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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later: Tread Lightly On Our Memories, The Pain is Still Very Great

Lower Manhattan-Then And Now-My Scrapbook

9/11/01 struck like an alligator lurking just below the water. It grabbed every single person in New York City and the tri-state area, chewed us up, and spit us out--some dead, some mangled physically or psychologically, all changed--most for the worse but there are always glimmers of hope that get through the darkness.

It takes a lot to get a New Yorker's attention since we're always on sensory overload, scanning ahead, to the side and behind for the ever present threat of something unexpected. And since that day, there's even more to watch out for than the occasional nut waving something that looks like a gun or knife. We're used to that.

And it takes a lot to bring this City to its knees, though since 9/11/01 the schools close much more regularly for storms, the mass transit system was stopped and even Brooklyn was evacuated in anticipation of Hurricane Irene. We're not taking any chances, especially in September when the lure of a sky, so clear so brilliant, so cloudless, a cross between periwinkle and Wedgewood, low humidity and bright sunshine brings back memories of suddenly being inundated by flames, ash, smoke, of incessant sirens and alarms, of screams, tears, and the world standing still.

A routine morning turned into one that everyone, including pre-school children, would never forget, since their parents couldn't get home to pick them up, take them home, hug them, and try to explain. Some of us were mandated to remain at our jobs in anticipation of mass casualties. Other couldn't get past roadblocks, over closed bridges, through closed tunnels and streets crowded with throngs running, walking, limping out of lower Manhattan, covered in thick white dust while fire trucks, police vans, ambulances rushed toward the burning Twin Towers.

 And some never got home because they were dead or dying in the attacks, including neighbors, friends, and family members of co-workers.I remember a kinder, gentler New York City in the days after the attacks. Bosses not worrying if you got in late due to roadblocks, and really wanting to hear the truth when they asked how you were doing. Petty politics on the job suspended, silly grievances forgotten.Flags everywhere, including the rear windows of every car. Less road rage, more patience on long lines. Spontaneous parades and candlelight vigils. I myself stopped to listen, hold hands and say a prayer with an evangelical something on Chambers Street when I made the pilgrimage to Ground Zero for the first time.

There were not a lot of smiles as we donned masks and gloves and emptied our mailboxes over the recycling pail--outdoors and away from the kids-- during a surprisingly mild, dry fall. It made it easier as recovery efforts went on, we watched for Anthrax, sent socks, lip balm, water, work gloves and other supplies to Shea Stadium for distribution to the heroes downtown--many of them now terribly ill from toxic exposures (including the police officer who gave me copies of images he took at Ground Zero). One police officer I know, a thirty-five year old singlemother, has died.

In addition to nuts, impaired drivers, rats and petty thieves snatching I-pods and gold chains, we did as told: "If you see something, say something." The campaign didn't bear fruit until years later when a multitude of terrorist plots and activities were uncovered, but we also learned to expect, and welcome, police and the National Guard, with weapons drawn, patrolling bus terminals, train stations and at times of high alert, the subways, bridges, and tunnels.I drive over the East River bridges almost every day, and there is never a time when I look at the hole in the skyline and don't remember. And in my own post traumatic stress disordered world, the sounds of sirens still shock my heart into a rapid rhythm, make me nauseous, and weaken my knees.

There are plenty of things to do this Sunday to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/1/01. Concerts, multimedia retrospectives, church services, ceremonies, dedications. I'm not sure what I'll do. My sons, 10 and 8 at the time of the attacks, are away at college. My daughter, who we adopted in 2003, was born nearly a year after and I'm trying to explain it before show her the pictures. Anguish spurned me into initiating the proceedings in November 2001, because there were just no more good excuses to put off all the things I'd always wanted to do.

I could also just do my routine Sunday things like take ballet class, or putter in my garden, or clean up the house, but I am feeling an even bigger sense of loss this year since my father's recent death. His construction company was a major contractor for the building of the WTC, and it was one of his proudest accomplishments and greatest heartbreaks.Even my favorite peaceful activities- kayaking or walking along the shorelines, seeing my childhood haunts, remembering how it was to be a kid is too painful these days, with the hole in my life left by Dad's absence, the hole in my heart left by the hole in the New York City skyline. 

I can still remember the fear, the confusion, the desperation, the camaraderie, the anger, the sounds, the smells--oh yes, that smell of smoke, burning rubber and plastic, and death diffusing over the world churning my stomach into a knot, keeping me on the verge of puking every time wind blew a certain way.On September 1, I took these images of the Freedom Tower rising above the space left for the 9/11 Memorial Pools over the footprints of the towers--a crypt for the unidentified remains and for those whose remains were never found. The DJ on The Circle Line was playing Usher's D.J.'s Got Us Falling in Love Again and it seemed like an appropriately upbeat way to sail past the new skyline toward the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

But as today approached, melancholy washed over me like the rains flooding the tri-state area. Natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornados aren't intentionally planned to spawn death, destruction and despair--unless your gods or God is more capricious than mine. I'm physically sick today, puked once already, and my right arm feels like it's been wrenched out of place. I don't want to hear any speeches, listen to any music. I don't want to read any "ten years later" stories. I don't want to do things I love: to dance, or to write. I don't want to do anything except hug my husband and my kids, crawl into bed, and wake up tomorrow morning.

Read part of the 9/11/01 chapter from Someday I'm Going to Write a Book

Read last year's retrospective The Twin Towers and the Lowly Parking Meter--A 9/11 Remembrance


  1. Thank you for expressing what I, as your fellow New Yorker, have been feeling all week leading up to this day.

    I can't quite busy myself with my normal Sunday afternoon activities, yet at the same time I don't want to wallow in pity and sadness the whole day. To that effect, we've kept the television off all day. We don't want to forget, but we don't need to be reminded every second by an overzealous media of the tragedy that occurred on that fateful day 10 years ago.

    Thank you for writing this, Carole.

  2. Not sure what happened to the response I posted yesterday (it was confirmed). Maybe it's on another thread. Anyway, thanks for your sharing your thoughts, David. I didn't want this to be a melodramatic post, and from the other comments people have made on Facebook and by email, I've captured the thoughts and feelings of not only New Yorkers, but those of people from all over the United States, and even one from Australia!

    Hope everyone is doing okay. I am