Jim & Barb Fyfe
Father and Mother of Karleton D.B. Fyfe
One of my fellow workers came in late to our meeting and said that someone had flown into a building in New York.
Later, we were interrupted by a phone call. “Jim, it’s for you.”
Barb was trying to tell me that Karleton was on that plane that crashed into a building in New York. I resisted her news, but came to as she insisted that I come home immediately.
Ignoring concerned offers from my co-workers to drive me home, I headed out to the highway to be by myself and my anger and my “No, this can’t be!” ‘s and my “Please, god, no!” ‘s. For thirty minutes I screamed, beat my fists on the steering wheel, wailed, swore at nobody in particular, and made my way home through a curtain of tears. I unexpectedly now understood those scarfed Middle Eastern women beating on caskets and screaming as their murdered husbands or children were carried through throngs of mourners.
I arrived home spent and exhausted but ready to be as supportive as one can be of someone who has just lost her one and only very dear son.
One of the first rational feelings Barb and I had, one which we didn’t talk about but just knew without thinking, was our first response to the media. That was simply that as heinous as those murderers were, Karleton would not have wanted for our country to go to war and kill more innocent people in retaliation. We tried to convey this spirit to the public at any chance we had. But neither Barb nor I are comfortable as public speakers, she a wonderfully caring one-on-one nurse and I, a shy scientist – a man of logic and skillful hands but not a man of words.
Family, friends and even complete strangers were gracious and generous to us and our daughter-in-law and her children; the outpouring of kindness was overwhelming. And so we made it through the daze of those times.
I can’t say we were looking for something else, but, of course, something was missing in our lives besides Karleton. So as we started rubbing elbows, through David Potorti and the internet, with Peaceful Tomorrows. we started to realize that maybe this was the home for our feelings and our values that we may have been looking for. These people were very active, resourceful, and insightful in ways that we couldn’t emulate, but we help when we can and draw support and comfort from them every day as we follow them on the internet. We are inspired by them!
Moments from my diary.
Sunday, September 9, 11 a.m.
Our son called with a contagious excitement in his voice.
“Mom, Dad, we are expecting another baby!!!!” All three of us hooped and hollered for a while and when we had quieted down Karleton said, “It’s a surprise!!” We did about 3 minutes of schtick on “It’s a surprise” as Karleton had the most delicious sense of humor. He said “Love you,” as he always did and that was the end of our phone call. He was the best son, an amazing human being, all 6 feet 5 inches of him.
I just noticed that Karleton’s call came on the 9th at 11 a.m., numbers that would take on new meaning in two days.
Tuesday, September 11
8:35 a.m. I always had breakfast at my desk — cereal, tea and Bryant Gumbel. I checked my email, then was eating when Bryant broke in with a report of a small plane having hit the World Trade Towers. The clock said 8:46. Then another report that a plane had hit the second tower. One tower hit is unusual, two towers hit is an attack, it seemed to me.
I called my daughter-in-law to ask her to call Karleton to tell him to get out of the Hancock towers in case this kind of thing was going to happen in Boston as well. My daughter-in-law said that Karleton was on a plane heading towards LA. I told her that he’s okay, he’s headed west, he will be fine. She asked me if I had heard that the planes originated from Boston. I had not heard that. I began to shake.
9 a.m. An email arrived from my niece, who was working on her Masters in NYC. She said that she was fine, no phones, lots of smoke, many of her friends are unaccounted for and the only way to communicate is probably by email.
9:15 a.m. I sent an email to my family saying that Karleton may have been on one of the planes but praying that he was not.
10:30 a.m. Phone rang. It was our daughter who lives in Atlanta. She was screaming. She had just talked to our daughter-in-law. Four young men from John Hancock had just been at Haven’s apartment to confirm that Karleton had been on the first plane.
10:45 a.m. Shaking so badly that I could hardly push the numbers on the phone, I called my husband to deliver this excruciating news.
10:50 a.m. Phones were dead.
11:30 a.m. My husband arrived home. We hugged, he cried, I did not cry because this news did not happen. It’s a bad dream and happened maybe but to someone else.
1 p.m. The phones came back on. I called my sister, my best friend, and my other best friend. No one was home. I left messages, terrible messages. I tried several times to call Haven again and cannot get through to her.
The rest of Tuesday, September 11, is a blur. The house was filling up with people who wanted to express their condolences. Okay fine, but do it somewhere else. Nothing happened here. Why are you all here?
5 a.m. The phone rang. We did not answer it.
6:30 a.m. The phone rang again. We answered it. It was long-time friends in New Jersey who have read Karleton’s name in the New York Times and want confirmation. They talked too long, too slowly of things I didn’t want to hear.
7:15 a.m. Back to bed, I sobbed for the next hour or more and then for the next year and even beyond that.
9 a.m. We left our home for the airport to pick up a Cadillac rented for us by American Airlines. Flying was out of the question. We had never been in a Cadillac and felt even more out of touch with reality sitting in it. We drove back home to pack the up the car for our drive to Boston.
We arrived home and found reporters and their news trucks waiting for us. They were very insistent about getting their story. My husband talked to them. I found a picture of Karleton to give to them. It was all just surreal.
8:30 a.m. We walked into Karleton’s home. Haven was sitting on the floor of the living room talking in a gentle voice to 18-month-old Jackson, who was sobbing. “I want my Daddy!”, a phrase he shouted out over and over. Haven told Jackson that Daddy can’t come home. This infuriated Jackson. Jackson pounded his little fists on the coffee table. “I want my Daddy!” “Daddy will not be coming home.” Jackson sobbed. My heart was broken before seeing this and now it all but stopped beating. This child was in such pain. He adored his Daddy, completely adored his Daddy.
We spent the afternoon talking with the minister about a memorial service for Karleton to be held at First Church in Boston on September 21. My brother called to find out how we were doing. Then he mentioned that he had received an email from Fred Phelps. Fred Phelps and his family are Christians(?) from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. My brother was a columnist for the Kansas City Star and had done several articles for the paper about AIDS, homosexuals and that community.
Phelps wrote to Bill telling him that Karleton died to teach Bill a lesson about being a homosexual support advocate. I was sick to my stomach, sick at heart, and could not fathom anyone with so much venom who could stoop so low. Phelps had picketed Bill several times and now he wanted to picket Karleton’s funeral.
Bill told us to keep the time of the service and place out of the papers. We did just that. Emails were sent to the two companies Karleton had worked for with the specifics for the memorial. The email said not to tell anyone the particulars for the service. That worked. Some 900 people showed up, no Fred Phelps, and no press. We all felt very proud of our ability to pull this off in such a fine manner.
Phelps also wanted to picket the memorial service we held in Chapel Hill, N.C., on this date. We used the same tactics — emails, word of mouth, and no announcement in the local press. We were Phelps-free, press-free and the church was packed with good friends and family. It was a joyful gathering.
Jackson was now 2 years, 2 months old. Jackson said to me, “Jackson play Jackson’s guitar and Moma (that me) play Daddy’s guitar,” and I did as I was told. He adores music, sways to the beat and knows many songs. He can set up the video and the TV to run his own video — ’cause I sure didn’t know how to set it up until this 2-year-old showed me how.
Parker Douglas Beye Fyfe was born today healthy, strong, handsome. And now Haven had a family again. We were all relieved, happy, sad, and together. Life has gone on and will go on and Karleton’s sons will know him because this family never runs out of Karleton stories.
Haven has remarried and has a son, Owen, with Dan Kiernan. Jackson and Parker were adopted by Dan in December 2010. Jackson, 11 years old, chose to keep Fyfe as his last name, Parker, 9 years old in May, chose Fyfe-Kiernan to be like his Mom’s last name, and Owen, who is 3 years old, of course is Owen Kiernan. So there are three different versions of sons in their house as there were to be three different versions no matter their last name.
I want to mention that our son-in-law Carl also had an 8 a.m. flight out of Boston on 9/11. He flew to Kentucky on business. When landing, he heard the news, rented a car and drove back to Boston the same day. We were so glad not to have lost him, too. He became the person to turn to when we needed to know something about whatever it was we needed to know. He was magnificent and constantly available.
The gentleman who shined Karleton’s shoes mentioned to one of Karleton’s friends while shining his shoes that he hadn’t seen Karleton in quite a while. This man was crushed when told the news. Karleton was friends with all kinds of people and everyone was made to feel special.
And last but not least, Karleton loved humor and did many Steve Martin impressions and could rescue an awkward moment at work or anywhere by dropping the perfect thing to say. The art of humor is in the timing and this man, our son, had great timing. His favorite Steve Martin joke, which he learned at about 6 years old, goes like this, “Know how to become a millionaire and not pay any taxes?” “Well,” long pause, “first get a million dollars.” This joke is now sent around to the entire family each 9/11 that passes and we all can remember his presentation and laugh again at this incredible son, husband, father, friend, family man.
We were coming out of our church when a friend mentioned to us that there is a group called “September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.” I was pretty against any mention of or talking about 9/11 and thought, “Oh, please, don’t talk to us about this.”
Of course, I did nothing, didn’t call the contact for PT, knowing that 9/11 never happened. I am master of denial or a least keeping reality in check outside of the family. I do not remember how long it took for David Potorti to call us and ask if we would join him at a news interview. I’m am shy and didn’t want to meet anyone anywhere who had ties with 9/11 and yet I went.
Before I knew it we were being interviewed on TV. Reporters that I/we had avoided were calling at the first anniversary. Jim was interviewed and then I was. We wrote op-ed pieces and became involved in Peaceful Tomorrow emails and ideas.
I attended a Peaceful Tomorrows retreat in May 2009 at the Blue Mountain Center in New York, where I met 25 of the most wonderful people I never hoped to know. Our collective pains and loss had drawn us together and our global spirits were evident.
Barbara T. Fyfe is the mother of Karleton Douglas Beye Fyfe, 31 years old, passenger on American Flight 11, the first airplane to hit the World Trade Towers. Karleton was a senior analyst for John Hancock in Boston. Father of 18-month-old Jackson. Husband to Haven. Brother to Tiffany and Erin. Uncle to Sydney Elizabeth and Tyler. Son of Dr. James Fyfe. And family member to many.