In Memory of David Tengelin: Agneta Palmblad

Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.

New York, New York

Agneta Palmblad, 54, was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and moved to New York City when she was in her early 20s. Today, she lives in Manhattan and sells antiques at a Manhattan gallery. Agneta, now divorced, has a 23-year-old daughter and a 26-year-old son (who is married). Both of her children live in Brooklyn. Agneta says she loves New York City, but also loves going back to Sweden to visit her family. When terrorists struck on the morning of Sept. 11, Agneta was at home. She went into work – but didn’t stay for long. As she describes, “I was there for only one hour and then had to walk home since there was no transportation. Subways and busses stopped at about 10 or 11 a.m.” She wrote her essay around Feb. 5.

David became part of my life a bit more than two years ago. After I divorced my husband and my children were no longer staying at home, I decided to rent one of my rooms. I put out a small ad in the Swedish church and David replied. I remember well the first time I opened my door for him and this very tall, blond young Swede entered. He immediately gave the impression of being reliable and honest, just the kind of person I wanted in my home.

As I got to know him, I never stopped being impressed by his knowledge and wisdom on so many different subjects. He loved to discuss politics in Sweden and here in the U.S. We shared many interests in the arts. And then it was the Chelsea Piers, the big sports center just down the block. He played soccer and was apparently very good at it, along with running. He was very athletic. He had a big beautiful smile and a keen sense of humor. Last summer, after staying at my place for nearly two years, David decided to move into an apartment with some friends, not far away from here. He moved in August and went home to Sweden on vacation shortly after.

That brilliant sunny Sept. 11 day will forever be etched in every New Yorkers’ memory. Where we were, what we were doing. We remember every minute of the day that was like no other day.

I had my tea in the kitchen in the morning. I always had the view of the top of the twin towers from my kitchen window. I saw great smoke far away but didn’t know quite yet. When reality sunk in, the first thoughts were: Where are my two children and then David. Was he still on vacation in Sweden? I hoped and prayed that was the case. Midday I tried to reach him on his cell phone – no answer but his voicemail.

The next morning, I decided to walk over to his apartment. I had no phone number, only the address. I got in the small building, not really knowing where I was going. I found the door and a young man opened. “Does David live here?” “Yes.” I introduced myself and came inside. There were three of his friends. “Do you have any news about David?” “David went to work yesterday and did not come home.” The simple, cruel words devastated me. There was a slim ray of hope, but I came out of the house in a trance-like state. I walked home. There were no busses, only emergency vehicles and police everywhere. Reality had hit.

You want to know how we are coping now. New Yorkers are said to be especially resilient and tough. People became surprisingly warm and “human.” Really trying to help out in any possible way. The big frustration for the common New Yorker was the inability of not being able to do “enough.” We got the sudden realisation that the true meaning of life is family and friendships.

Needless to say, the autumn was very difficult. It seems now almost everything is back to “normal.” But if we scratch the surface, we have many scars. Many of my friends (including myself) have trouble sleeping at night. Not all the time, but enough to make you bone tired. There are many concerns and thoughts about both the present and the future. Then again, my Israeli friend tells me this is the kind of climate that has existed in Israel for years. So were we just naive in the thought of being untouchable?


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