938-3902. That was the telephone number for the equity-trading desk at Cantor Fitzgerald, on the 104th Floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower. I dialed it every morning to reach my brother, Matt, one of the firm's most promising and successful young traders.
We'd chat in the few minutes before the market opened and our day got hectic. On the morning of Sept 11, I had been trying to line up an interview with a mutual fund manager, with little success. I had no time to shoot the breeze with Matt on the phone, so I didn't get a chance to call him.
I would never speak to him again.
It's been one year since
my brother Matt
was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center.
I wish I could say I have reached a deeper understanding of what transpired that day. I wish I could say that months of reflection have coalesced into a state of enlightenment or a heightened sense of purpose to my life. But it hasn't. My emotions are wide-ranging and still too raw to have achieved that kind of resolve. Quite frankly, I'm mad as hell.
Coming to terms with Matt's death is something I struggle with each day.¿ In the first few months after the attack, simply getting out of bed to face the day was a daunting task.¿I could barely bring myself to carry out the everyday, mundane rituals we do without thinking. Shaving, brushing my hair, and throwing on a clean shirt seemed of little consequence.¿
Riding the subway to work each morning, I can't help but think about what my life was like before all this happened. I long for things to return to normal, but know they never will. When I reach the Wall Street station and the doors open, I grit my teeth and realize I have to face the music. It is extremely disheartening to ascend to street level only to gaze up at that empty space where the towers once stood. This is how I start my day, deeply saddened.¿ Mustering up the strength to write about the daily moves in the market and reporting the day's business headlines became a real challenge.¿ Nothing seemed to matter anymore.
Walking past street merchants selling photographs of the towers burning and collapsing is painful. In fact, it makes my blood boil. I find it despicable that people profit from selling pictures of such a horrible experience --thousands of people trapped in a burning building, waiting to die. I find it difficult to suppress the rage, the anger that exists inside of me. I feel cheated. I want justice, I want revenge. I want to know why our government failed to protect us. I want to know why my brother was taken away from me and my life was ripped apart. Then I pick up a newspaper and some knucklehead is denouncing the war on terrorism, and it only stirs up more anger.¿They don't know about the pain this has caused. They don't see my mother's tears.¿They have no idea of what it is like.
There were many days when I wanted to walk out of the office and say, "The hell with it." I felt like giving up. But I keep at it. I keep at it because I think of Matt and what he would do.
"You know there's a cure for that," I could hear Matt saying to me whenever I complained.¿ "It's called sucking it up.
"Stick with it, kid; don't quit," he would say.
Matt exemplified everything that is right and good about this country; he was a true American. He worked hard, just as my father worked hard to provide for our family and provide us with a decent education.¿Matt was a humble person, much like his old man. He knew what it meant to earn a buck. As a kid, he delivered newspapers for his allowance.
He mopped floors in the New York City public schools and tended bar in college to pay for his tuition. He started out on the low end of the totem pole in Cantor's back office, making a meager salary. He worked long hours and moved away from his friends and family to advance his career.¿He didn't take anything for granted; he made the most of his opportunities.
Matt tackled life with tremendous zeal and enthusiasm, and was never fazed when things went wrong. He never showed it anyway. He simply re-evaluated the situation; he adapted; he overcame obstacles. He did everything full throttle and with great passion. It was one of the driving forces behind his success on Wall Street.
|Matthew Burke (center) surrounded by friends and brother Kevin (far left).
In fact, it is this type of fortitude and perseverance that drives Wall Street. These are the kind of people that make this country a great place. He was a hard-working American in his prime enjoying the fruits of his labor, only to have his life cut tragically short by those who envy our way of life. He harbored no ill will toward Muslims or their beliefs; he had no political agenda. Yet he was murdered simply for going to work and doing his job. And that pisses me off. And it should piss off every American who aspires to create a better life for themselves.
I can't say that I've learned much in the past year from my 9/11 experience. There are too many internalized emotions I have yet to deal with.¿ It may take months or even years before I can get a firm grasp on this devastating loss.
My brother is dead.¿ All I have now are memories. Ever since I could crawl he was right there by my side. As kids growing up on 56th Street in Brooklyn, we played touch football, sewer cap to sewer cap, and he was the quarterback, mapping out the plays on his stomach with his fingers. We played Wiffle ball in the neighbor's driveway every day after school, imitating our favorite Met players at the plate.
We danced around our living room together after the Mets won the 1986 World Series. I will always cherish the great times we had growing up and the times we shared as we grew older as well. The weekends I would visit him at Fordham University, the nights he tended bar on the Upper East Side, and all the ballgames we watched together.
I miss meeting in front of J. Crew in the basement of the World Trade Center and heading up to Madison Square Garden for St. John's basketball games, stopping for a few pints along the way. There was nothing I loved more than heading out to a ballgame with my brother -- a guaranteed great time.
I still want to dial 938-3902 when I come across tickets to a ballgame, hear a funny anecdote or have good news to share.¿But I stop myself after punching the first two or three numbers, realizing he can't take my calls anymore.
I miss him terribly. That big smile, the laughter, his generosity and compassion for others. He was my hero. He was all I could ask for in a brother, the consummate role model. Although I can never form new memories of Matt, I can always flip through the archives in my mind and smile. No act of evil, no terrorist can ever take these memories from me. He was my brother by birth, my best friend by choice, and in death he is my source of strength.
Thorton Wilder once wrote, "the greatest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude."
Thanks for the all the memories, Matty. May you rest in peace.