MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
It is the fall of 2017, and we are getting ready to renovate our house. This is not surprising. We are always renovating. My wife, Sharri, can’t seem to stop. She loves our house on Long Island, but she is never satisfied with it.
This time, she wants to expand one room, combine two others, enlarge and enclose a patio, and build an attic for storage. I don’t entirely understand why we are doing this, but it is what Sharri wants, and I try to do what I can to always make her happy.
Before this renovation, she starts cleaning out her home office. She discovers an old Oxford-brand composition notebook, the kind with the mottled black-and-white cover that you might have used for your spelling or math homework in elementary school.
It is a journal.
Now, I should point out: I have kept my own detailed journal for most of my life. I started doing it when I was in college. My roommates and I were having the greatest time of our lives, but it was all becoming a blur. I struggled to remember the fun we’d had just a week earlier. It bothered me. I decided to keep a log of my actions and thoughts—just a stream-of-consciousness record of my days. On work trips, I keep my journal. On vacation, I keep my journal. It’s become as much a part of my day as eating or sleeping; it is something I always get done.
Maintaining a journal has not always been easy, but it is all there for me, every day of my life since 1990, separated into monthly files, every year, on my computer.
Sharri does not keep a journal. She teases me about mine: Did you remember to write that you went to the bathroom? But I can go back and find the name of a restaurant where I ate in Los Angeles or my hotel in Philadelphia. I can read about stories I worked on as an NFL reporter—first, covering the Denver Broncos, and then as a league insider for the NFL Network and ESPN. I can learn from my professional and personal experiences.
More importantly, I can go back and remember how I felt at any point in my life. Pride, sadness, frustration, loneliness, joy … they’re all in there. I can read about where I was, take stock of where I am, and connect the two to measure personal growth.
In her home office, Sharri picks up the journal. What is noteworthy about this journal is that it is not mine.
It is hers.
On the cover, she has written one word: Devon.
Inside, there is a single journal entry. It begins:
This journal for you will never be perfect, the words, the sentences, may not be proper, but it’s important you know a little or a lot about your Dad. I’m writing today, Sept. 9, 2002, and as I write I’m watching my peaceful and very beautiful son asleep on my favorite seat outside my swing. You are only 27 months old and who knows when you will read this. Our Dog Riley lays beneath the swing keeping a watchful eye on everything. It is, as I now call them, a “beautiful Sept. 11 morning,” no clouds, only sun, just like that day.
I’ve wanted to do this for a year now, but it was (too) hard. I feel a bit stronger now, a lot older, less tolerant of garbage. Part of me is ecstatic that you are too young to understand what happened to your Dad. The other part is Angry that you never got the chance to know this beautiful, beautiful man who loved you more than his own life!
How horribly unfair this world is. We were all robbed. Your Dad was only 32 years old. He never had a chance to survive those horrible people who did this.
She had stopped writing there.
* * *
The story you are reading is not just about September 11. We all know what happened on September 11.
This story is about September 12—and every day after.
It is about finding happiness in the most unlikely places. Sometimes grief leads to love, sadness begets joy, and death makes a family grow larger. The worst days carry us toward some of the best. As much as we’d like to extricate one emotion from the rest, that is impossible.
This is a story about loss and comfort, about pain and beauty. It is about the steps we take because we want to, and the steps we take because we have no choice.
A lot of families have a story like that.
This is ours.
Two months before he died, Joe Maio moved into a new house. He was thirty-two years old, professionally successful, and personally happy, which didn’t surprise anybody who knew him. Joe had a gift. He’d had it for so long that he could not remember a time when he didn’t have it. The gift was this: He was the rare human being who, from the moment he was born, was completely comfortable in his skin.
It was a gift he could wrap up and hand to others without ever losing it himself. Joe did not care for the social lines that the rest of us draw. Even in his teenage years, when most of us are angst-ridden and unsure of ourselves, he easily mixed friends and family, or popular kids with unpopular ones. He seemed determined to help people overcome the insecurities that he did not have.
The gift gave him a quiet confidence that did not spill into arrogance. Joe expected to do well but not to be handed anything. He did not start fights but occasionally ended them. He sometimes drank alcohol socially but never did it to forget who he was. He liked to kid his friends just enough to let them know he liked them but not so much that it hurt their feelings, and he was wise enough to know the difference. And his gift meant that he could laugh at himself.
Before he moved into his new house, Joe had been living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with his wife, Sharri, and their one-year-old son, Devon. They liked it there in the city. But Joe and Sharri had sensed it was time to get out, in the way that new parents sometimes get a feeling in their guts that they need a change for the sake of their child. Sharri saw a ten-year-old kid jaywalking on a busy Manhattan street, and she imagined Devon doing that in a few years. She heard city moms talk about fierce competition to get into the best grade schools, and she winced. She didn’t want that.
The Maios decided to move to the safety and comfort of the suburbs. They just had to pick a suburb. Joe had grown up in New Jersey, and he wanted to go back. It made sense. His employer, a financial services firm called Cantor Fitzgerald, was planning to move his group out of the highest floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center to Rumson, New Jersey, in two years.
But Sharri wanted to move closer to where she grew up, on Long Island. This made sense, too. She listed all the reasons for Joe. He would be working most of the time anyway. She was a new mother who didn’t have any friends in New Jersey. Her family was on Long Island. They could always move to New Jersey if Cantor Fitzgerald followed through on its plans.
Joe thought about it and agreed to move to Long Island. Now they just needed to find a house. They considered building one. New construction would have fit Joe’s personality; he liked everything in his life to be clean and just right, from his hair to his clothes to his bedroom. Joe imagined a house with no highway noise, perfectly designed to suit their family. But building a house would take two years, and the Maios didn’t want to wait that long.
They found the next-best thing: a house that had just been built. Joe liked that it was new—the floors were unblemished, the toilets not yet used. He was an orderly man, a bit of a germophobe, particular about his possessions. He liked having a house that was completely theirs.
Picture them there, in the summer of 2001: Joe coming home at the end of a long workday, Sharri waiting in the driveway with Devon and their wheaten terrier, Riley. When Joe got home from work, Devon would give his “Da-da” a huge hug. Sometimes Joe would sit Devon on his lap in the front seat of his car and play a song that made him think of Devon. It was called, “With Arms Wide Open,” by the band Creed. The band’s front man, Scott Stapp, had written the lyrics after he found out he was going to become a father: “With arms wide open/Under the sunlight/Welcome to this place/I’ll show you everything.”
Joe Maio was a great man. Devon was far too young to understand this, but it was true. Joe was not just great in the way we like to think our parents or spouses are great—everybody described Joe that way. He checked all the boxes. Smart. Charming. Good-looking. Athletic. Thoughtful.
Copyright © 2018 by Adam Schefter, Inc.