Sunday, September 11, 2011

2,996: Janice Ashley

On the 10th Anniversary

2,996 is an attempt to have bloggers place a separate tribute for each of the people who were killed on September 11th, 2001 on the internet. When I heard of the project, I signed up immediately. Not because knew anyone personally, nor because I thought it would make me a hero, but for more complicated reasons.

Ten years later, I am posting this, again, as I try to do each year.

As a veteran I had hoped that the random assignment of victim to blogger might allow me to write about a soldier in the pentagon, letting me use a quasi-personal connection to add depth. I was not assigned a soldier; I was assigned a young woman. A young woman with a connection a bit closer than any soldier I never met. A young woman that made me struggle with this tribute for weeks.

My struggle was about the focus of this tribute. At first, I wanted to avoid any mention of me, or my vague connection to some of the victims. I thought that this would make it more centered on the tragedy. No matter how I tried, though, it just sounded flat and dull. I realized that, for me at least, this tribute is about not “just” one of the 2,996 that died, but how we were all and affected. How each of these deaths touched each of us who lived. How the murder of these innocent people was an attack on each and every one of us, an attack that did harm by removing so many good people from our midst.

My job at the time of 9/11 meant that I had business to business dealings with literally thousands of firms all over the world. While most of these clients were rather distant and impersonal, some of these connections led to friendships that last to this day. One of the firms I dealt with, if rarely, was Fred Alger Management in Tower One of the World Trade Center complex. On the 93rd floor, Fred Alger Management was in the area of the impact, blast, and initial fire of the first plane impact.

Of the 36 employees at Fred Alger Management at that time, none survived.

For the next few weeks a great deal of my life was helping firms in the WTC complex rebuild. One of those firms was Fred Alger Management. We did everything we could, as did thousands (if not millions) of other people at hundreds of other firms.

After it was all over, I moved on to another job at another firm. In 2004 and 2005 I traveled to New York and visited Ground Zero. On a small handful of occasions I spoke of the work I did, and about the firms I worked with where everyone there that day died in the attacks. I realized last Summer that the attacks sometimes seemed more immediate to me than my own, personal, brush with death in April 2001, just a few months before.

So, back to the beginning, when I heard of 2,996 I signed up right away. I did it because I know that there are many others who feel 9/11 and its impact every day. I need to talk about it, and you probably need to listen.

The person randomly assigned to me that day was Janice Ashley, a research assistant with Fred Alger Management.

As I began my research I immediately hoped to speak to her parents. I was able to identify her mother and, with a long chain of friends-of-friends, I was given her mother’s home number. I called it, spoke to a person who identified herself as having the same name as Janice Ashley’s mother and had the same address – and insisted she was no relation.

I spent two days thinking about this as I left messages with groups Janice’s mother is or was involved in, asking for contact. I left similar messages for friends and other relatives, all asking for some personal insight into Janice and her life. I was never called. As a result, I will respect the apparent desire for her family and friends for privacy [and I hope you will, too]. As the entire world fills itself with reminders 9/11 I am sure that the Ashley family is not alone in wishing to be left in peace while they mourn their loved ones.

As a result, I know the following about Janice Ashley. She was 25 years old. She graduated from Oceanside High School in 1994. She graduated from Cornell with a degree in English. She was an artist. She had many friends. She hoped to, some day, open a florist gift shop. She had a nice smile and was pretty in a wholesome, girl-next-door way.

These little details are just that – the little, important details, the stuff you would put in a bio about a promotion to vice-president, or a quick ‘please introduce yourself” speech at a three-day seminar. Where we were, where we are, where we want to go will always be the important details. But it still somehow misses so much. It doesn’t tell us if she liked dangly earrings, or if she hated lipstick. I don’t know if she liked caramel more than fudge, or butterscotch best of all. Did she have running gags with her friends, the sort of familiar, well-worn joke that could elicit a smile with just a word and a cocked eyebrow? I don’t know. And I never will.

Janice Ashley would be 35 years old right now, if she had not been murdered. In the ten years that have elapsed since 9/11 she would have certainly met new people, made new friends, tried new things, and forgotten her keys once or twice. She didn’t get to do those things. All of the people she would have touched were prevented from doing so. All of the people she would have become close to have been robbed of a friend. Janice Ashley will never marry, she will never give her parents grandchildren, and she will never look forward to grandchildren of her own. She was denied the chance to have these things.

To the best of my knowledge, I never spoke with Janice when I called (or was called by) Fred Alger Management. Based upon what her family and friends say in other tributes and interviews, I think I would remember if I had. Much of the sorrow I feel about the death of Janice is for her family and friends, people who knew her and cared for her. But some of the sorrow I feel when I think of Janice, or of any of those killed that day, are for me and the rest of us who are still here. The attackers have denied us the chance to meet them, to learn from them, to love them. All of those people, 2,996 of them, were taken from us and we are poorer for it. I will never meet Janice when I am in New York talking to financial companies. I have no chance to see her on the street, or read about her promotion. I will never buy flowers for my wife in her store.

All of these rich, wonderful, frustrating, sometimes-boring, sometimes-sublime people have been taken from us. And we cannot get them back. The tragedy was a human one. The tragedy and the loss are ours and we are still learning just how big the loss was.

Good-bye, Janice. We all miss you.

The tribute is here.

The legacy is here.