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'The Tunnel Of Lasts': 20 Years After Losing Husband, Deborah Garcia Says Sept. 11 Remains A Current Event

A photo showing a person's hand, with small blue and white ribbons, over an engraved name David Garcia
Garcia Family, Courtesy
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Deborah Garcia, an Essex resident, lost her husband in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Warning: This story contains references to suicide.

I'm Deborah Garcia, and I lost my husband, David Garcia, at One World Trade Center on the 97th floor, on Sept. 11 in 2001.

This story is part of VPR’s 9/11 remembrance project, featuring the voices of Vermonters reflecting on how their lives were changed by 9/11.To find the full project, go to www.vpr.org/911.

David was likely on his way to his desk at that time. I have visions that he was just stepping off the elevator. When the plane came through, he was on an impact floor, in Tower 1. So that was the first tower that was hit.

That morning, the alarm didn't go off. And we just woke up with the sun blazing in our faces, and in a hurry. He's like, “Pack my lunch! Put my clothes out,” which — I often put his clothes out, because he was legally blind, and couldn't really see color very well.

So he rushed out the door with my 8-year-old, whose bus came at the same time. And his back was the last thing I saw as he ran up the street to catch the bus to the train station.

A photo of a young family, two children and two parents, wearing 1990s ski apparel, stand against a backdrop of bluebird sky and bare trees.
Garcia Family, Courtesy
The Garcia family, on a ski trip to Vermont in early 2001.

I put my son on the bus — my little one — about 8:40, or something like that. I came into the house, and Sesame Street was on. I poured myself a cup of coffee. And then I realized that I'm not hearing Big Bird's singing, “Good Morning, Mr. Sun,” anymore. And I look up. And I see this image of the towers, with, like, smoke coming out of the top of one of the towers. And I'm not thinking a big deal — OK, some little fire or … You know, I live in New York City, things happen all the time. I don't get too upset about it.

And then I'm looking, and I saw, live, the second plane, come across the screen and hit — it literally sliced through the other tower. Yeah, so that's … that's, I mean, how I found out. I mean, honestly, I kept a vigil for over two weeks. I slept with the phone in my hand, and I slept clutching his photo, and it was a couple of weeks, and I hadn’t heard anything, and just … had to come to the conclusion that he's not coming home.

And I had to tell the boys. You know, that was one of the hardest things I've had to do: [Tell them] that Daddy's not coming home.

A year after 9/11 — exactly a year — two men in brown suits came to my back door, about 10 p.m. I had heard about the men in brown suits, and I knew exactly what they were. And they were there to tell me that they identified some of my husband's remains.

And my son was 9, and he said, “Mommy, who were those men? Did they find Daddy?”

I'm like, “Yeah, but you know, he's not living.”

“I know, Mom.” He wanted to know, you know?

We waited five years to intern those two bones. So we had a funeral in 2006.

"David could fix anything — electrical, plumbing. He was a motocross enthusiast. He loved to ski. So most people didn't know he was blind. He would talk to everybody — on the trains, on the bus — and I got letters from people that I never met ... he was the love of my life."
Deborah Garcia, Essex

David could fix anything — electrical, plumbing. He was a motocross enthusiast. He loved to ski. So most people didn't know he was blind. He would talk to everybody — on the trains, on the bus — and I got letters from people that I never met, who knew him from the bus and didn't even really always know his name.

It was really hard. I — he was the love of my life.

For my son, who was 4 at the time, he never really directly felt the effects of it, because he was so young, and he really didn't have memories of his father. But my 8-year-old, he was … he was devastated in ways that I couldn't even recognize, because I was also overwhelmed and grieving.

So my older son was in 10th grade when we moved here, and then he went to Babson College. He started having a hard time. And he eventually … he became addicted to the medications.

Other things happened at college. The Boston bombing happened, and that was a trigger. We can't escape it. Even in a statistics class. He called me up crying one day, that he had to run out of the class, because the instructor was asking them to calculate figures for something to do with the stock or something, pre-9/11 [and] post-9/11.

So many things reference back to 9/11. It's a current event, it's always going to be a current event.

deborah-garcia-and-her-two-sons-courtesy-XXXX.JPG
Garcia Family, Courtesy
Deborah Garcia with her two sons. She says while her youngest wasn't old enough to fully comprehend the loss of her husband, David Garcia, her oldest son struggled ever since Sept. 11, 2001. He died by suicide Oct. 31, 2020.

My son went to rehab to try to rid himself of his demons, and he came home to live here. And tragically, Oct. 31, 2020, he took his life. And so that has set a whole 'nother spiral for our family, for me. And for my other son.

When I enter Aug. 1, I always feel like I've entered a dark tunnel. And I think of, you know, the last time we took our boat, the last time we went to Maine, the last time we went to a Little League game, the last time we saw his parents, the last time we went on the boat. It's the tunnel of lasts. And then when the 12th comes, it's like hitting the reset button, and we just go on with another year.

But this year, it's also the year first with my son's loss. And it's really excruciating. Because when Sept. 12 comes, it's not going to be hitting the refresh button. So the tunnel has just gotten longer.

There's no returning to some previous Shangri-La place that we were ... You know, you can experience joy, and you can also experience pain and mourning. It's just learning how to live with everything.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vprnet.

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