The darkest day, and the life after
Debbie Hayes' focus has turned inward, toward her family. She has started reading the papers again, but watches television only ``here and there.'' She didn't follow daily events from Afghanistan, the ``hunt for Bin Laden,'' or the anthrax scares.
``I'm trying to avoid anything that has to do [with] when they're talking about the terrorists,'' she said.
Her husband had upgraded to business class for his long flight to Los Angeles. That had him seated right near the terrorists.
Sept. 11 is etched into her soul. ``I was at home and my mom called to ask me if I had heard about the planes crashing into the building. She didn't know that Bob had left that morning; she thought that he had left the day before, on Monday. I didn't know what flight he was on, I just knew it could be him. So I called his cell phone. I called the travel agent to see that he had used his ticket, called Netstal to check the flight number.''
In tears, Amy Hunter, the company's human resources manager, confirmed the news.
``Ryan was sleeping. It was just Robbie and I. He was screaming.''
Police came to the house and stayed with her, then her mother came. Debbie kept trying to reach her husband, calling and calling the cell phone. Days later she was still calling.
People started to leave flowers in her front yard. Reality hit. The town held two public memorial services, one at Alliance Park and one a Hawaiian-style surfing service at Hampton Beach, N.H.
Surfer Jay Gould, who owns a restaurant and insurance agency in Amesbury, said Hayes was a good surfer, ``gung-ho'' but with a humble streak. ``He had values and he stuck by them. He was a great guy.''
Debbie Hayes went to New York not long after the attack for the big public memorial service. In early March she went a second time, and spent hours reading messages left by loved ones. She felt a profound connection, realizing that everybody who died was special.
A few weeks later searchers found her husband's remains. A policeman came to the house to deliver the news shortly after midnight, in the early hours of Good Friday, March 29.
Accompanied by Jeffrey MacDonald, pastor at Union Congregational Church, she went to claim the remains. This time the family held a private service
``It was nice to have him home,'' Debbie said.
Toward the future
Debbie Hayes is moving forward, selling the rentals and the boat. A nice break came in June when the family enjoyed a Disney cruise.
Using money from the plastics industry memorial fund set up by Netstal, she bought an engraved granite bench that faces the Merrimac River in Alliance Park, and an engraved stone for her front yard. Some donations are going to paint the church.
Before Sept. 11, the Hayes family did go to church, but mainly on religious holidays. It seemed they were always so busy. Now she wonders what heaven is like.
``After this, what's pulling me through is God. I've become more religious. I need that. I need to have faith because I need to know that I'll see him again,'' she says.
Hayes used to sell components for electronic equipment, but she quit to raise her children. She plans to return to work in a few years, after Ryan starts school. She is looking into the federal Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund.
Meanwhile, she keeps her husband's memory alive. She is putting newspaper articles and the TV documentary 9/11 in a storage chest. 9/11 was too painful to watch, but she wants to keep a historical record for her sons.
Robbie asks questions; he understands what happened. Toddler Ryan points to the beloved man in the snapshots and says ``dada.''
``There's not a single day that goes by that we don't talk about it,'' she said. ``His memory will never, ever die.''
Samantha Gauld admires her friend. ``She's been very brave. Bob would be so proud of her. I don't know how she's managed, with two little boys like that.''
Sept. 11 left thousands of children learning to live without their fathers and mothers. Debbie Hayes and her sons keep alive a little ritual, the evening walk. They go check on daddy's bench. Some days it's covered with flowers. Unfortunately, since it's shiny black, it also shows dirt and dust easily.
Down by the river, using paper towels and spray cleaner, Robbie scrubs the bench. It reads:
Forever In Our Hearts
We Will Always Remember
Your Warm Smile And Kind Heart
Oct. 2, 1963 Sept. 11, 2001
The boy shines the granite.
``That's his little job,'' his mommy said.