Speaking for the Dead
By the evening of that day of fire and ashes, September 11, Nicole Gabrielle, daughter of Richard Gabrielle, 50, who worked in the World Trade Center, felt a horrible sense that she had seen this all before. By an eerie coincidence, she had earlier worked as a production assistant and film editor for a documentary on the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. And she remembered that in Oklahoma, the last survivor had been found at the end of the day. But Nicole couldn't bring herself to tell this to her mother, Monica Gabrielle.
The Gabrielle's only child, Nicole, was born in Long Island in 1978, and they later moved to Connecticut. Although Richard and Monica took an apartment in New York City to reduce the number of daily commutes from Connecticut, their work schedule took its toll. "We had a five-year plan," Monica Gabrielle says. "Five more years and we would be ready to leave the Connecticut commute behind. Retire, move south, probably to Florida, and enjoy life."
Now everything has changed, and mother and daughter cherish the rich memories of life with their much-loved husband and father.
Father and Friend
"He was extremely funny and kind and compassionate," says Monica Gabrielle. "Just a great father and friend."
"Dad would help with everything," Nicole remembers, "and my time with him was so special. He told such funny stories, and on weekends he would take me with him wherever he was going. Sometimes he would be doing errands, and I would have no idea where we were or exactly what we were doing. But I didn't care I was with him. He was my idol and I used to follow him around in awe."
After college graduation, Nicole worked for a film company that produced a documentary on the Oklahoma City bombing until September 11 the largest single terrorist attack on American soil. For months, she viewed and edited interview tapes with survivors and family members. "It broke my heart at the time, to see those faces and hear their stories," she says. "And then to have it happen to you."
For both mother and daughter, the memories of September 11 are indelible. "I remember someone yelling about a plane," Nicole says, "and I think I just shut off and went into a state of both calm and total shock."
Nicole raced to her mother's office, and they waited together, assuming that with an hour from the impact of the plane into the South Tower until its collapse, that there would be enough time for Richard to escape the building. But as the hours passed, and the frantic flyers began to appear on walls and flutter on chain-link fences, Nicole could recall similar images of Oklahoma and sense that hope was fading with light of day.
Today, unlike most families who lost loved ones in the collapse of the twin towers, Monica and Nicole have the mixed blessing of knowing a few fragmentary facts about Richard Gabrielle's last hours. From reports of two survivors, it appears that Richard, along with dozens of others, was in an elevator lobby on the 78th floor of the South Tower when it was struck by the second of the two hijacked planes to crash into the World Trade Center. He may have suffered one or more broken legs and was pinned by fallen marble. The Gabrielle family knows little more, except for the fragile consolation that firemen may have reached his floor and that he was not alone when the end came and the building collapsed.
"Now it's just us," Monica Gabrielle says simply. "We take it a day at a time."
Nicole says, "It feels like it's taken half a year for the shock to wear off." Only recently has she started to look ahead and plan, along with looking back and remembering. "Sometimes everything feels like a dream," she says. "Then I say, 'Oh, this is my life now.'"
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