Monica Iken-Murphy lost her 37-year-old husband, Michael Iken, a bond trader working in the World Trade Center, in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In the years after the attacks, Iken-Murphy, now 51, became an activist to preserve the site to build a memorial. The Manhattanite is president of Iken Science Academy on the Upper East Side, the first known STEM school for kids under the age of 5, which she founded and named in Michael’s honor.
Here, Iken-Murphy tells Susan Edelman how her fairy tale was shattered — and how she found a new, unexpected life with an incredibly understanding family.
I went to bed a happily married newlywed and woke up the next day a widow.
That warm, cloudless Sept. 11 morning, my husband, Michael, woke up happy and looking forward to earning his sailing certificate. He said, “I love you,” kissed me goodbye, and off he went to work at Eurobrokers on the 84th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
He called me twice, first saying calmly, “Turn on the TV. A commuter plane has hit the building. Everything is fine and under control.” The last thing he said was, “People are jumping out of windows. I have to go.”
Many feel we should all move on, it’s been 20 years. But for some of us on that day, our loved ones were murdered on national TV. It became our “forever nightmare.”
I met Michael on Sept. 11, 1999, at a Riverdale restaurant. He told his best friend, “I’m going to marry that girl.” He did, on Oct. 27, 2000, on a beach in St. Martins. His voicemail greeting was, “I am happily married. Leave me a message.”
After 9/11, many people thought I had won the lottery because widows got money from the federal Victim Compensation Fund for our pain and suffering and lost wages. Men came out of the woodwork to date me. They saw dollar signs. I did not fall into that trap.
I was in shock at the thought that money would make any of us better. What I received was “blood money.”
I used the compensation to pay my living expenses, but also to launch and run September’s Mission Foundation, a nonprofit that advocated to secure land on the WTC site for what is now the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
I would give back every dollar for my Michael.
To this day, we have not recovered any of his remains or personal effects. Instead, I bought the deepest chest I could find to hold cherished possessions: his basketball, yearbooks, the outfit I wore when we met, his wedding clothes, napkins with a shell design for his love of “surf and turf.”
On this 20th anniversary of 9/11, I will honor him by wearing my simple white dress from our wedding.
In 2006, I married Bob Murphy, an FDNY firefighter. He was off-duty on 9/11 but joined other responders after WTC 7 collapsed. Our 8-month-old daughter, Madison, now 15, held my hands and walked me down the aisle. We later had a daughter, Megan, now 13.
When I first met Bob, I told him I would keep the last name Iken, but hyphenate it with another name if I remarried. When we got engaged, I made a new ring that incorporated diamonds from Michael’s band. Bob understands 9/11 and why Michael will always have a place in my heart. It’s not easy for him, because I’m in love with two people, including a dead man.
But I’m blessed to have a wonderful husband and two beautiful girls who are part of Michael’s legacy because they are a part of me.