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9/11 changed my life in unexpected ways — 20 years later, I can finally see the real impact

9/11 changed my life in unexpected ways — 20 years later, I can finally see the real impact

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Everyone who was alive and cognizant on September 11th, 2001 has a 9/11 story. This is mine.

I have left out the names of the other people involved in the story out of respect for their privacy, although those who know me personally will know exactly to whom I am referring.

Except for the first seven years of the 1990s when I worked overseas, I had lived and worked in New York City for most of my adult life until the summer of 1999, when I heeded the siren call of the first internet bubble and moved to San Francisco to become a tech billionaire as the CEO of a mobile phone startup.

Within two years the bubble had burst and the company I led had gone belly up after failing to attract a second round of funding amidst the financial carnage of the plunging tech sector at the time.

The move to the west coast had precipitated the collapse of my marriage after my first wife decided that after traipsing across the world with me in the early part of the decade, she was unwilling to leave New York and her family and friends again to move to California, despite the opportunity that the new gig was supposedly going to provide to me.

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By the time my company went belly up, she had formally filed for divorce, and I had mostly given up on trying to convince her to reconcile.

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Out of my sorrow and loneliness, I took up with an old flame, a woman with whom I had had a long history of intermittent affairs when my wife and I had previously separated for brief periods.

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Those previous short-lived affairs are not something that I am proud of. My only excuse is that I was younger and perhaps more concerned with my immediate carnal and emotional desires than any deep sense of morality at the time.

Anyway, I had tentatively made contact with this paramour again at the beginning of 2001 and flew to New York City, where she still lived, for a short trip wherein we picked up our now technically adulterous affair.

Shortly afterward, I flew her out to Berkeley where I was living at the time for a brief romantic sojourn.

Soon, she had returned to her job and apartment in New York, unwilling to cohabitate with a man who was still officially married without receiving some sort of long-term commitment in return, but we continued our relationship on a long-distance basis.

Right after that, I was offered and accepted a new job back in the TV world in Los Angeles as the SVP of Programming and Production for G4 Media, a new channel about video games being launched by Comcast.

I moved to Santa Monica, found a townhouse to rent, and arranged for all of my possessions from New York which had been sitting in storage to be shipped out to the West Coast.

I was still moving into the townhouse, without even having had time to arrange for cable TV service when I heard on NPR while making my morning coffee about the plane that had collided with the World Trade Center.

I was glued to the radio and very much regretting my inability to get a signal on a TV set on which I hurriedly tried to get any semblance of an over-the-air signal without the benefit of an actual antenna or cable box.

As I heard the news, first of the second plane crashing into the other tower of the World Trade Center, then of the Pentagon crash, and finally the collapse of the tallest buildings in New York City, I immediately became concerned about my family and friends in New York.

Anyone who was around back then can remember how difficult it was to get through to anyone in New York City that day as phone lines became congested with calls from millions of people seeking information about their loved ones.

I thought back to the fact that in the mid-1980s, I had first met the woman that I was again romantically involved with at Windows on the World — the restaurant at the top of one of the World Trade Center towers — when we had brunch with a friend of hers from her hometown of Eugene, Oregon whom I was briefly dating at the time.

We’d never be able to revisit the place of our initial encounter ever again.

When, after hours of trying, I finally reached my lover at her Washington Heights apartment, I felt a wave of relief wash over me.

She was as upset over what had happened as every other resident of New York and as uncertain about what might happen next at a time when everyone was terrified of additional terror attacks.

I did everything I could to convince her to come to Los Angeles and move in with me as soon as flights resumed, but it soon became apparent that as scared as she was, she would not agree to move in with me until she at least had a commitment for an eventual marriage once my divorce proceedings were done.

In the heat of the moment, still overcome by the world-changing events of the day, I agreed to that commitment and urged my now fiancée to pack her belongings and catch the first available flight.

She arrived a few weeks later and, unfortunately, despite the eventual fulfillment of the promise — more than a year after her move on account of the slow-moving divorce process — the marriage dissolved after less than two years for a variety of reasons that I won’t bore you with here.

This second divorce dovetailed quite tragically with another economic downturn, the 2008 collapse of the financial and real estate markets, resulting in the decimation of my investment account and my being forced to sell our 1930s-vintage Hollywood home— a house for which I alone had provided the cash to purchase and renovate — at a loss.

Looking back on all this now, I know that al-Qaeda was not directly responsible for the bad decisions that I made in regard to my ill-fated second marriage, but it is difficult to not attribute at least a modicum of blame to the people who created the circumstances in which I made that emotionally charged choice to become engaged to someone who wound up becoming the biggest mistake of my life.

9/11 affected each of us differently.

Although my story doesn’t even belong in the same universe as the tales of people who lost loved ones that day, or even later from the environmental and health effects of the rescue and clean up missions, it demonstrates how the attacks had peripheral effects that reverberated far beyond those directly affected by the disasters.

Those reverberations are still felt today as the tendrils of history branch out from that fateful day, affecting the lives of people all around the world in ways that they may not even be aware of or understand.

It would all be so much easier to accept if it felt like anyone in power had actually learned any valuable lessons from the experience of the post 9/11 decades.

Unfortunately, there is little sign that either the tragedy of the attacks or the brief period of national unity in their immediate aftermath have resulted in significant positive changes to our fractured system of governance.

The xenophobia engendered by the terrorism of 9/11 directly resulted in the conditions that allowed Donald Trump to be elected president 15 years later.

For that reason alone it marks a significant watershed in the destiny of the United States of America.

My personal 9/11 story matters little in the grand scheme of things, but I have never really outlined it before in text.

I’m grateful that I have had the opportunity to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks by adding my personal experience, no matter how trivial it may be compared to those of the people who lost loved ones.

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