Story By Jada Gomez Via: Latina Magazine

Life changed for the entire world 15 years ago, when a brutal strike on the U.S. left the mighty World Trade Center fallen, and thousands of innocent lives lost in New York City and Washington D.C. The nation was stripped of its innocence when it came to terrorist strikes at home, and the post 9/11 era took on a meaning as benchmark in history as B.C. in the bible.

As years go by, the aftermath seems to be stuff of documentaries and subtle reminders that we only collectively pay attention when the anniversary runs around every year. But the children left motherless, the fiancés who lost forever love, and mothers who heard their children’s last words before phone calls faded to black, the memory and the loss is constant. But even in the tragedy, they have become the most inspiring pillars of strength.

It’s an honor to present the stories of Michelle MendezAlexia Ramona Costanza, and Thea Trinidad, three Latina readers who bravely shared their own stories of loss and survival with us fifteen years later.

We’re sending all of our love and prayers to the grieving families, survivors and the 3,000 angels we gained on that terrible day with no cloud in the sky.

Thea Trinidad

Angel: Thea’s father, Michael Trinidad, 33-year-old telecom analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald

I’m a 25-year-old professional wrestler of Puerto Rican descent. My 9/11 story is as follows:

Before I even reached my eleventh birthday, I had experienced more heartache and strife than many people do in their entire lives. The morning of what is now simply known as 9/11 was not unlike countless others for my. But a phone call to my mother would quickly change that. My father, Michael Trinidad was a 33-year-old telecom analyst for the firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which was on the 103rd floor of the North Tower in the World Trade Center. My parents were divorced at the time, but remained close.

He told my mom, ‘I’m calling to say goodbye, I know that I can’t make it out, there isn’t a way I can get out of here. Tell the kids I love them.” My mother refused to accept what her ex-husband was telling her. She wasn’t hearing any of that. She said, “No, you’re going to tell (the kids) yourself, you’re going to find a way out of there.” My mother herself at one time worked inside the Twin Towers.

I felt like it was an out-of-body experience. I knew I could talk to my dad for the last time because he was on the phone. I could have grabbed it. I could have said something. But I was so numb, I didn’t move. I just sat there and I just observed everything that was happening. And then, at 9:14 a.m., the line cut off.

I went through years of denial and depression. And then I thought, well what was it that dad and I shared the most? It was wrestling. Once I realized that and saw what his dreams were, what my dreams (were), I said to myself, I can do this for me and for him and this is what is going to pull me out of this.

Michael Trinidad’s death may have spurred me into a dark and forgettable time in her life, but it was his memory that would lift me out.

Michelle Mendez

Angel: David DeRubbio, firefighter, Engine 226, Brooklyn, N.Y.

The morning of 9/11/2001 was just like any other September morning. I headed off to school. It was my first few days of junior high, so I was still adjusting to a new environment. I remember going to gym class like always and our teacher walked in looking particularly serious. His face didn’t hold the normal toothy smile it usually did. He was sad about something. He sat down and told us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At the time, we didn’t understand exactly what that could mean. Slowly throughout the next hour, my classmates were being called to the office to go home and we were all confused. “What’s happening?” We were still too young to truly understand it all. I started getting nervous, my stomach was turning. I thought to myself, “Everyone’s leaving. What about me? Are my parents ok?” Finally, the phone rang in my science class and my teacher called out my name. “Michelle, your father’s here to pick you up,” he said. “Pack your stuff and go down to the office.” I started to get very nervous. 

When I got home, my mom hugged me tightly. I remember the news being on and seeing the images of the Twin Towers on my TV screen. I could see one of them crashing to the ground. My mom said, “Oh my gosh Michelle, call Jessica! Make sure that her father isn’t there!” I immediately picked up the phone and called her. You see, Jessica was (and still is) my best friend. Her father, David, was a firefighter at Engine 226 in Brooklyn, New York, where we lived. I remember getting the answering machine. No answer. I left a message for my friend telling her that I hoped her daddy was ok. 

About a half hour later, she called me back and told me how her grandma and mother picked her up early from school and asked me to come over. Conveniently she lived right across the street, so I was there within two minutes. We sat in her room, staring out the window, which faced north towards Manhattan. Although we were a considerable distance from the island, we could still see giant clouds of gray smoke forming in the sky, making their way over to Brooklyn. We didn’t know what was happening. We stayed in her bedroom, surrounded by hand painted clouds, which her father surprised her with over the summer. The grown ups watched the news and tried to get in touch with Dave. This was before every person had a cellphone, so they called the firehouse, friends, family, whoever they could think of. We waited. Nothing. All day. Nothing. The sun went down. Nothing. Dave never came back home. 

I remember very clearly, something that is still beyond heartbreaking to me today. Jessica told me that day, while staring out the window, “I just know he’s ok. He’s still alive. I can feel it.” I believed her with all my heart, but as time passed, reality set in and it was the most painful thing ever. He was gone. This man, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend and now a HERO. 

I know deep down that Dave was with Jessica that day and that’s why she felt him. I think in a way I felt him, too. In my heart, I know that he will be with her forever, looking down on her and guiding her, sometimes even pranking her for good fun because that’s just who he was. To this day, we still have so many sweet memories of him making us laugh until our stomachs hurt and we’re so thankful for those memories. 

Alexia Ramona Constanza

Seven-year-old student, Washington D.C. survivor

My name is Alexia Ramona Constanza. I reside in Lanham, Md., only 20 minutes from Washington, D.C.  I’ve lived in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan district my entire life.

In the days leading to September 11, a familiar gut feeling of worry has returned. I remember that morning so clearly: I was all but seven years old. I was at school with no radio or television. In the midst of class time my second grade teacher, Mrs. Zin, was asked to excuse herself. Naturally, I didn’t think twice about this initially.

However, when she came back I noticed her demeanor changed—she looked afraid. She told us to put away our books and to take out crayons and paper to draw. Again, I wondered why. Soon parents began showing up to pick up classmates, including my own mom. I remember my mom would not let go of my hand, and once she explained what was happening I began to understand. I understood why Mrs. Zin was upset, why we left early, why a peer’s mother said “this is so sad” over and over. Something horrible had happened— something so horrible that my mom, the bravest person I know was frightened.

 To this day, I will never forget the anguish my teacher, peers, parents, and I felt that day. And in response all I can ask is that God bless America—our leaders, our officials, our countrymen.

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