NEWBURYPORT — Seven years ago feels like a long time for most. Tom Pecorelli's son Nicolas hadn't yet been born. This week, he entered the first grade.
On Sept. 11, 2001, life changed for all Americans. But like so many other families who lost someone on that day, in many ways time stopped for the Pecorellis. Time does not heal all wounds.
"It's an everyday part of life," said Angela Veltsos, Tom Pecorelli's sister. "I know a lot of people moved on, but for us, we're all stuck in the moment. I can't pick up my feet and move on."
By now, Tom Pecorelli's story is familiar to many in his hometown. A Clipper City native and 1988 graduate of Newburyport High School, Pecorelli's love of videography took him to Los Angeles. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, after a visit home for a wedding, the handsome 30-year-old husband and father-to-be boarded American Airlines Flight 11, with a sonogram of his unborn son in his bag, set to return home to his wife, Kia, and his job at Fox Sports Net.
The rest of the story is etched in the country's history. His plane, which also carried Amesbury's Robert Hayes and Rowley's James and Mary Trentini, was the first to hit the World Trade Center.
Your life changed. The Pecorellis' life was shattered. And in their grief, they've struggled to restart their old lives.
Tom's wife, Kia Pavloff-Pecorelli, still lives in Topanga, Calif., but hasn't remarried. Nicolas, who never knew his father, is "intelligent and handsome ... he's his father's son for sure," Veltsos said.
His mother, Eileen Dyer, struggles to speak about her son without crying, Veltsos said. His father, Natale, thinks of Tom every day, but rarely speaks of him.
Last year, one of Veltsos' three sisters decided to move to Milan, Italy, to try to start over.
Veltsos says she wakes up every day and goes to bed every night with thoughts of Sept. 11 and her baby brother, who was six years younger than the next-youngest sibling.
She used to be a happy person, she said, but now the smiles are rare, something she said her friends often struggle to understand.
This past year, Veltsos sold her Amesbury laundromat and took a job in sales, where she's been successful. But it hasn't changed how she feels.
"The reason I sold my business was to try and start a whole new life," she said. "But it's not working."
She knows her family is not unique in its struggle. Yesterday, at the unveiling of a 9/11 memorial at Logan Airport, by coincidence she sat at the same table with Debra Hayes, Robert's wife, and their two young children. There was a sense of understanding among the victims' families, she said.
"I hugged a lot of people. We're able to cry because we're all able to understand it," she said. "Other people don't get it."
But for all of her family's struggles, Veltsos said she doesn't begrudge those for whom the impact of 9/11 has faded. Everyone remembers in their own way, and Pecorelli's legacy lives on in Newburyport.
Veltsos has created an NHS scholarship in his name, which goes to a student hoping to further his education in audio/visual arts. She also donated money so the high school's A/V room would carry his name.
The high school's Class of 1988 had its 20th reunion this year and invited Veltsos, presenting her with a flag that flew over Afghanistan in Pecorelli's memory due to the efforts of one of his classmates. It was encased in glass. They didn't have many pictures of him, because as the class historian, he'd taken most of them.
"All of his classmates haven't forgotten Tommy," Veltsos said.
Veltsos has her own support, too. Her three sons all remember their late uncle in their own ways. Shane, 20, and Travis, 18, have tattoos of Pecorelli's initials and the date he died. Jared, 15, will take today off from school to be with his mother.
This morning, Jared and Angela will arrive at Tom's grave at Oak Hill Cemetery in Newburyport sometime after 7 a.m. They'll sit, and maybe read the new entries in a journal she's left inside a plastic box at the site, which she has turned into a small memorial. It also includes pictures.
She'll wait to hear the church bells that ring every year, first at 8:46 a.m., when the first plane hit, then again at 9:03 a.m. when United Flight 175 struck the second tower.
Then she'll go home, and maybe go to sleep. Her dreams are filled with her late brother, too.
As the years go on, she'll continue to keep the memory of Pecorelli alive.
"I never want anyone to forget Tommy, how talented he was, everything he worked for his whole life," Veltsos said. "That's why I do the scholarship for the kids who graduated from the A/V program, to show you can be somebody because Tommy was somebody. Who knows where he'd be if he had that chance."