|9/11 Memorial at Pepperdine University|
On September 11, 2001 I woke up to the sound of Susan, my girlfriend at the time, yelling in to my answering machine.
"You gotta wake up. A second plane just hit the World Trade Center!"
Clearly our country was under attack. And I called my dad. He was wondering who did it. I knew it was Al Qaeda because my brother had told me years before about the 1998 Nightline interview with Osama Bin Laden. That they had declared war on all citizens of the United States. They had already attacked the WTC in 1991 and US embassies in East Africa.
My step-dad, Michael, had a court case that afternoon in NY. So he took the red-eye in from Los Angeles. My mom and I didn't know if he was on one of the planes that hit the buildings or if he was on one of the other ones still flying around. Or if he was in one of the buildings as his case was to be tried in World Trade Center 7 that afternoon. It was total chaos. And for hours cell phones didn't work because the emergency overloaded the system.
Finally, my mom gets an email from my step-dad's Blackberry. "I am ok." We rejoiced. He had gone straight to his hotel room and gone to sleep oblivious. He landed safely in NY within minutes of the 1st plane hitting the tower.
I went back upstairs and as I watched the gigantic masses of steel that were the World Trade Center tumble to the ground looking like so many toys, I called some friends that I knew didn't have TV, were probably still asleep and wouldn't have a clue what was going on.
I remember describing what was happening to my friend Jeff, who didn't have a TV and was just listening on the radio. I actually said to Jeff that it's got to be only a matter of time before we hear about someone we know that was on one of the 4 planes or working in the towers.
A couple minutes later I get a call from my friend Brent. He is very distraught. He says, "We think Elvis's mom was on one of the planes."
She was near Boston at their house on Cape Cod. I had hooked Elvis up with his first ever solo show for that night. It was to be at the Rainbow Bar & Grill.
Being the ebullient, ever-loving soul that she was, Elvis's mom conspired with some of her close friends in LA to surprise him and come see his first show. Knowing her it made complete sense. She loved her boys Oz and El. She wouldn't have missed it for the world.
On all the channels they had the hot line to call to find out if your friend or loved one might be on one of the planes. I called it.
"Was Berry Perkins on any of the flight manifests?" The response after 15 seconds was a bit of a relieved, "no" from the American Airlines employee on the other end of the line.
Then I ask, "What about Berry Berenson?" The reply, "Are you a family member?" I say "No." She says, "I can't reveal that information unless you are a family member. Please hold." I just hung up.
Her flight was American Airlines Flight 11. The first plane to hit the towers.
The next amount of time is all a blur, but I called Elvis. And some other friends and lost it with my mom.
We went from the elation of knowing that Michael was safe and sound asleep in his hotel room to the out of control despair of losing Elvis's mom in a matter of minutes.
Next call we get is from my step-mom. My dad has gone in to emergency surgery. Cardiac ablation. They sort of vaporize little pieces of the heart muscle that are beating erratically to tune it up.
A few days earlier my dad's heart had stopped for 3 or 4 seconds.
He was walking through the hospital doing rounds on a Sunday. He fell backwards on to the concrete floor and hit his head. His colleagues took care of him immediately. On Monday September 10th, he missed one of the small handful of work days he ever missed in his mighty career that continues to this day. Doctor's orders.
But on this morning when I called him to talk about the terrorist attacks, he had already been awake and at a meeting for several hours.
So an hour after finding out Michael was alive and Berry was gone, my dad was in emergency surgery that was to last for several hours.
The only thing we could do was gather the troops and head to Elvis's house. The airline couldn't completely confirm if his mom was on the plane or not. We still had a little hope that maybe she missed the flight.
I remember standing out on his deck on Seattle Drive off Woodrow Wilson in the middle of the Hollywood Hills and hearing the eerie silence of no planes in the air.
I remember not knowing what to do, but just hugging Elvis when hours later the airline finally called to confirm that his mom boarded the plane.
I remember when we all held hands in a circle out on the deck and Pat Ast sang the Lord's Prayer and a little bumble bee kept landing on our hands forcing us to break the circle and laugh right in the middle of all that pain. Elvis had written the song "While You Were Sleeping" a couple years before for his mom, and in that song he calls her, "My Honey B."
He played that song at her memorial a few days later.
I remember when my mom called on my old StarTac cell phone that barely worked to let me know that my dad was alright. It was while we were in that circle with the bee landing on my hand and after the 5 hour operation they performed on him that day was done.
I remember going home and my mom cooking dinner. Our eyes glazed over and dazed from the day's events.
I spent the better part of the next year going to Elvis's house helping out or trying to at least in any way. Cleaning up, being quiet, being loud, and playing music, listening, joking around. Pretending to be normal. Or not. Being a friend. It's what we do.
I remember stopping at the florist in my suit on the way to Berry's memorial. And the florist inquired, "What's the occasion?" And I told him. And he started rummaging around helping me choose and gave me that whole huge beautiful bouquet of flowers for free.
Berry was trusting and kind to a fault. She helped teach me that not only what you create in some defined artistic medium is art. Whether it be music or painting or some other academically restrained model. But instead that all of life itself is an art. Loving, eating, laughing, having an open heart. Going to the grocery store. Smiling. Everything.
It's such a lofty goal to even try to strive to be as free and caring as her. And I'm not so good at it all the time. But I learned a lot from her. And she helped open my eyes to the greatness within other people who embrace life so fully. With so much forgiveness and love. Like my mom and dad. And so many others that I am so lucky to know.
And I remember thinking whoever that was sitting next to her on that plane was so lucky. Because she would have made them feel so comfortable and important in those few moments of meeting them. Like she made me feel. And every one else that met her.
Elvis wrote the song "While You Were Sleeping" about his mom probably in the late 90's in their house on Cape Cod while she was literally taking a nap. Here he is playing it on the Late Show with David Letterman all those years later on June 13, 2007. And here we are on the cusp of another anniversary of 9/11/01.
While You Were Sleeping