Editors' Note: On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Dennis Cook was where you'd expect to find him on a Tuesday morning — at work. He was a 33-year-old bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald, which had its offices on the top floors of the World Trade Center.
Dennis was killed that day, when a hijacked plane crashed into the North Tower. More than 650 of his coworkers also died that morning.
He left behind a wife, Dana, and two young daughters — Sophia, who was 3, and Lindsay, who was just 6 months old.
Research shows that most of us don’t have memories before the age of 3. Sophia and Lindsay are young women now, and they’ve spent their lives coping with the loss of a father they can’t remember. They can’t outrun the tragic and violent death of their dad — the nation has been trained to "never forget" — but they want a say in how it defines their lives. And, more than anything, they want to understand who their dad was, and which parts of him live on in them.
This is Sophia and Lindsay Cook, in their own words.
LINDSAY: I'm definitely a "9/11 kid." I know some people don't like the title, but I guess if the shoe fits ... I'm still figuring out how much, what percentage, what fraction of 9/11 is part of me. I'm 20 on the 20th anniversary, and I've still been figuring out what that means to me.
SOPHIA: I think that's something that my mom did a really good job of ... that she never wanted us to see that as part of our identity. She wanted us to, you know, it's something that happened to us. It's very, very sad. But you can still be your own person.
SOPHIA: So on Sept. 11, 2001, it was my first day of preschool. My mom was going to drop me off, and when she was in the parking lot she heard on the radio a plane had crashed into the twin towers. She obviously didn't know what was happening, but you had to assume the very worst. And that's kind of how that day began and unfolded for her in the middle of what would have otherwise been a very regular, normal day.
LINDSAY: One day she was living with an infant and a 3 year old, and she had her husband by her side. And then the next day, she didn't.
LINDSAY: We didn't talk about my dad a lot growing up, not in the sense that he was hidden or something, but maybe that was my mom's way of coping. She couldn't talk about my dad all the time — and keep herself steady and keep everything really normal.
But now, I have all these questions that I don't always know how or when to ask. And very recently she said, I wish I'd talked about your dad more growing up, because she'll realize there are these things that she thinks we know, but we don't know.
A song will come on in the car and she'll say, this song reminds me of your dad. So now when I'm out and I hear, “Come On, Eileen” I turn to my roommate and say, “My dad. My dad liked the song. This song reminds my mom of my dad.”
SOPHIA: A lot of what I know of my dad is stories. It's not my own personal memories because I was so young. My dad's name was Dennis Cook, and he is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
LINDSAY: People say Sophia looks a lot like my dad and that I'm a mix of my mom and my dad. I feel like I'm constantly looking at pictures of my dad, trying to pull out myself in him. He was often described as a funny, fun-loving guy. But I've never heard a joke he's told. That's just what everybody tells me. I want so badly for people to tell me, not bad things about him, but ...
SOPHIA: But, like, more human character traits.
LINDSAY: Yeah. Like the real trouble he got into when he was in college. They weren't going to tell me the stuff when I was 8 years old. What was your dad like? He was very nice, Lindsay. Give me the dirt. Give me the inside scoop.
SOPHIA: One of my favorite pictures with my dad is us having a tea party. And it's at one of those teeny tiny little kiddie tables. I fit perfectly in the chair and everything's my right size. And it's funny because my dad sitting there, this big man, sitting at this tiny little lady table.
LINDSAY: I have four or five good pictures with my dad. In one of them, he’s holding me; in one of them, I'm in the stroller and you can't see me; in another, it's me fresh in the hospital; and there's one at my baptism and that's about it. It's different not having anything tangible, not having anything concrete — no memories that are my own.
DENNIS: I, Dennis. Take you, Dana. To be my wife. I promise to be true to you. In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.
LINDSAY: I heard my dad's voice for the first time. A few years ago, when I found my mom's wedding video. I took it and I watched it alone.
DANA: I’d especially like to thank my parents for the best night of our lives, and I’d like to thank Dennis's parents for all the love and support.
DENNIS: Hi, Mom and Dad.
DANA: Thanks, Mom and Dad.
LINDSAY: I was 17 and I had spent the past 17 years of my life puzzle piecing my dad together.
DANA: And Let’s say hello to our future kids. Look how young we look! Don’t we look good?
DENNIS: Dennis Jr., not little Alfie.
DANA: We’ll see…
DENNIS: All my ushers. I'd like to thank you guys. Dave and Pat, you did a great job tonight.
LINDSAY: Watching that video I was definitely trying to get a piece of the demeanor that everybody told me about — the fun-loving guy who's a great time to be around. It's getting to see that in motion.
DENNIS: Uncle Mike, Karen... and everybody that came by that gets to see this video. I hope you had a good time tonight. And thanks for coming.
DANA: Yeah, we thank you all. Thank you!
LINDSAY: It wasn't just a wedding video to me. It was so much more. I feel like I've dealt with it internally, on my own time, and I've been figuring out what it means to miss somebody who you never knew.
LINDSAY: Sophia and I have kind of talked before about how, we can see our friends with their dads and you don't really expect it. But just in little ways and little interactions, you feel that little pang of pain and you just move on from it.
SOPHIA: In 2004, my mom got remarried. So my “dad" is technically my stepdad, I call him dad. My younger siblings are my “half-siblings,” but that's never been how it rolls. We're full siblings.
LINDSAY: Thinking about some other alternate universe feels so wrong, but it's so natural to think, What would this life have been like? What would he have been like? The "what ifs." But sometimes thinking about the "what ifs" feels wrong.
SOPHIA: People have asked: do you ever just wish it never happened? You know, you could just go back and stop that day? And that's probably one of the most difficult things — and a very hurtful thing — for someone to ask. Of course, I wish it didn't happen. But also, you're asking me to give up the lives of other people that came into the world only because it did. I think that's really how my mom and Lindsay and I look at it. We lost so much, we gained a lot more.
LINDSAY: I think about my dad a little bit every day. That doesn't mean I'm sad every day or grieving every day. I can think about him and be happy. But I never know where my mind is going to take me. It's just something that I've come to accept.
This piece was produced by Cloe Axelson and Frannie Carr Toth, with help from David Greene and Paul Calo.