On a recent evening at the cafe on Newbury Street, rain drove patrons indoors from the sidewalk seating. The clatter of white teacups and the buzz of conversation in several languages filled the cozy, yellow room; steam began to bead the big front window. From a framed photo on a corner shelf above the cream and sugar, Rahma and Micky beamed. It was, one felt instinctively, a scene they would have liked.
Afkham says he is a simpler person now, more focused on being healthy and being there for his children, less concerned with material things. He feels lucky for having known his sister, and grateful that there were no harsh words between them. He says Rahma always called and told him when she headed out of town, but she didn’t tell him of her trip to California. He suspects she knew he would have told her not to go, that her pregnancy was too far along for travel. “I’m glad, now, that those weren’t our last words,’’ he says, “because it wouldn’t have changed her mind.’’
Ysuff and Haleema take some comfort from the fact that their daughter and her husband died together. “I can’t think of one thing she wanted to do without Micky, or that he wanted to do without her,’’ Ysuff said at the couple’s memorial service.
Still, a decade later, their deaths seem not quite real.
“To me sometimes it feels like it didn’t happen, because it happened so fast,’’ says Ysuff.
Sitting beside him, his wife pauses, then agrees.
“She just disappeared,’’ says Haleema.
. . .
She remembers when she started making lists. Only a few hours had passed since the planes hit the towers. Her mother was gone—she knew that—and Stephanie Holland was changing her 3-month-old daughter’s diaper. She looked around the house and had a realization: “People are going to be coming over, and I need to vacuum.’’ Just like that, she was transported—out of the sprawling mess that threatened to take her down with it, into a simpler place where chaos could be dealt with.
The switch helped her get through that day and the next. But long after the crush of mourners left, Stephanie kept making lists and checking off tasks. “I think I stayed there seven or eight years,’’ she says of her practical mind-set. “I was the oldest, and I knew what I had to do.’’
Cora Hidalgo Holland, 52, was the conduit connecting her three children, to each other and their busy physician father. She was Mexican, raised on the West Coast—she was on her way to visit her own mother on Flight 11—and she ran the family with warmth and energy. She bought the presents, hosted the big Sunday dinners, and knew instinctively when her children needed her. Her oldest, Stephanie, had just turned 30. With a newborn and a 2-year-old, she relied on her mother heavily. “She was my wing woman,’’ Stephanie says. “She just had a sense—‘Stephanie’s going to need help today.’ She took care of me, not just physically, but emotionally.’’
Now, Stephanie was taking care of people: her own children; her younger brother and sister, who were just 18 and 22; and her father, who had always played a supporting role in the household, and couldn’t find the sheets to make up the beds when relatives streamed into town to help mourn Cora’s death.
She had always been a good daughter, fulfilling the expectations of her family and the affluent suburb where she grew up. She married her high school sweetheart. She became a teacher, but quit working after her second child was born to be a stay-at-home mom like her mother had been. But under the surface, after her mother was killed, something shifted. And as Stephanie emerged from her long withdrawal, she began to feel a sense of urgency.
The brevity of life, the chance that it could be cut short, seemed to demand that she start living differently, more honestly. It was an electrifying idea, but it was terrifying, because she could see where it would lead: to the end of her marriage, after 15 years. They had been together since their junior prom in high school. Their relationship had never been fraught with conflict, but it was not, she felt with growing certainty, the fulfilling union that a marriage should be. She had realized, without her mother there to nurture her, that she wasn’t being nurtured as she needed.
In the early years after 9/11, Stephanie had found solace in long-distance running: being alone with her music, proving her endurance. She had lost 70 pounds and run three Boston Marathons in memory of her mother, finishing the first one in 2007 with a sprained ankle. But she knew that this would be much harder. She had always done what was expected, and made other people happy. Now she was going to cause her family pain. Continued...