On the morning of September 11, 2001, 15-year-old Ayleen Arroyo said goodbye to her mother like it was any other day. "That morning, I actually didn't go to school. I wasn't feeling well. My brother was taken to the babysitter," Ayleen says. "My mom left to work, and when she left, she told me, 'Ayleen, make sure you take care of Jeremy for me.' And I was like, 'Okay, Ma, I love you.' And she gave me a hug and a kiss, and that was the last time I saw her."
Just a short time later, her mother, Ayleen Santiago, was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. After the tragic event, life for Ayleen Arroyo and her infant brother, Jeremy, became a daily struggle. "We moved in with my grandmother," she says. "I grew up really fast after that. I went from having minimal responsibilities to suddenly being a mother to a year-and-a-half-year-old child."
As the years have passed, Ayleen says one of her biggest regrets is that her mother isn't around to share in her life. "I just imagined her being there with me at my wedding, at my high school graduation, at my college graduation, at my brother's graduations," she says.