The problem with an assault and a tragedy that is the magnitude of 9/11, and that now lives nine years away in our memories, is that, as a writer, I become more and more at a loss of words with each passing year. It seems to me, therefore, that the best I can do is keep alive the memory of those who died. Each of the three about whom I’ve written annually was a fighter — one a firefighter who raced into a burning building, one a soldier who died joyfully saving the lives of thousands of others, and one a woman who lived with vigor and who I am sure, knowing her personality, was one of the ones who fought to take Flight 93 away from the terrorists. This is the story of Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas:
I met Lauren when I was at law school. She was still an undergraduate, but roomed with a friend of mine who had been one of her sorority sisters. The very first time I met Lauren, she’d been experimenting with hair colors, and had hair that was this beautiful combination of all sorts of different shades of red. I was very impressed. The next time I saw her, several months later, I remarked that I loved her red hair. I still remember the quizzical look Lauren shot me. What I hadn’t noticed (which says a lot more about me than about Lauren) is that she’d reverted to her natural, and very lovely, chestnut color.
Lauren finished her undergraduate studies while I was still at law school. She headed out to San Francisco, to be with her boyfriend, whom she later married. A year later, I finished law school and returned to San Francisco, so I looked her up, and we had lunch together. She was working as an aerobics instructor at a fitness center in Marin, but was trying to find meatier work to match her abilities. I hooked her up with the recruiting coordinator at my law firm and Lauren ended up with a job. It was the perfect job for Lauren. To be an effective law firm recruiting coordinator, you need to be social, intelligent, attractive, organized, hard-headed, and self-assured. Lauren was all of those things. Long after I left the firm, she was still working there, bringing together the best law school grads with a solid law firm.
Although we saw each other regularly in the hallway, and always stopped to chat, Lauren and I never became close friends. I admired her a great deal (especially her organizational abilities) and I always had the feeling she liked me, but we never clicked. I think of her often, though, and for a very funny reason: Every time I clean the kitchen sink, she pops into my mind.
In about 1988, I went to her apartment for dinner. She and Jack were delightful hosts — relaxed and friendly, and the food was delicious. After dinner, I hung out with them in the kitchen while Lauren cleaned up. And, oh my Goodness, did she clean up. It turns out Lauren was not just organized, she was a neat-freak. The last thing she did, after I thought every surface was already immaculate, was to take a toothbrush out and carefully scrub around the kitchen faucet. Nowadays, I don’t do that task with Lauren’s regularity, but every time I take out my toothbrush and head for the faucet, I think of her.
By 1989, I stopped seeing Lauren altogether. I still heard about her through our mutual friend. I knew she’d married her boyfriend, and that she was living a busy and happy life. What I didn’t know was that she lived in Marin County, where I eventually moved. Had I known, I would undoubtedly have looked her up, and we would have spent a nice lunch together.
As it was, on September 13, 2001, I brought my copy of the Marin Independent Journal into my house, pulled it out of the wrapper, and found myself staring at a large photo of Lauren’s lovely face. “That looks like Lauren,” I thought. “I wonder what she did to get on the front page.” I was staggered when I learned she had been a passenger on Flight 93 on 9/11. Lauren had been back to New Jersey for her grandmother’s funeral and was flying home again. She was two months pregnant.
In her last hours of life, Lauren did not get a chance to speak to her husband, only to his answering machine. Unsurprisingly, her words were meant to comfort him. She assured him that she was safe, and well, and that she loved him. Knowing Lauren, knowing her energy, optimism, and strength (both physical and mental), I am absolutely certain that she was one of the passengers who was actively involved in recovering Flight 93 from the terrorists and helping save the White House from a direct hit.
After she died, Lauren’s sisters, working with her husband, completed the book that was Lauren’s big project in the last months of her life. Typically for Lauren, it was a book, not just about having dreams, but about living them. It’s called You Can Do It! : The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-up Girls.
UPDATE: A little more about Lauren, her sweetness, her family and her legacy.