(This story originally appeared in Vivala)
Jacinda De Jesus has heard many stories about her mother. She’s been told her mom was the life of the party. And, that she was sweet, respectful, and friendly. Everyone loved her.
They tell Jacinda — who is part-black, part-Puerto Rican – that she looks like her mom, whose photos are dotted throughout the teen’s Florida home.
“Honestly I’m just like ‘Wow, she’s so beautiful.’ I wish she were still alive,” the 17-year-old says. “I wish she was still here.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, Jennifer De Jesus commuted to her job at Morgan Stanley, on the 59th floor of the World Trade Center. The 23-year-old was a data entry worker and one of 2,753 people killed that day in New York City.
Jennifer’s mother, Francisca Collazo, remembers turning on the radio in her Brooklyn apartment that Tuesday morning to the tragic news. Jennifer lived with her and Jacinda, who was less than two months away from turning 3.
“It was terrible for me,” the 74-year-old recalls in Spanish. “I called her cell, she didn’t respond. When I saw that on the news, my world fell apart.”
Collazo says she frantically called her daughter’s cell phone numerous times but never heard back. She tried calling her office – no response. Family members traveled to multiple hospitals in the city and even New Jersey in search of Jennifer.
A neighbor who comforted Collazo later said that Jennifer told her she didn’t feel like going to work that day but decided to because she had an appointment.
“Hasta hoy (until this day), it hurts me still,” Collazo says, her voice coated in grief.
But Jacinda doesn’t remember that day the way her grandmother does.
“There were stories that people tell me of the day,” she says. “People tell me I was telling my grandmother, ‘Don’t cry, my mom’s coming home. She’s on her way home’ but I don’t remember that.”
Jacinda’s maternal grandparents, Collazo and Wilfredo De Jesus, formally adopted her and moved her to Florida years ago. She says it’s been difficult growing up without her mother.
“I’m living with people who are older, so their way of doing things is on a completely different level than mine,” she adds. Her grandparents are overprotective and are very strict with her.
“I’m all they have, I’m their little baby,” she says. “It’s like I’m their second chance.”
Collazo says she’s not sure why God left her with Jacinda. Sometimes, she slips and calls Jacinda “Jenny” – Jennifer’s nickname.
“She is, for me, my daughter,” Collazo stresses. “I treat her as if she’s my daughter. I’m always with her… at least I wasn’t left alone.”
Jennifer’s memory is kept alive through photographs in the family’s home. There’s one of a very young Jennifer, seated on a wicker chair with a big smile and side braid – and another in the living room of Jennifer and Jacinda together on Easter Sunday.
Jacinda and her grandparents are flying to New York City for this year’s anniversary of Sept. 11. On Friday morning, they plan on searching for Jennifer’s name at the 9/11 Memorial.
If her mother were still alive, Jacinda says she would tell her everything – how her day was going, the drama that she’s had. She wishes she could remember every little detail about her mother.
“I would like for people to know that I’m still here, I’m doing good,” she says, “and I only wish she were here.”