For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we reconnected with people Katie interviewed in the horrifying days after the attack. We wanted to hear their stories and learn how that tragic event changed their lives. Katie checked in recently with New Yorker Annelise Peterson, who suffered two unspeakable losses that morning. Here, Annelise tells us how that experience — and the years since — unfolded.
Some of my memories from the days after 9/11 are foggy, but I remember being on the Today Show.
It was September 12th, the morning after the attacks, and I was standing outside St Vincent’s hospital in the West Village with my sister. My fiancé Fred and my brother Davin were both missing — I was holding pictures of the two of them, asking if anyone had seen them. One of the Today producers approached and asked me if I would talk to Katie Couric live on air. Amidst all the chaos outside the hospital, I shared what I could about Davin and Fred: Davin, 25, was a 6’6” trader at Cantor Fitzgerald in tower 1 on the 104th floor. Fred, 27, was 6’4” and a brown-haired, blue-eyed Southern bond salesman at Sandler O’Neill in Tower 2, also on the 104th floor.
I almost knew in my heart that my brother hadn’t made it out, but there was a sliver of hope that Fred had escaped from Tower 2 before the second plane hit. I thought he’d realize what happened and get out of the building, because he’d know I needed him….right?
To watch Annelise talk about her 9/11 experience, click here:
The morning of September 11th is so clear to me. I remember waking up next to my fiancé at 5 am to go to the gym before work. As I left our apartment, I heard him turn the blow dryer on. He liked to run the warm air over his face in the morning, a funny habit that he’d had since he was a child, when he’d do it to keep his fingers and face warm at his lake house in New Hampshire. I remember feeling overwhelmed with love for this quirky, handsome, funny, ambitious, and incredibly charismatic man — so much so that I went back into the apartment to say, “I love you. Please don’t burn down the bed.” I actually thought about skipping work that day and staying home, but being the driven, career-oriented woman that I am, I took the rational route. I went to the gym, then off to my first job out of college, at UBS on 57th Street.
I was sitting there in an 8 am meeting when a man came in, panicked. He announced, “Something happened at the Trade Center.”
That was all he had to say. I screamed, “Oh my God, Fred! Oh my God, my brother!”
I sat by the phones in the office for hours, trying to get through to their respective offices, trying to reach their cell phones. One young coworker, whose kindness I’ll never forget, gently convinced me to leave and walked me to the apartment I shared with Fred, 30 blocks away. I remember my feet were bleeding in my heels, so I took them off and walked barefoot. The air was filled with smoke, with people running on the streets and frantically withdrawing cash at ATM machines. I wondered how they were thinking about money at a time like that.
That night, I woke up screaming, the terror of what had just happened setting in. A feeling like something stabbing me in the chest.
Katie followed up with me afterward, which meant so much, because I felt unseen by the world. How could two people I loved so much just disappear? I took the trauma personally, like it somehow meant I was unlovable: How could that happen to a person unless they deserved it? But Katie showed me empathy that I couldn’t even give myself.
A year later, Katie checked in on me again; she came to my studio apartment to interview me for a detailed segment on my brother and Fred. She even got ready in my bathroom. I remember sitting on my bed with a shrine of pictures behind me — I had been living in that shrine for almost a year.
Ultimately, something broke inside of me on 9/11, and I’ve been working on mending it for 20 years. Six months after the attack, I called a near-stranger and secured a position at his fashion public relations firm, resigning from my promising path at UBS. I was determined to pivot and to power through this, to transform my rage and pain into motivation to reclaim my voice.
A few years later, I met my husband and became a stepmother, as well as mother to three incredible children of my own. I’m now a writer and a consultant for lifestyle brands and despite my challenges, I have a deep sense of gratitude for my journey and my family.
But the fact remains: I lost my partner and my brother on the same horrifying morning. And afterward, I found out that Fred was going to propose to me the day after the attacks, on September 12th, 2001. His mother, father, and sister told me that he’d chosen the ring. I was furious, devastated, and confused that we’d missed our chance. Afterward, I never represented myself as Fred’s wife, since I didn’t want to label myself something that I wasn’t. That sometimes made it harder for me to let go. It felt like our love was less real, since it wasn’t legally acknowledged by society. (Though Fred didn’t technically get a chance to propose, I still call him my fiancé.) I ruminated for so very long about a love and life that never was. A story that we never lived. A fairytale that got cut off before the happily-ever-after.
I’m a survivor and an overachiever, and 20 years after 9/11, I’m still in recovery. But I’m embracing who I am: a smart, resilient, energetic, creative human who continues to thrive despite many setbacks. I have three beautiful children, and though I divorced my ex, that experience was a teacher in another way. I’ve learned that happiness is truly an “inside job” that requires a balance between will, grace, and humility. I’ve chosen gratitude while accepting the anger, pain, and disappointment I’ve experienced. And I now know that the most important thing we have is connection: first to ourselves, and then to others.