was another concerned family member calling. Aaron and I had stopped watching TV, but then something intuitively told us to turn our attention back to it. It was at that exact moment that we saw the second tower fall, the tower where both my mother and father worked. We just sat there. Still. Not knowing what to do. The phone rang and rang; we didn’t pick up.
THE WAITING BEGINS
Later, we sat by the phone for hours answering calls, talking to relatives and concerned friends briefly, wanting to keep the line open in case Mom or Dad called. I was petrified that I would never see my parents again. It was five o’clock when the door bell rang. We thought maybe it was more neighbors checking up on us. As soon as I opened the door my dad hugged my brother and me so tight, squeezing the breath out of us. We were so happy to see him and he to see us. Still, something did not feel right. We looked behind my dad, hoping to see my mom, but Mom was not there.
Again we sat and waited. By this time, many of my relatives had arrived. Although my parents had divorced when I was six, we all remained close. So my dad’s family had arrived. Relatives of my mom’s boyfriend (who was living with us at the time) also had come. My mom’s family would arrive from Florida later. We all waited. My grandparents, aunts and uncles kept telling me that Mom was going to be okay. I believed them.
Early the next morning, I woke up and briefly thought I saw my mom sitting in a chair. When I was more awake and got out of bed, I went looking for her. I ran through the entire house, calling for her, checking every room. When I didn’t find her, I ran out the front door to see if her car was parked outside.
I realized that seeing my mom must have been a dream.
My brother and I stayed home from school for days. The house filled with more relatives and friends. I waited and waited, hoping to see her so I could just run into her arms and hold her forever.
A BIRTHDAY LIKE NO OTHER
After two weeks, there was still no word. We had returned to school. And still we waited. One day, my dad sat Aaron and me down in the living room. It was September 27, 2001. My mom’s 33rd birthday. Dad told us there was little hope and that Mom was not coming home. I froze. I couldn’t breathe. I cried. My brother and I held each other.
Memories started flooding my mind.
I thought about the last meal we had with her. It was September 10th. Her boyfriend was not home that night, so it was just the three of us: Aaron, Mom, and me. She’d made our favorite meal, her famous fried rice. All through dinner we were laughing, talking, nourished by our love for each other. It was our perfect last meal together.
I thought of the ‘N Sync concert she took me to a couple of weeks before that. Knowing how much I loved ‘N Sync, she’d pleaded with her boss, who had tickets, for just one so I could go. As it turned out, he gave her two. So Mom and I went to the concert at Giants Stadium together. We both went crazy, singing and dancing to my favorite boy band.
I thought about our trip to Six Flags. Always a thrill seeker, she’d gently teased Aaron and me for being too terrified to ride the monstrous roller coaster.
And I thought of the dream she’d had two nights before 9/11. She’d dreamt that she had been in a car crash, that something flew through the windshield and decapitated her. She dreamed that relatives squabbled over my brother and me. It had been so real that she woke up crying and rushed into Aaron’s bedroom. She told me about it the next day as she hugged me. At the time, I thought I could not imagine what it would be like to live without her, and now I was doing just that. Her nightmare had become my nightmare.
10 YEARS LATER
It’s been 10 years since that fateful day. Although my brother and I live with our dad, in the same house where we lived with Mom, my life has changed completely.
Losing my mother at such a young age meant going through adolescence and my tender puberty years without her. It was my dad who bought my first bra and my first thong. I remember how hard and uncomfortable it was the first time I decided I wanted to buy tampons. Some problems I was too embarrassed to go to Dad with, so I handled them on my own.
There have been moments when I’ve felt Mom’s loss more deeply than others. At my Sweet Sixteen, I lit a candle in her honor. I thought about her all day. As difficult as it was, I didn’t cry because I didn’t want my friends to see me crying. I’m a very private person that way. The senior year Homecoming game was particularly hard. I was the only cheerleader in my class who didn’t have both parents walk her down the field just before the big game. I was escorted by my dad and my brother. This time, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I started sobbing, thinking about all of the moments she’d missed, never having seen me cheer or attend any of my competitions.
Strangely, just days ago, we had to put Cookie, the dog that my mom gave us, to sleep, losing the last living tether to her. The fact that we lost Cookie on 9/1/11, so close to the 10-year anniversary, shook us all.
We constantly talk about the wonderful memories we shared with my mom. We have pictures of her everywhere at home. And I always keep Mom close to me, literally and figuratively. Every day, for many years, I wore a necklace bearing her picture. I didn’t remove it until I got my tattoo. Two years ago, Aaron and I both got tattoos honoring our mother. Mine is on my hip and has her name between two angel’s wings. Aaron has a picture of her on his arm. Both my necklace and tattoo serve as reminders that she is always with me and help me get through each and every day.
We honor and remember Mom in other ways as well. Every year on Mother’s Day, 9/11, and again on her birthday, Dad, Aaron and I make the five-minute pilgrimage to the Middletown 9/11 Memorial Gardens, to the stone with her picture etched into, one of dozens of memorial stones that dot a tree-lined path. We release a balloon, a ritual that started when I was an elementary student at a school counselor’s suggestion. We always say a prayer, kiss the balloon and then let it go. Sometimes the balloon carries a note with the words: I love you, I miss you, or Happy Birthday. Other times, we place flowers and a teddy bear at her stone. It’s a private moment the three of us share. We will do it again this year, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, as we have every year since 2001. But we will also return to what was once known as Ground Zero—where twice before we’ve heard my mom’s name read aloud along with the other thousands of innocent victims—to participate in the larger, more public 9/11 Memorial Dedication.
Losing my mother at such a young age has made me mature much faster than I might have otherwise. Even as a tween, I understood the value of life more than other children my age. At 20, I can still say the same is true. Some people get upset over the smallest things. I don’t, because I know that life is too short to worry about them.
A lot has been written about the more than 3,000 children who lost a parent(s) on 9/11. Some don’t care to be classified as a 9/11 kid. I’m not as concerned about it. Aaron and I just consider ourselves as two kids who had to grow up without a mom. As unfair and tragic as that is, there’s no doubt I am a stronger person for it. I am also more independent, adventurous, and have a broader outlook on life. My brother and I, the same two kids who wouldn’t get on that roller coaster at Six Flags, have been skydiving, along with our father. I did it because I know my mom would have done it. But I also did it for me. As short as it was, my mom’s life was filled with fun, risk-taking, and living life to the fullest. I am my mother’s daughter, even more so now.
The greatest lesson I have learned throughout this whole tragedy, is to cherish every moment you have with the people you love, because in the blink of an eye they can be gone forever. I know Mom’s spirit and memories will live with me always, but the fact that I can never hug her, tell her I love her, smell her, eat her famous fried rice ever again, pains me beyond words. It is honestly the worst feeling in the world. That is why it is so important to not take for granted the ones you love, because who knows what tomorrow will bring.
Watch Today video here.