Sit By Me
By Christine McKenna
Monica Iken, 32, was watching Oprah Winfrey one day when the guest described the afterlife as being like a big cafeteria a place where you could choose to sit next to anyone you wanted. It didn't have to be your family or your spouse the choice was yours. She ran into the next room and told her husband Michael, "If anything ever happens to us, you better meet me in the lunchroom." Every once in a while, she would quiz him, "Where are you going to meet me?" He would reply, "In the lunchroom Monica, in the lunchroom."
On September 12th, two years to the day of their first encounter, Iken was desperately searching area hospitals, showing anyone she could pictures of Michael, a 37-year-old bond broker who worked on the 84th floor of the South Tower. Michael had called Iken soon after the first plane had collided into the North Tower, telling her he was safe. Five minutes later he called back, "Everything's under control. They said to stay put. We're not evacuating yet, call family and friends" And then, "People are jumping out of the windows. I got to go." He hung up.
When Iken returned with her phone book to begin calling relatives, she was frozen in time. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing," says Iken. Out of the corner of her eye she could see a plane heading for the South Tower on the television. When she called Michael back, the lines were dead. The whole day her mind raced: How many minutes between the first and second phone calls? Did he have a chance to get out? Did anyone see him?
"And that started my nightmare," she says.
An Instant Connection
Iken met her husband on September 12, 1998, in Riverdale, New York. She was at Park Place Restaurant with a friend and Michael tried to buy them drinks. That night, says Iken, Michael told his friend that he would marry her. When she came back the next week, he was waiting. That night they talked. "It was as if we knew each other our whole lives," says Iken.
He called her up the next week during Hurricane Floyd and asked her out, undeterred by a little rain, wind. Soon they were inseparable: "I knew he was the one, it was like the bells of St. Mary went off," she says. He proposed in December. They were married on the island of St. Martin's the following October. "At the exact moment when we were saying our 'I do's,' a jumbo jet passed overhead and we had to wait," she says. "Michael said to me, 'We're jinxed.'"
There were other ominous signs in the weeks leading up to September 11th, says Iken. "Michael would say things like, 'We are not going to make our anniversary,' and 'I'm not going to be at my best friend's wedding.'" A week before, the group working at his trading desk discussed their deaths if they were to die, how would they want to be remembered, what ceremony performed? Twelve of the 18 working at his desk died on the 11th.
The ironies of people's last moments make it clear that God needed them for another mission, says Iken. Hers came, she says, two weeks after the attack. "It wasn't my idea," she says. "It was as if someone put a script in front of my face and said, 'You ought to do this.'"