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If we can't seem to fully register people like Pasquale and Genelle, their own senses of identity have drifted, wavered since that day. Having cheated death, they aren't certain how to live. Genelle has put on a brave face for friends--and for the many reporters who have called. But in June, on a trip to Macy's with her cousin Gail LaFortune, a caterer for New York City's Oxford Cafe, Genelle confessed that she wasn't sure what life was about anymore. She wasn't sure if she had ever really known.
"For Judy," says Gail, using her cousin's middle name, as do those who grew up with Genelle in Trinidad, "there's a sense of...of misplaced things, of misplaced parts of her life." If that's true, how does Genelle Guzman-McMillan find herself again? It turns out there is no shortage of people who want to help create a carefree, well-centered version of Genelle--and an inspirational Sept. 11 tale for the rest of us: Victim miraculously lives, turns to God, finds true love (in July, she and longtime boyfriend Roger McMillan had a free "dream wedding" arranged by Bride's magazine and CBS's The Early Show, an event both then covered as news). But her story isn't so simple. People say Sept. 11 was a crucible for our nation, which may or may not be true, but it was doubtlessly a crucible for the person you see in the pictures on this page. The question is, Who emerged from that crucible? Why did the last survivor survive?
It's such a pretty day. Genelle has gold braids woven into her hair. Her cousin Lauren Lavin did them the previous Saturday, one of their "special hair days" when some girlfriends get together to try different hairdos, makeup and outfits. The braids remind them of their native Trinidad.
Now Genelle is setting up her computer. A contracted clerical worker assigned to the Tunnels, Bridges, and Terminals Department, she has worked at the Twin Towers just nine months. The job, mostly data entry, doesn't inspire her much, and she rarely talks about it at home. She also took the position illegally--her nonimmigrant visitor's visa expired in 2000, making her eligible for deportation--so she keeps a lot to herself. Many of her relatives will discover only today that she works at the Trade Center.
After booting up, Genelle carries her egg-on-a-bagel and hot chocolate down a few cubicles to gab with Susan Miszkowicz, a co-worker. They are gossiping about one of the bosses. And--wham! The building gives a mighty shake that just about knocks one of Genelle's colleagues out of his chair. They don't realize it, of course, but it's American Airlines Flight 11 puncturing their building upstairs, across floors 94 to 98. "What the hell?" says Genelle. She's not scared yet, just curious, so she goes to the window. Seeing a snowstorm of papers in the air, she stands in awe and confusion, motionless. Now people are saying a plane has hit the building. "We have to leave," she hears someone urge.