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Real Life

Real life: I found love among the tragedy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks

It was one of the worlds darkest days, but within the destruction came a miracle.

By Brittany Smith

Diane Marson, 77, Texas, USA shares her unbelievable story with Take 5:

As a flight attendant collected my meal tray, I smiled then relaxed back into my seat.
I was preparing to watch a movie and possibly nod off, but then a voice boomed over the intercom.
"This is your pilot speaking," it said. "There's an emergency in the US air space."
My muscles tensed. I was on my way home to Texas after visiting my son, Michael, in England.
We were four hours into the flight and hadn't even had turbulence. What could be wrong?
The plane descended immediately, landing in Gander, a small Canadian town.
Our pilot came over the intercom again and cleared his throat.
"There's been a terror attack in New York. Four planes were hijacked and we're in lockdown."
My heart raced as scared passengers murmured amongst each other.
I immediately thought of my sons. Michael worked for the US air force, stationed in the UK, and my youngest, David, travelled often for work. Were they okay?
At 60 years old, I'd been divorced for three years and although my kids were adults, they were my world. All I could do was pray they'd be okay.
Finally, buses transported us to a community hall owned by the Society of United Fishermen in Gambo, 40km from Gander, where I found a landline and phoned Michael's house.
His wife, Cindy, answered.
"Everyone's safe," she promised. "I'm just happy to hear from you."
I met Nick in Newfoundland after watching footage of the two planes crashing into the World Trade Centre. (Image: Supplied)
I exhaled in relief for what felt like the first time since the plane had landed.
Afterwards, I noticed a bunch of people crowded around a TV.
My stomach twisted as the footage showed two planes crashing into the World Trade Centre.
The skyscrapers would've been filled with poor innocent people arriving for work.
And those planes... one could have so easily been mine.It was like a horror movie that was too terrifying to watch.
Blinking back tears, I set my bag down on a cot and forced a solemn smile as a tall man with dark hair approached.
"Okay if I have this bed?" he asked in a British accent, pointing to the one next to mine.
After watching the worst of humanity unfold, it was nice to see some people were still polite.
I nodded and he introduced himself as Nick.
"I was travelling to Texas for work," he explained.
That night, I tossed and turned but found comfort in having Nick's friendly face nearby.
The next morning the same gut-wrenching footage of the attacks played on a loop on TV.
I couldn't bear it, so Nick and I went for a walk.
Nick and me on our 10-year anniversary. (Image: Supplied)
We got chatting and I discovered Nick, 52, was also divorced with an adult son.Although we'd grown up on different continents, and had different outlooks on life, talking to him was fascinating.
That night, in an attempt to boost our spirits and distract ourselves from the growing death toll, everyone in the shelter was made an honorary Newfoundlander by taking part in a ceremony called 'screech-in'.
I belted out a tune called Yellow Rose of Texas, then it was Nick's turn.
He sang Maybe it's Because I'm a Londoner.
A stranger noticed how close the two of us were and asked if we were married.
My cheeks blushed as Nick and I laughed and shook our heads.
"Would you like to be?" he joked. "You'd be a great couple."
Feeling bold, I winked."Why not?" I replied.
The next morning, locals arranged for buses to take us around town.
Nick and I sat next to each other again.
With so much uncertainty and fear in the world, it was nice to have the company.
On the way, Nick took out his camera and snapped a photo of me.
Butterflies spread through my stomach as I smiled shyly. Was he interested in me?
Over our time at the camp, Nick and I grew closer until, after five days, the airspace reopened and we were allowed to fly to Texas.
Rain poured heavily as Nick and I walked towards the school bus that would take us to the airport.
In the short time we'd known each other, through all the death and destruction unfolding, his company had meant the world to me.
The story is now a musical showing in Melbourne. (Image: Come From Away)
On the bus, he wrapped his arm around my shoulders and leant down to kiss my forehead. I wasn't having that.
Life was too short – I grabbed his face and planted a smacker right on his lips.
On the plane, we sat next to each other, canoodling.
Nick spent a few days in Texas, then flew back to England with my phone number.
A month later, he returned and brought a teddy bear from England with him.
"You can call him Little Nick," he said. It was incredibly sweet.
After that, I started writing him emails from Little Nick's perspective. It was easier to say the vulnerable things I wanted to express.
Maybe you could move here, I wrote.
I love and miss you.
I love you, too, came his reply.
After another month, Nick proposed. It was fast but we weren't exactly spring chickens.
We knew what we wanted, and that was each other.
Nick didn't have a ring yet and we didn't want to alarm our loved ones.
Besides, nearly 3000 families were grieving.
"I feel guilty that I'm happy when the whole world is mourning," I told Nick.Why did we survive and other beautiful souls didn't?
But we were still alive and that was a gift to celebrate.
The show was performed on Broadway. (Image: Come From Away)
After five months, Nick gave me a diamond ring and we confessed to our children once he moved in with me.
Thankfully, they were thrilled.
A year after we met, we married in a simple ceremony in our living room, surrounded by our kids.
It was perfect for us.
Afterwards, we flew back to Gander, to host a thank you dinner for all the incredible volunteers who'd supplied food and entertainment while we were there.
But when they heard we'd married, they threw us a wedding reception!
Dozens of candles and flowers filled the community hall, where Nick and I had met.
The actors who play our characters. (Image: Come From Away)
There was even a stunning white cake.
"After everything these people have done, they're still giving," I cried.
Nick and I have been happily married for 17 years now and our love story has been included in a Broadway musical, Come From Away.
It's been performed on Broadway, across America and Canada, and in London's West End, and now it's showing in Melbourne.
I'm so glad our story makes people happy.
September 11 was one of the world's darkest days.
But even in the most hopeless and horrifying situations, we can prove good people still exist.
Love still exists.

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