I Never Forget 9/11. No, Not Just THAT One.

You’d be hard pressed not to find someone not in a reflective mood today.  9/11 has brought out those kinds of emotions now for 22 years, which means that this year’s college graduating class has never known a world where this day doesn’t have the same kind of relevance and connection that, say, Pearl Harbor Day had for our parents and grandparents.  I’ve written previously about where I was in 2001, and how sobering it was for me to see buildings that my dad worked in crumble to dust while I was thousands of miles from home three blocks from a state capital that went into immediate lockdown and turned downtown Columbus, Ohio into a ghost town on one of the most glorious September days weather-wise I’ve ever experienced anywhere.

But none of that compares to the degree of loss I experienced seven years later.  This small item from the archives of TCPALM.com tersely sums it up:

Alan L. Chapin, 52, died Sept. 11, 2008, in Stuart. He was born in Yonkers, N.Y., and lived in Stuart for eight years, coming from California. He was a senior traffic analyst for ION Media Networks. He was in radio broadcasting for more than 25 years with Clear Channel Radio in Florida, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. He received his degree from Oswego College in New York. Survivors include his wife, Sheri Gaia Chapin of Stuart; and sisters, Donna Rothchild of Land O’ Lakes and Janis Chapin of Tarrytown, N.Y. He was preceded in death by his parents, Kenneth and Mildred Chapin. Memorial contributions may be made to a charity of one’s choice.

Alan L. Chapin was my first cousin, my de facto “brother from another mother”.  He was the reason I even wanted to attend Oswego, the school that forever set my career course and one I still revere.  He was the cool, popular kid who dated all the hot girls and had the social life I yearned for.  I was a much more socially awkward and geeky type.  My mother’s parents revered him; he was the first-born grandchild and, naturally, the favorite.  My mother learned whatever she was capable of learning in parenting and patience from helping my aunt tend to him as an infant.  She adored him till the day she died.

When Alan was looking for a career change after I had successfully relocated to California, I was asked if he could stay at my apartment while he searched for work.  It was a rare admission on his part that I was somehow in a better place than he was.  We weren’t ideally suited to be roommates.  He was often quiet, introspective and music-obsessed, though we did share a passion for baseball.  We generally led separate lives, especially after he met who turned out to be his soulmate.  Sheri Gaia was one of the loveliest and most free spirits I had ever known, and the palpable connection between them that I saw evolve was both inspiring and jealousy-inducing.  Alan did a lot better in the personal side of life during his California days then he did career-wise, so once they married they ultimately left, eventually relocating to South Florida, where my uncle and his second wife wound up as well.

I took full advantage of their proximity to spring training when I could, and we did draw closer as adults. At my second wedding, Alan was the driving force behind getting what was left of my family together to support me, even at a time when doing so was, shall we say, not a popular choice.  Alan actually bonded with many people there, stunned that I had somehow finally become a little cooler and accessible after a lifetime of being just the fat nerd in the family.  He was far and away my most popular relative with my new in-laws, for whatever that may have or may not have been worth.

But on the seventh anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center, on yet another rainy night, under the influence of some medication he was taking to deal with work anxiety as he was adding longer hours for less pay to his career when his company was in transition, Alan missed a hairpin turn on Route 76, not far from where it met I-95.  A road I have myself driven many, many times.  A road some very special people in my life today I am certain have driven, and were driven on, many, many times.  This time, neither his car nor him made that turn successfully.

Alan shared a first and last name with another, older cousin of mine.  When my sister called me after I had a full day at work (I vaguely remember those days) to tearfully me that Alan had died, I immediately thought of my seventy-something relative.  Not my “brother”.  Not someone in MY generation.  Not someone who deserved to see his beloved nieces grow up to become the beautiful young women they are today.  Not someone who never got to know the extremely special people who eventually saved my life.  People who, for all I know, probably shopped in the same Publix.  Went to the same mechanic.  Possibly bought CBD (ahem) from the same smoke shop.  Maybe even partied at the same time at the same clubs.

I’ll likely never know how much he may have had in common with them.  I’m saddened to think they’ll never know him, either–at least in context to me.  If he thought my earlier choices made me cool, I truly would have loved to know what he thought of the ones I’ve made lately.   I’m not so sure he would have fully approved of all of them.  Frankly, in a few cases, he would have been justified to have those opinions.

But boy, do I ever wish he would have lived to share them.

So yes, do take the time to remember those that perished on this date in 2001.  They deserve our eternal love and thoughts.

But so, too, does the relative I lost on this date in 2008.  As does anyone from South Florida who has ever shown you or I any sort of love or respect at any point.

Never forget. No matter what.

Until next time…

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