This morning I awoke to a newspaper front page emblazoned with fiery pictures and a reminder that today is the 10th anniversary of September 11. I avoided reading about it, as I always have, because something happened to me that day, in my office building above Grand Central Terminal in NYC, that I may still be unraveling. No – I wasn’t in the towers, and fortunately, no one close to me died. But somehow that event remained with me in a way so profound, it has been nearly impossible to shake it off completely.
So I have decided to share my story, written down nearly 10 years ago on 9/21/2001, read for only the second time ever this morning. I am not doing this for sympathy, or to take anything away from our nation’s heroes and loved ones that we are honoring today. It’s just something I need to do. Perhaps in sharing this with you, these jumbled unedited words, my journey will be complete.
It wasn’t until I moved to Charleston in July 2005, that I finally felt 100% safe, that I could finally face what happened in 2001. August of 2005 was when they released the firefighters’ recordings and I forced myself to listen to them. So here’s what I wrote then, followed by what I wrote on 9/21/2001.
These voices from the past, some of them ghosts now.
I don’t even know what I am letting go of, crying forcing myself to listen to these tapes, acknowledging it for the first time in 4 years. Before I would turn the TV to a different channel, avoid the conversation, block random concerned inquires about where I was and what happened and how I felt. Only now, now that I am away from it, safe in Charleston and alone can I listen to this, crying and typing and crying and typing. These ghosts. Listening to every single second unfolding. Watching the leaves falling from the trees brings on a fresh set of tears – reminding me of the people who jumped out of the burning crumbling building, plummeting to what seemed like a more tender death. Imagine that – that decision to make – do I burn alive or do I choose an instant death on the concrete 100 stories below? My decisions in life fade into insignificance – child’s play. I have to listen to these tapes. I have to purge something I have been burying deep for all these years. A man with third degree burns on 90% of his body…10, 20 minutes before in a suit and tie, drinking his morning coffee and checking emails, now a bloodied mangled semblance. Now the second plane hits building two. My heart is racing and my throat is closing up, that second f-ing plane. I can’t stop shaking. They said – it wasn’t an accident, it was on purpose.
I can’t imagine those families who lost someone, listening to these tapes, hearing the voice of someone they loved for the first time in 4 years, voices they last heard that morning or perhaps even the night before – now blaring from these tapes, hearing the fear and agony and desperation.
“The second tower is leaning – we are afraid of imminent collapse” Silence and more silence. “The second tower is down.” The dispatcher acknowledges – ’10-4, 10-4” her voice grave.
10 days later. I am finally deciding to write. Don’t know why I haven’t before, maybe because I haven’t wanted to remind myself. I have wanted to move on, move ahead, but for whatever reason I know that I need to write – if not for me to remember, for my children, for my future. So it is 10 days later after terrorists attacked the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon – wow writing that is scary, I have only been reading and seeing it up to now. I guess it has kept it away from me…anyway, that is what happened. I will say it again. Sept 11, 2001 terrorists attacked the WTC. Two magnificent buildings in the city I love – destroyed along with 6000 people who were loved by thousands more. Sept 11 I had arrived to work at 8:20 – early for me, rode my bike there sort of on a brand new start. 20 minutes later, the first plane hit – we all thought it must have been a horrible accident – then 18 minutes later the 2nd one hit – and we knew – and we bolted out of there, tense and quiet and unsure, walking uptown to a coworker’s sister’s apartment where we watched TV. Plane, hit the pentagon, the buildings crumbled. Shock must have been what I was feeling – I can’t remember. The rest of the day I was ok and Wednesday as well, a little afraid, tense, upset but still I guess in shock.
Phones barely worked – didn’t get a hold of mom and dad till 11:45 and then very few people after – but what I was really present to was the outpouring of concern for me from everyone I know – people in my past who I haven’t spoken to for years – exboyfriends, parents, friends, Susan’s friends’ friends – people I didn’t even know but who happened to know I live in NYC. I never ever want to forget that because it was amazing. If I ever feel alone or like I don’t make a difference, I can know that I do. So the city was closed down below 14th street – meaning no cars allowed – very few businesses open – it was the quietest NY has been in maybe 100 years – no planes, no cards, no honking, no yelling, no buzz buzz buzz of the city living, no rumble of subways, no laughter – just people walking around in a sort of daze – shocked, frightened, paranoid, unsure of whether it was ok to laugh or not, talking about nothing else and letting their giving and caring spirit shine through the pallor. 100s and 1000s of people gave blood, tried to give blood – they had to turn them away. People including Bob and I donated clothing, food, supplies, volunteers poured in from around the country, from different countries, Giuliani a pillar of strength and a beacon of hope and a human being, candlelight vigils, posters and papers of people who were missing covering the city walls and posts, American flags flying everywhere and on taxis whose drivers were or could be mistaken for Arabic. Thursday – went into work, couldn’t focus, was angry at people who had emailed me Wednesday requesting information – then a bomb scare, I left and went home. Michael called saying there was rumour of a van with Anthrax – they were leaving the city and did I want to come. Already jittery from the bomb scare, I decided to go and got in the car with Michael and a bunch of near strangers to drive to New Paltz. I had packed as if I might never come back – diaries, pictures – these things were most important to me and as if I might need useful things in case something bad happened – a swiss army knife, flashlight, boots, gortex jacket and said goodbye to my apartment just in case. Driving up there I slowly lost cell phone service and then my pager died – losing what to me had been my lifeline to the rest of my non-NYC world and I freaked out and I cried. The next few days in New Paltz were some of the strangest days in my life – a little traumatic – no car, no communication, isolated, barely any TV, with all these people I didn’t know – I felt 1000 different things and came up with 100 different plans – all changing ever other hour. Felt like I had abandoned my city, my home, my friends.
Looking back over these words I wrote nearly 4 years ago, I realized how much I compressed time, afraid to write down specific details, choosing rather to blaze over events. I know there are so many details I missed, but I couldn’t even begin to fill them in. Excepting a few memories, I have no idea what I did for those 10 days. I remember riding my bike down as close as I could to take a picture. I remember walking down to the piers with Bob to drop our donations off. And I remember almost every detail of September 11, up until I arrived back home around 4PM, and then blank. I remember how frantic and terrified I felt. That’s it.