“Time hasn’t moved forward for me,” Susan Ainbinder Carroll says.
A decade after the former West Hempstead resident learned her son, Kevin Colbert, 25, was among the 2,819 men and women who died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, she says she feels exactly the same way she did that day.
“I have a very hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I haven’t seen or talked to Kevin in 10 years,” she says. “It seems like it was yesterday.”
On Sept. 8, 2001, Carroll drove her eldest son to the Mineola train station. He planned to spend the next few days in New York City with his girlfriend and return back to his family’s home in West Hempstead after work on Tuesday, Sept. 11.
“I love you Mom. Take care and comb your hair,” he said jokingly as he shut the car door and headed to the platform. That was the last time Carroll would see her son.
“I talked to him Monday night and he was watching the Giants game,” she said, explaining that he was frequently late for work Tuesday mornings because he stayed up late watching football.
But on 9/11, Colbert woke up in his girlfriend’s apartment in Battery Park, walked the few blocks to the World Trade Center and made it to work on time. His company, Keefe, Bruyette & Wood, had offices on the 89th floor of the South Tower, and this is where Colbert was last seen before the building collapsed.
Knowing his cousin worked in one of the towers, Todd Steinhaus, who was the same age as Colbert, called his mother as soon as he heard the news that two planes had hit the buildings. His Aunt Susan (Kevin’s mom) was at their house, but their attempts to contact Colbert had been unsuccessful.
Moments later, glued to the T.V. at work, Steinhaus watched the South Tower, “Kevin’s tower,” crumble.
“I was in a fog,” he said. “I was hoping he was late, he got out or was in hospital, maybe hurt but still safe.” But in the days that followed, the family’s worst fears were confirmed.
“Kevin was such a strong guy,” Steinhaus says, describing Colbert’s 6-foot-2, 275-pound stature.
He was known as “The Tank” to his Central Park volleyball teammates and even as a teenager, he was a force to reckoned with on the football field, opting to “go through” players instead of running around them as he led the West Hempstead High School Rams to a the Nassau County championship in the mid-90s.
“Kevin never started fights but he would be the one to finish them,” Steinhaus said, adding that if the terrorists had came at him face-to-face, “it would have taken three or four of these guys to take him down.”
But the “big hulking guy with the huge smile,” as Steinhaus lovingly describes his cousin, was more of a gentle giant to anyone who knew him.
“He loved Halloween,” Carroll said, pointing to photos of her son dressed up in silly costumes – an adult baby and a pregnant nun – and decorating the outside of their home with oversized pumpkins he carved. “He was hilariously funny.”
He was caring too. After their parents divorced, Colbert and his brother, Andrew, assisted their mother financially and helped her raise their two younger siblings. Colbert even introduced her to the man she has been happily married to for the past nine years.
It’s family that keeps Carroll going despite her grief. “I’m so proud of my boys,” she says of her sons - Andrew, who became a firefighter after 9/11, Matthew, a college student, and Alex, a police officer. She’s also a grandmother now too.
She also clings to the photos and memories she has of Colbert, and relishes the stories and letters she receives from people her son has touched, pointing to one she kept from Chris Manders, the first West Hempstead student to receive the Kevin Colbert Memorial Scholarship the family set up.
“He requested Kevin’s number on his football jersey when he played for Gettysburg College,” she said of Manders, now a New York City Police officer. “He said he incorporates Kevin into all his memories... and plans for future. That meant a lot to me.”
Her son has even inspired Carroll to take control of her life. “When Kevin was alive he used to always help me work out in the gym,” she said, but a serious injury in 2002 followed by a two-year recovery caused her to put on weight.
Five months ago though she made a promise to herself, her family and her late son to get healthy and since then, she’s lost 61 pounds. Also, after leaving New York to escape the constant reminders of 9/11, she is ready to move back to be close to her friends and to care for her son’s grave.
“Every day I live my life for Kevin,” she says. “For a long time [the grief] was very debilitating, but I finally picked myself up only a few months ago…and said, “I’m going to beat this and live my life to the fullest as Kevin would have wanted.”