Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. At the time, I worked for the American Red Cross, one of the primary disaster relief organizations that would be at each of the crash sites feeding rescue and recovery workers, providing mental health care and eventually, providing services for the families of those affected. I didn’t go on disaster assignment at that time, but many of my colleagues went to New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania to help. And even in Kansas, we lived and breathed 9/11 for nearly two years.
My interest was piqued when I discovered The Woman Who Wasn’t There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception, by Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr. The story revolves around Tania Head, a woman who had a heartbreaking story about surviving the attack on the south tower while her fiancé was killed in the north tower. Head’s story about nearly losing her own life and then dealing with the death of her soon-to-be spouse was so gritty that no one questioned whether or not it was true. Head’s involvement in the World Trade Center Survivor Network and her compelling story, made her the “celebrity” face of survivors. Head was charismatic, compassionate, a dedicated worker for survivor rights and a dear friend to those who knew her. She was also a pathological liar.
For more than six years Head ingrained herself in the lives of real survivors and often, succeeded in making them feel like they had little to be sad about since she lost a loved one as well surviving a horrific terrorist attack. She was always willing to share her story, until the New York Times wanted to write an article about her ordeal. During the course of that investigation, the web of lies started to tear down, revealing Head as a manipulative, lying, sociopath.
The authors, Fisher and Guglielmo, told the story of this “incredible deception” artfully. The book, not quite a memoir, not quite a pure journalistic approach, was brilliant and fast moving. In telling this story and revealing Head for her unforgivable betrayal, Fisher and Guglielmo bring some justice to the real survivors of September 11.