9/11 Changed My Life, But Doesn't Define It

460824347Photo: Alex Baxter / Getty Images.
On September 11, 2001, Francesca Picerno was a 9-year-old fourth grader in Holmdel, NJ, where she lived with her parents and two brothers. Her dad, Matthew, worked at Cantor Fitzgerald on the 104th floor of One World Trade Center. He was killed in the terrorist attacks.
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Now 22, Francesca spoke to Refinery29 about her memories of that tragic day, the media coverage of the events, and how the children of 9/11 victims are not letting the attacks define their lives.
What was the day of the attack like for you?
"I was at school. When we were lined up for lunch around noon, I saw my neighbor come out of the office to get me. I was wondering why my neighbor was there, but she said my mom sent her to pick me up and take me home. I didn’t think anything of it because the teachers hadn’t told us anything — we were just kids.
"My brothers were already back, and tons of people — people I didn’t even know — were in the house. I saw the news but wasn’t paying attention to it because I didn’t really understand. My mom had told me that my dad was not coming home that night."
Do you know now what happened that morning?
"I know my mom talked to my dad. He called her [after the first tower was struck] and explained that he didn’t know what was going on, but he was okay and would call again later. Then the second tower was hit, and he never called back.
"My dad was one of the first bodies they found — about eight days later. It was amazing they found him, a lot of people buried empty caskets. I remember I was about to get in the shower, and my mom sat me on her lap and said, 'Listen, I don’t think Daddy’s coming home.' I didn’t really process it, I remember that I didn't cry. A few days later we had a funeral. We even ran out of eucharist during the mass because so many people came."
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911_Survivor_Remembers_SlideFrancesca with her dad.
How did your perception of 9/11 changed as you grew up?
"My childhood from fourth grade to about eighth grade was a big blur. I remember having a lot of trouble when I was 16, arguably when a girl needs her dad the most. I was about 14 when I started to really realize what had happened, to understand the politics of the event, and its significance in history."
This Thursday is the 13th anniversary of 9/11. How do you like spend the day?
"Usually, I try to take a moment for myself, whether it's an hour or a minute, to remember my dad and pay a little tribute. I might post some old pictures on Facebook, and I'll visit the cemetery, try to sit there and relax, for some peace of mind. I'll play music and open a bottle of wine or smoke a cigar (don’t tell my mom!).
"After that, I usually relax with my mom and family. We always get a lot of people reaching out, and it’s really supportive. It’s kind of become just a normal day."
How about this year?
"This year, I will be on site. I am going to visit the memorial. It’s gorgeous, and I haven’t been to the museum. I also usually have a few interviews right outside the site."
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What do you think about how the legacy of 9/11 — and your dad — has been used politically?
"I just wish that after all of that tragedy, people wouldn’t be so stupid. What are we fighting for? It’s not a pissing contest. It baffles me that people still haven’t learned that dropping bombs or blowing yourself up won’t get you anywhere. It’s depressing."
You mentioned earlier that you’ve got some interviews on 9/11. And, obviously, I’m interviewing you now. What do you think of the way the media has covered this story?
"It’s too much all the time. Reporters always want to make it a sob story — and of course, it was devastating. But, the coverage is always about how everybody is dead; the stories are never about the living. It’s never about the people who thrived from the experience, or the families who rose from the ashes. I wish people would focus more on how we are today, how there is no more sadness left, now we just remember.
What are you up to these days?
"I’m making music. I just quit my job in an accounting office, actually. Last December, I was hooked up with a producer, based out of Philly, and now I have 13 original songs. We’ve been cutting them, and I recently released my first single.
"You know, it’s funny: I’ve met a lot of talented and amazing people because of this tragedy — many through Tuesday’s Children. We all have our own goals, our own life paths — and just because 9/11 happened, and even though it is a huge tragedy, we have grown and matured. We’re all adults. That’s something that happened in our lives, not what our lives are all about it."
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What’s next?
"I just recently moved back to my mom’s house in Holmdel, NJ to collect my thoughts and save up money because I am hoping to move to L.A. next spring."
Tuesday’s Children is a NY-based nonprofit organization that was created to support the healing of 9/11 families and children.
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