08/30/2011 07:16 pm ET | Updated Oct 30, 2011

September 11, 2001: The Beginning

The alarm went off at its usual time. Tom got up to take a shower, and I could hear the water running in the guest bathroom, as well. My brother had spent the previous night watching Monday Night Football with us and was headed into the city with Tom. Within a few hours they would say their goodbyes at the World Trade Center. Tom would go up to work to the 104th floor of the North Tower, where he worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, and my brother would continue on to LaGuardia Airport to return home to Kentucky.

My oldest son Thomas, who was 7, was coughing in his room; Kaitlyn, who was 4, was sleeping in her room; and baby Justin, who was born four days earlier, was letting me know it was time to get up -- he was hungry! Tom came over to the changing table, kissed his newborn son, smiled at me and went in to check on Thomas. We made the decision to keep him home because he was having difficulty with his asthma. Tom rubbed his back and said, "Feel better, pal," and walked across the hall to see his "sleeping beauty." He bent down, kissed Kaitlyn on the cheek and whispered, "Have a great first day of nursery school."

I followed him to the top of the stairs; he gave me a kiss, and I watched as he went down the stairs and out the front door. I remember feeling on top of the world. Tom was a handsome man, vibrant, full of life, and a dedicated family man. He was planning on only going in to work for half the day, eager to return home to see the kids again. Smiling, I went to tend to my three children, not knowing that within a few short hours my life would never be the same, ever...

It was a little before 9 a.m. As I stepped out of the shower, the phone rang. I knew it would be Tom calling again, although I had already spoken to him once and reassured him that Thomas would be fine, so I almost let the machine pick up the call. But as I wrapped my towel around me, I picked up the receiver.

I've known Tom since I was 19 years old. I've spoken to him thousands of times on the phone at work over the years. The second I heard his voice, I knew something was wrong. I had never heard this tone before. "Terry," he said, "the building has been hit by a plane, there is a lot of smoke. We have cell phones and we're going in to the stairwell." We had friends who had worked for Cantor in '93, when the towers were bombed, and had had to walk down the stairs in the dark with smoke, assisting others along the way. Because Tom worked on the 104th floor, only three floors away from the top, he always said, "If anything ever happens, I'm going up the roof, might grab a beer along the way and wait to be rescued." I could hear a lot of noise in the background -- like nothing I'd ever heard before. People sounded frantic. "Oh my God," I replied. "Get out!" We exchanged some private words, and he hung up the phone.