Remembering 9/11: A Wife, Mother, And Friend Recounts The View From The Home Front
Sunday, September 9, 2012 • 2:12pm
NEWTON, NJ – “I’ve never been so shaken to the core of my being,” said Tami Birk. “That day changed me.”
Tami was at home with her son Gavin, then still a baby, when her husband, Matt called to ask if she had heard what happened at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Matt worked in Morristown, and made his way back home immediately. Tami turned on the television.
“The fear I felt that day, I couldn’t put into words,” Tami said.
When Matt returned home, she said she could not stop crying, and hugging him. On his way back, he said he could see the towers smoking from Routes 287 and 80.
“How many people did we just watch die on TV?” Tami asked Matt in between her tears, after the collapse of the buildings. “We’re not supposed to see that.”
Tami already had a fear of flying, from her days of traveling to Europe to visit family there, and 9/11 further intensified it.
“Let’s just say, I’ll never fly again,” she said.
After taking off from JFK International Airport on one of her flights, there was a bomb threat, and the flight was diverted to Greenland. She was already shaky about flying after the incident.
She did fly once following 9/11 from Newark International Airport, with Gavin, then 4, and her son Alex, only 6 months. Tami said she explains to those she knows who complain about the inconvenience of having to remove their shoes at airport security checkpoints, the importance of it.
“They are doing it to save lives,” Tami said she tells them.
However, the experience further traumatized her, when seven years ago, even baby Alex’s shoes were removed, and she has not flown again.
Knowing one of the flights, United Airlines Flight 93, left from Newark International Airport as well, it upset Tami and, she said, "It all started here."
“Friends tell me it’s so much safer,” Tami said. “If I can’t go by train, I’m not going. I can’t get past that.”
On 9/11, Tami’s first instinct was to prepare to run. Her grandmother, who lived in a war-torn country, always told her, “If something happens, get out of here.”
Tami filled a laundry basket that day with necessities, and said, “Oh my God, our country is at war, this is really bad.”
She asked herself if she would have to leave her house, if it was chemical warfare, and considered heading south to Florida, just in case.
There were several people Tami knew personally who were impacted by 9/11, and, in turn, their stories moved her.
One was a friend working that day, who witnessed many individuals jumping to their deaths.
“It made him so humble and different,” she said of her friend, who she and Matt talked quietly with at a barbecue one day.
“’The one thing that has stayed with me is that they jumped not because they wanted to, but because they didn’t have a choice,’” the friend told Tami and Matt.
“’I hear the sound of bodies falling when I’m sleeping, and when I’m awake,’” Tami recalled him further stating. “’You felt trapped there was not a damn thing you could do.’”
Their friend, Tami said, spent years in counseling post-September 11. He also left his job, after walking through ash and debris as if it was five inches of snow.
“How do you wrap your head around that?” Tami asked of the entire situation.
Matt’s former boss, who lived in San Diego, was another one that they knew who was counting his blessings. He had worked in the World Trade Center, and had he not transferred to San Diego, he would have been in the towers on September 11.
One of Matt’s co-workers read one of the passenger manifests following the attacks, and soon learned her cousin was on one of the planes that crashed into the towers.
Another friend helped to shepherd several co-workers out of one of the buildings, and saved 14 lives.
And an acquaintance of theirs’ was also lost at the World Trade Center that day.
“So many people were just going to work that day, and this happened, and I ask myself, ‘how dare those people rob them of their lives?’” Tami asked.
She recalled a 9/11 documentary she watched, in which a young boy, who always waited for his mother to return home from her job at the towers every day. He did not realize what happened to his mother, and continued to wait as he usually did each day.
“How horrible is that?” Tami asked.
Another snippet in the same documentary that saddened her was the story of a firefighter who said he found a deceased pregnant woman, and wanted to respectfully remove her from the rubble. He had to leave, and when he returned, the firefighter was upset that he could not find her.
“How do you go on after witnessing that?” Tami asked. “How do you go on?”
“9/11 took away my spoiled brat mentality,” Tami said of the experience. “This has made me grateful for what I have, and truly happy and blessed in my life. I’ve learned to be a lot more chilled out, and less stressed out about everything.”
“My life is so complete, what more could I want?” Tami asked in conclusion.
Editor’s Note: This is the second story in our series, “Each Person Has A Story – The Alternative Press of Sussex County Remembers September 11”.