It’s been 19 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Those who were old enough to witness it unfold in person or on TV likely still have questions. That day changed the trajectory of the country and the world.
I was a sophomore in college. I awoke that Tuesday morning, turned on my TV and thought it must have been the anniversary of the 1993 World Trade Center basement bombing. Still mostly asleep I watched through sleepy eyes as CNN showed a smoking World Trade Center on my screen. The volume turned down low. I soon learned it was far different and worse as the second plane entered the frame and slammed into the side of the south tower.
That day, Matthew John Bocchi was a 9-year-old fourth grader at Harding Township Elementary in New Vernon, New Jersey. Shortly after 9 a.m., Bocchi and a classmate were escorted out of their classroom and taken to another room where they joined Bocchi’s younger brother Nick, a second grader, and the classmate’s younger brother. They were told what had occurred minutes earlier.
The Bocchi boys’ father worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the One World Trade Center or commonly referred to as the north tower. A second grade teacher explained that a plane had hit the tower. The young teacher reassured the boys their fathers were safe. Soon they returned to their classroom to finish the day.
Matthew’s father wasn’t safe. Days went on and there was no word. Matthew called his father’s cell phone hoping his dad would answer, but instead left messages for his dad to call or just come home. On Sept. 18 the Bocchi family was informed John Paul Bocchi’s remains had been found in the rubble. He was one of 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees and one of 2,977 overall who perished in the terrorist attacks.
What happens when a young boy’s father dies in a terrorist attack? Bocchi shares his story in the new book “Sway,” which is the first memoir written by a child of a victim of the terrorist attacks.
Bocchi tried to find answers as to how his dad had died. He became obsessed with the idea his father was one of the jumpers, who leapt from the towers to their deaths. Bocchi scoured the internet reading blogs, looking at photos and watching videos to find evidence of how his father died. It broke his heart to think his dad was one of those people. His dad was strong and brave.
Bocchi eventually turned to a male relative for guidance. Someone who could fill the gap and be a father figure. That relative sexually abused Bocchi when he was a high school freshman.
Feeling lost and alone, Bocchi turned to drugs and alcohol, developing a serious addiction to opioids and other pills. In his memoir, Bocchi explains how his addictions grew and consumed him as he struggled to balance school (then work), romantic relationships and most importantly his relationship with his mother, who he continually manipulated to get more money to feed his addictions.
As is common among many addicts, Bocchi ended up in the back seat of a squad car for possession of narcotics.
Now five years sober, Bocchi shares his story over 280 pages. He doesn’t hold back, recounting many of the darkest moments in his life. It’s a gut-wrenching story to read, but an important one. Bocchi is likely one of many who struggled in the days and years after the attacks. He is also a part of a generation of Americans that has turned to narcotics to help deal with loss and pain only to become addicted and create more issues than resolving any.
Those who’ve battled an addiction or witnessed someone close go through it will relate to many things in Bocchi’s life. Addicts can be predictable, but they can also be masters of deception and manipulation. Then there’s always denial on both sides.
Bocchi is not a writer. He’s a finance guy like his late father. There are times reading his story that I was reminded he wasn’t a polished trained author. There are gaps in years and he tends to jump from one bad moment to the next. I felt there could have been more opportunities for context or expand on some things, but it’s his story to tell and he does it effectively. The most important thing is it's his voice, and it’s authentic and honest.
As we continue to move further away from that terrible day, it’s important we remember not only those who died, but all their loved ones who had to carry on and try to find answers for questions that may never be answered.
For Bocchi, he eventually learned the truth of how his dad died. According to his memoir that revelation caused pain, but helped a wounded part of him heal.
Sept. 11 will always be a day we remember the victims, and it’s also a day to remember the heroes, including Matthew Bocchi. May he stay strong and carry on.
It takes courage to seek help and then stick with it. It also takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to share a story with the masses like Bocchi has done with his memoir.
“Sway” was published by Post Hill Press and is now available.