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.
Petra Ebba Maria Ehnar may have lost her older brother on Sept. 11, but David’s spirit is very much alive within her heart. Petra, a 22-year-old engineering student, was born in Stockholm, Sweden, where she resides today. Her family members include her mother, Britt Ehnar; brother, Patric Tengelin; and father, Peter Tengelin. Science, fashion, golf and traveling are some of Petra’s interests. She loves big cities, especially Paris, where she lived for 15 months. When planes struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, Petra was in school. She heard about the attack during a break after someone saw the news on the Internet. She wrote, “In Loving Memory of My Brother David: March 18th, 1976 – September 11th, 2001,” on March 9.
On September 9th I hugged David goodbye at the airport like I have done so many times before, only not aware this was the last time I would ever see or talk to him again. It is like he has gone on a long journey. Sometimes I wonder where he is, and then I realize he is just alive within me. In my mind he is just as vivid as if he were still here.
This is how David described tragedy in a high school essay: “Tragedy is when things are resolved in the worst possible way. Usually there is death involved. The word tragedy is often used when things go from good to bad. For example, if a boy who has finished school and has a bright future suddenly dies.” Tragedy struck and this became his own fate. But had he known his life would be cut short, I still don’t think he would have done anything differently. He enjoyed studying and learning new things. School was an important part of his life, and he loved his college years and the friends he made.
Through the years David has been more than my big brother. He has been my comfort, my role model, my friend, my kindred spirit, and my inspiration and he will continue to be so. Since the day I was born, David has looked after me like a father. We have grown up together and thus shared the better part of our lives. We have always been very close. Having similar features and personalities is in a way painful, but I am very grateful, as I will always see David in myself.
I am deeply saddened that we were not able to spend more grown-up time together. I was just about to enter the academic world, his world. He had incredible knowledge and I have learned so much from him. He always worked hard to succeed, which has been a true source of inspiration, and I have tried to do likewise. Now I face a future without his advice, support and encouragement. I wish that he one day could have seen me as an adult and felt proud of what I had achieved. I will always be grateful for any success in life, which in a large part will be due to him. I am so proud of David – my hero. He had many dreams, and his persistence and ambition took him to New York City and the World Trade Center. “It’s like flying up here” was the subject of an e-mail. He was where he wanted to be – on top of the world – working on the 100th floor of the north tower, but it turned out to be a death trap.
I first heard of the terrorist attack in school. The way it was announced felt like a slap in the face. I did not know how massive the impacts were, but when I got home I saw the horrendous events on television. I watched the towers collapse – was David in there? What I feared most, after my brother’s death, was facing my mother the next day. Speaking to her on the phone was heartbreaking. As soon as I boarded the aircraft in
Stockholm bound for Gothenburg, tears filled my eyes. A sympathetic man next to me gave me tissues and said, “I think we’ll both need these.” He was American. I cried the whole flight. I read the papers and I saw the pictures. The flight attendants came up to see how I was doing and I shared my pain.
We had to wait one week before we could go to NYC. I constantly wanted to lie down and rest. The phone calls were many and my accounts were automatic and based on facts. I was emotionally shattered but unable to express anything due to the state of shock I was in. I just wanted to die and be with David, and I hoped we would all go down with the same flight.
I could probably give a single digit for the number of times I have seen David the past six years, since he has lived in the States, but I’m afraid to count. I grasp for every memory of David. I have 106 e-mails; suddenly I number everything. Now every object associated with my brother has immense value. The last photo taken, the last letter written, the last phone call made and the last goodbye said. These are what we have left of David.
September 11th will haunt me every single day until I too leave this world. Six months later it still feels surreal, although I experience the enormous consequences. For anyone having lost a loved one, things will never be the same again. It is like having a limb torn away. It doesn’t kill you; you just have to learn to live with it, which is even harder because you relive the trauma every day. There will always be something missing, but David will always remain a part of my life.