Twice Blessed: The Day That Changed Lives Forever (Part 2)

Shelly Genovese CalhounBy Shelly Genovese Calhoun13 Minutes

Excerpt from Chapter 7 of  Twice Blessed: A Journey of Hope Through 9/11 by Shelly Genovese Calhoun


I hadn’t moved from where I was standing. I wasn’t about to. I kept praying for Steve’s safety, continuing to tell myself, He’s a survivor. He’d survived the terrorist attack in 1993, and he was going to get out of that building.

At 9:59, in complete disbelief, we watched the South Tower collapse.

Silent. Speechless. Devastated for the lives lost in that building. It was inconceivable to everyone that this gigantic tower could collapse and actually had.

I was in complete shock that this was all happening before our eyes. Terrified, I thought, Thank God, that wasn’t Steve’s building. I can’t explain my inability to think of anything else except Steve. The more chaos that was going on all around me, the more I started to block out everything. Everything, except Steve.

It had been a little over an hour since Steve’s building had been hit. I knew he must have been almost halfway down by now. The North Tower was still on fire and filling up with smoke, but at least it was still standing. I waited anxiously, as I thanked God for giving Steve more time to escape.

Watching the TV, we saw people covered in ash and soot, running through smoke-filled streets, covering their faces with whatever they could to avoid breathing in the smoke. I watched with desperation, wanting to see Steve there as well. I’d completely convinced myself that the people I was seeing on TV had escaped from the North Tower and were making their way home. Steve was going to be one of those people. He was going to have another story to tell about how he made it out of America’s worst terrorist attack. I knew he would make it home—he would find a way out! He would never leave Jacqueline and me alone in this world.

Minutes seemed like hours as we all stood in front of the TV. Not even thirty minutes after the South Tower collapsed, I watched in disbelief as the North Tower crashed to the ground, collapsing into a pile of dust. In an instant, it was gone.

It was then that I, too, collapsed. My whole world came crashing down the moment the tower fell. I fell to the floor screaming, crying, calling out to God. Gasping for air as I cried uncontrollably. I screamed out loud to God: “No! Not Steve! NO, NOT STEVE!” I knew Steve had not had three hours to make it out of the building.

My mind was filled with racing thoughts. I cried and screamed out again to God to save Steve. “O Lord, save Steve!” If only one was saved, let it be Steve.

At this moment, something incredible happened, as I lay on the floor sobbing uncontrollably. Suddenly, as if God was calming the raging sea, I felt a comfort, a calming feeling. I felt that God had heard my prayers and answered them instantly. A complete peace that wasn’t humanly understandable came over me, a peace and a comfort like I’d never known. I’d called out for God to save Steve; I trusted Him, knowing He could. I knew it would have to be a miracle, but I believed in miracles.

This would be the first and almost the last time I would publicly collapse into tears and despair. I had an indescribable peace, and I had faith that could move a mountain. This was going to be my story: God was going to bring my husband home!

In this moment, I believed that the comfort and peace that came over me was God answering my prayers. Even though it seemed humanly impossible for anyone to survive the towers crumbling to the ground, I knew my God could do anything. The God I served was a God of miracles. Even the impossible.

I stopped crying, got up off the floor, and calmly began to wait for Steve’s arrival home. I went upstairs to our bedroom to get dressed and put on make up, so that when Steve got home he would say to me once again, “Shelly René, you’re a sight for sore eyes.” And he would smile at me with his gigantic smile.

I went into the kitchen and began to cook dinner for Steve, including his favorite—strawberry bread. My heart’s desire was for Steve to walk through the door to an unbelievable homecoming. The house would be filled with all his favorite people, and it was going to be a celebration. He’d made it out in 1993, and somehow, he’d found a way to make it out of this attack too.

I began carrying on with my day as usual, anticipating Steve’s homecoming. I even asked Big Mama to go next door to borrow an extra pan to bake the strawberry bread in. When she went outside, she was frightened, because a huge fighter plane flew right over our house. No one knew what to expect next. Life seemed so uncertain, and everyone was terrified. But I continued to block out everything. I just kept telling myself that Steve was going to make it home to “his girls.”

Mayor Rudy Giuliani ordered evacuation of lower Manhattan, and thousands of people made their way on foot across the Brooklyn Bridge. Rescue teams searched for survivors at the World Trade Center and the surrounding area. We began calling hospitals and gathering photos of Steve to take into the city to ask the people on the streets if anyone had seen him. Soon flyers and photos of missing loved ones were posted all over Manhattan. Everyone was looking for someone—husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and friends.

Although I still hadn’t heard from Steve, there was no doubt in my mind that he was alive. But as the day went on, I wondered why he wasn’t home yet. I started to think that maybe he had a head injury and couldn’t remember his name—that’s why he hadn’t called home. But I never thought for one second that he wasn’t coming home. I thought maybe he was in one of the makeshift hospitals in Manhattan, and when he was able to, he would call. Maybe he was stuck in the rubble and waiting to be rescued. I just knew he was coming home, and Jacqueline and I were going to be there waiting for him when he walked through the door.

Throughout the long day, Honey and Big Mama took care of Jacqueline and helped everyone gather any information they could to help find Steve. While glancing at the TV and the terror in New York City, not being able to fully comprehend what we were living through.

God had already placed me in a protective cocoon. I already knew that His hands were on me. Just the sheer fact that He had allowed my mother and Big Mama to be with me in New Jersey during the most horrific day of my life was simply God’s grace. He allowed them to be there to take care of me, take care of Jacqueline, and support each other. If we hadn’t flown to New Jersey on September 10, just the night before, I would have been stuck in Dallas and unable to make it home, since all air traffic in the United States had been grounded. God had made a way for us all to be there together.

Everyone seemed glued to the TV, but I never watched it for long. I couldn’t stand to listen to what the media was saying. I knew that the negativity and horror they reported—with thousands dead—would fill my mind. I needed to stay strong in my faith. I so strongly believed that the Lord was going to bring Steve home; I didn’t want to hear anything about anyone in the towers not being able to make it out in time. I felt like God had told me something different from what the world believed to be true.

A little after 8:00 p.m., President George W. Bush addressed the country and quoted Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (KJV). God had comforted me with a peace I couldn’t explain.

This had been the longest day of my life. I was physically exhausted. Big Mama put Jacqueline in her crib for the night. It was hard to believe that I didn’t want the worst day of my life to be over, but I didn’t. I longed for Steve to walk through the door. I couldn’t even think about going to bed without knowing he was safe, but somehow in my heart I knew he was.

But there was also a part of me that just wanted to go to sleep, so that when I woke up, Steve would be there lying at my side. I wanted his strong arms wrapped around me, and his voice telling me everything was going to be okay.

I laid in my bed for an hour just praying for him to walk through the door.

The emptiness in my bed was unnerving. Honey and Big Mama crawled in my big empty bed with me, then decided to give me a sleeping pill. They had no idea what tomorrow was going to bring, and they knew I needed to rest. Honey even joked about Steve walking in and seeing all of us all cuddled up in his bed. I wanted so badly for that to happen.

We all prayed together, praying for our nation and for Steve’s safety, knowing that the prayers were the only thing that was keeping us going. We had to have hope—and we did.

Order your copy of Twice Blessed: A Journey of Hope Through 9/11 by Shelly Genovese Calhoun