EXCLUSIVE: Noelle Borders is determined to keep her mother’s story alive and continue her legacy of perseverance in the face of one of the world’s greatest tragedies.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, the striking 2001 photograph of a 9/11 survivor Marcy Borders – covered in dust from debris from the fall of the collapsing Twin Towers in New York – has become a symbol of the collective trauma of that day, leaving thousands dead and millions heartbroken over what remains of the terrorist attack the deadliest in the United States.
The photo, taken by the photographer for Agence France-Presse at the time Stan honda, is so haunting that it is considered one of the most iconic images of 9/11.
Borders, then a 28-year-old Bank of America employee barely a few weeks on the job, had narrowly escaped alive from the 81st floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. And while her survival story was miraculous, Borders revealed in interviews years later that the traumatic experience left her unable to cope with its aftermath; so much so that she struggled with alcohol and drugs over the years and even lost custody of her young son.
Eventually, Borders went to a rehabilitation center, changed her life, and regained custody of her child. But while she was able to turn her story of trauma into a story of triumph, the New Jersey mom sadly passed away from stomach cancer in 2015 at the age of 42.
Borders’ daughter, Noelle Borders, who was only 8 years old at the time of the attacks, says leGrio that she is determined to keep her mother’s story alive and continue her legacy of perseverance in the face of one of the world’s greatest tragedies. Noelle, now a 28-year-old elementary history teacher in Bayonne, New Jersey, says she remembers 9/11 very well.
“I remember my third grade teacher rolling around in the TV cart showing us the news on the news, and in doing that I guess posting what was happening on the screen – she ended up turn off the screen, “Borders recalled in a recent interview with leGrio.
Shortly after, the students were picked up one by one at school, but Noëlle’s mother, who ran the parent-teacher association, never showed up. “I end up being like one of the very last kids to leave the classroom,” she recalls.
Eventually Noelle’s aunt picked her up from school and brought her home. At the time, his family was unsure whether Marcy Borders was dead or alive. “I remember that only the adults at home were very distant. They really didn’t want to talk around me. They didn’t want to let me know what was going on. They didn’t want me to be upset. So any conversation they had, they took her outside, ”she said.
Despite fears of the worst, Noelle’s family were relieved to discover that Marcy Borders had indeed survived the attack. She was able to go to a phone booth and call her home to let them know she was okay. But while she had physically survived the horrors of that tragic day in history, Marcy Borders would spend several years struggling to feel secure and find peace of mind.
“She came in like a shell shock. She was very scared. She didn’t want there to be a lot of people around. Even the people we knew and that she knew wouldn’t hurt her, ”recalls Noelle.
It also didn’t help that Marcy Borders’ photo, covered in dust from the debris, was plastered all over the news. Her photograph was so widely circulated that she was dubbed “The Dust Lady”. The image, Noelle says, became a trigger for her mother, who felt public attention would soon make her the target of another attack.
Noelle says she remembers a time when she begged her mother to take her to a parade in town just days after the 9/11 anniversary. During the parade, however, a plane was heard flying above the crowd.
“She heard that noise and started to panic. At this point, the streets are flooded with people from our city. She grabbed my hand and I and they are the only two people escaping the noise of the plane. And then finally she stopped ”after realizing that she was actually safe from harm, says Noelle.
Every year on the anniversary of September 11, the famous photo of Marcy Borders covered in dust often triggered his mother, says Noelle leGrio. Coming to terms with her mother’s feelings, whom she described as her “best friend,” she too became emotional whenever she saw the heartbreaking photo. People would often show Noelle the photo at school and ask her questions about it.
“I was very overwhelmed. Like I felt like someone should have said, okay, leave her alone, or maybe even not bring the photo to school, ”she says.
Noelle says that although she saw with her own eyes how deeply traumatized her mother was by the events of 9/11, as a child she had no idea that her mother had struggled with alcohol and drugs. to face his grief. “She never allowed me, as a child, to see that… everything she did was in the dark and a lot of the things I discovered was through interviews,” she shares. .
“No matter how hurt she was, no matter how upset she was, protecting me was at the forefront of everything. Honestly, I was as shocked as anyone else to read how she handled it and I didn’t even notice it as a kid because she covered it up so well.
Marcy Borders was finally able to overcome his trauma and find peace through his experience inside the World Trade Center tower. Rather than seeing herself as a victim in perpetual fear of another attack, she began to see herself as a survivor – someone who overcame it. Noelle says her mother eventually returned to the “vibrant” personality she was, and instead of hiding from her past, she began to talk about her experience with the press as a way to regain control of the media. storytelling and inspire others.
“Her story has honestly helped so many other people throughout their struggles… she wasn’t just a hero to me, but she was a hero to a lot of other people,” Noelle shares. “So many people have been able to relate to his story.”
But sadly, Marcy Borders faced more tragedy when she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Noelle, who was 22 at the time, says she didn’t know what stage of cancer her mother was at. Her mother did not share the severity of her illness because she wanted high school student Noelle to enjoy her last year of school.
“I remember our last Mother’s Day together. So it was in May 2015 and she looked at me like on the verge of tears, ”she recalls. “And then that’s when she confirmed it might be our last Mother’s Day together.”
Marcy got to watch her daughter graduate from college, but later that summer on August 24, she lost her battle with cancer. Noelle says the family were able to confirm that Marcy’s cancer was the result of the debris she breathed in the 9/11 attack. According to a report by the Associated Press, nearly 24,000 people exposed to dust from the World Trade Center have been diagnosed with cancer over the past two decades.
Noelle says her mission is to keep her mother’s story and memory alive for her younger brother, Zayden, 13 – who was only 7 when their mother died – and her own son, Liam, who is 3 years old.
“I hope one day it will be in his textbooks. And i just wanna [them] to know how important it is to keep your story alive, because there aren’t many stories of black or brown people who witnessed or lived through 9/11, ”Noelle explains. “I just want my son to know that he and my brother are next in the line of his legacy after me. And I want them to continue to be open enough that they can talk about her story when they’re ready, because I know it took me a while to get ready, too.
As for the iconic photo that earned her mother the title “The Dust Lady,” Noelle says people take inspiration from it and remember that “no matter what may be thrown in their path, they are able to overcome anything. “, adding” the worst is not the end all or all – you will overcome it.“
Noelle says that in an effort to keep telling her mother’s story, she plans to someday publish a book from her mother’s diaries. “I’m just ready to pick up and finish what she couldn’t do,” she says. “Where The Dust Lady ends, her daughter begins.”
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