September 12th

12 09 2009

I spent the whole day yesterday telling myself that I was fine.
Today I am too exhausted to see people.

I was not fine.

I started writing a post about the 11th of September yesterday while at work and panicked when I heard sirens.  I told myself, “Self, you work in on a Midtown thoroughfare, there are always sirens.  Everything is fine.”  And the truth is, I just couldn’t be sure.  So I sat there waiting for the phone to ring.

When I got home I tried to finish the post.  I told RHS that I was fine – I just had a headache and was sore from yoga on Wednesday and hadn’t eaten very well and was tired and that nothing was wrong – and then I smelled smoke from my neighbor and his friend who were smoking in the stairwell and I only barely repressed the scream.  I sat in the den with my hands over my eyes, rocking back and forth in the glider telling myself that it was okay and that I’d be able to get the smell out and that it would fade after a few minutes but secretly waited for the sirens.

I came back to the living room, put the draft of the post away, and watched Alien and told myself that I was fine.
It’s easy to be fine when a Company run android is not trying to sacrifice your life to bring a big bad extraterrestrial beasty back to Earth.

And now I’m back at the drawing board.  I am not fine but I’m still here.

Every year that I have been keeping a blog I have written something about the 11th of September.

2006 *
2008

I think that write about it because memory is malleable.  Part of me thinks that if I keep recording it, all of the different things that I remember, or all of the things that I remember differently will form one solid memory that I can keep tidy and manageable.

So this is 2009’s memory.
[This is long and… choppy.  If you are interested in cogent thoughts check out Angry Black Bitch’s, By request, remembrance; or 9/11 by the Shakers at Shakesville; or CKHB’s post at Heim Binas Fiction: This is Not Going to Be a Nice Post.]

On the 11th of September, 2001 I was 21 years old.
I was working at an online magazine on Hanover Square (and not making any money and living on tea and toasted butter bagels) and commuting in from Montclair, NJ.  Every morning I took a bus and then the PATH into the WTC to get to work.  I think that work start time was something like 8:30 but I would linger in the World Trade Center shopping area just to see what I could see and fantasize about spending my meager paycheck there.  I don’t remember all of the stores, but I still remember the layout pretty well in my head.

That September I was sort of living in two apartments.  The Montclair place (where I spent most of my time) and with a friend (JUST a friend) in Park Slope (that’s another long, expensive story).  On the evening of the 10th I crashed at my friend’s place in Park Slope.  I took the train over the bridge into work on the morning of the 11th  early! and pleased that I didn’t have to get up as early as I usually did.  I looked out of the windows at the harbor and with the high clouds and clear blue skies the City never seemed more beautiful.  It was the kind of summer day that makes you fall in love with New York City.  It felt like we were both young together, the City and I and I wanted to bask in it.

I was at my desk by 8:30 that morning.  And I sat there I at my crappy job and pretended to call CEO’s while I day dreamed and looked out the windows.  I remember turning to my coworker and saying, “Look, it’s snowing!  That’s so weird.”  After looking at the “snow” a while longer I noticed that it was smoking or on fire.  That was weirder.  My Turkish coworker, Levant (I say he’s Turkish because that was very proud of being Turkish and was always happiest when his Turkishness was pointed out and I know that if he ever stumbles across this he will be Turkish delighted!), announced that he’d heard from a friend who’d heard from another friend that there’d been a bomb at the WTC.  Get this, we all (all of us under 30 and working for peanuts, and pretty much just waiting to go to the Irish Pub downstairs and have a lunchtime drink) shrugged.  We figured the WTC had been bombed in 1993 and was just fine.  The place a rock – solid.  Nothing to get worked up about.

Then we lost cellphone reception.  In lower Manhattan on a clear blue day, we lost cellphone reception.  Then the internet crashed.  All of the news-sites that we needed just… shat the bed and there was silence.  We sat and we looked out the windows at the softly falling fiery snow and just … listened to the sirens come from the north, south, east, west – their wails increasing towards infinity … listened to the sudden frightening silence, a dreadful yawning in the bluebright morning … listened to our hearts beat and the blood rushing behind our ears and our fingers on the keyboards trying to get information about the scary email the boy from the drum circle had just gotten about the plane.

And then our land-lines started ringing.  My friend in Athens, GA called me crying.  Was I safe?  Had I seen? I assured her that I was fine. I even called my mother to tell her that I was fine.  She had no idea what was happening.  She was doing some sort of fast with her church that required that she not watch TV for a week.  We have excellent timing in my family.

And honestly, the rest of the morning is a blur.  Internet was spotty, but what was coming through was surreal.  Our boss, salty old bastard that he was goaded us to get back on the phones and make money.  He said that if we didn’t know fear.  He’d been in The War (“Which on, Al?”  “All of them.”) and he’d seen men die and this was nothing.  If we wanted fear we should think about being unemployed if we didn’t do our fucking jobs.  “People die everyday.”  I think I said something like, “But I’m one of those people who could have died today.”

My coworkers and I left.  We stood downstairs in the lobby and stared at each other.  The glass doors of the building were covered in ash.  We could see nothing of the blue sky through the grey.  We struggled to push the doors open against the six inches of ash that covered the ground and took off whatever we could spare to cover our faces for the 6 foot trek to the Kilarny Rose.  Inside the tough as nails Irish bartenders were openly weeping and handing out free everything.  Business suited money men were covered in ash except for the clean tracks of their faces made by their tears.  We watched the TVs in silence in the Kilarny Rose and drank beer and whiskey.

When the first tower fell we knew that we had to leave.  And honestly, I don’t remember seeing it.  What I remember is that one moment there were sirens wailing and the next moment there was silence.  We heard the sound of the ashes as the drifted down and I tried to imagine that it was snow.  We walked with a large crowd under the bridges as the other tower fell.  We had lunch at Dojo on Saint Marks Place and all of the kids from Cooper Union and NYU stared.  Our waitress asked what we were working on, what kind of makeup it was and if it was opening soon as she served us water.  She was smiling and young and beautiful.  And all of the other lunch-goers were enjoying the day.  They didn’t know yet.  I wanted to lie to her so that her day wasn’t ruined, so that everything could be fine.  I wanted the lie to be true.  I wanted to sit there in the sun and be young.  Matt, my ex, said that she should turn on the TV.  She came back crying.  I hated him for that.  I think I still do.
We moved on.

We made it to his apartment on East 63rd and then I walked back down to my friend’s apartment on  West 12th.  I was stopped by an armed Guardsman was I tried to cross 14th on 5th Avenue.  He and his gun asked me for my ID and I showed him my State of Connecticut Non-Driver’s ID and he said, “You know, we’re not supposed to let people below 14th Street if they don’t have an ID that says they live in the area.”  He shifted his gun and I could see that he was scared too.  His uniform was new and clean and he looked as if he’d just started shaving.  I said, “I live in Brooklyn.  The trains are shut down.  I am afraid to cross the bridge.  I have walked from Hanover Square to East 63rd and back down here where my friends are waiting for me.  I have nowhere else to go.”  And he looked at me, really looked at me, stepped aside and said, “Get to your friends, ma’am.”  I wish that I remembered his name so that I could thank him properly.  He looked so… lost.  I wish that I’d invited him to come with me.

Getting to F’s house was what saved me.  It was a safe space.  At F’s house it was still the day that I thought that I was going to have that morning on the train.  At F’s house we were able to… breathe.  Walking through that dust all day long and the first time I was able to breathe was walking through the door at F’s house.  She saved my life.  VH1 was playing Dave Matthews Live at Luther Luther College on repeat.  We ate pie and got high.  I showered a few times.  I couldn’t get the ash off the first time.  It would take months to get it all of the way out my hair but that was far from my mind while at F’s.

The next morning we woke up to another beautiful day and checked the news to see if it was still true.  I used to believe that nothing bad could happen as long as it was a beautiful day.  When it was still true on Wednesday the 12th… I stopped believing that.  We went to donate blood.  I couldn’t (I’ve never been able to) because I didn’t weigh enough and I was anemic.  I still feel guilty about that.  We ate brunch and drank like it was a party.  We walked around Union Square and watched.  I ran into a male model that I knew he said something about joining the army.  I looked for the armed Guardsman but he was gone.  I looked down Fifth Avenue through the Washington Square arch for the Twin Towers but they were gone too.

I am still disoriented when I look down Fifth Avenue.

I can’t fly without prescription drugs.
I started having panic attacks a couple of weeks after the event.
I lose my cool around dust, specifically dust on shoes.
I have a strong aversion to burning smells.
The site of those white masks that cover your mouth makes me incredibly anxious.
I get tense when I’m on the R/W and we pass the Cortland Street stop.  I would avoid taking the A/C/E line downtown trains that still said, “World Trade Center” because there was no more WTC and I didn’t want to be on a train going to somewhere that was really a nowhere.

But I’m still here.
A lot of things came into focus on that day.

  1. Life is too precarious to spend time dithering about what I was…if I knew who I wanted to be with, I should be with her.
  2. I wasn’t happy.  Life is too short to spend it not being happy.
  3. New York City was my home.

My world pretty much crumbled after the 11th of September, 2001.  And it was rough for a few years.  But I came back to the City as soon as I could and I have made quite a go of it since then.

Every year the City uses pillars of light to signify what we were and what are.  And like those pillars of light, every year I commit anew rising above the ashes.
I’m still here.

And still I rise.

And still I rise.

*I had a blog earlier than 2006.  I don’t have any links from it.  I now think of it as The Being a Depressed Heartbroken PTSD Living At Home With My Mother Coming Out Blog.  I actually think that it was called Hokey Pokey or something like that and it was on LiveJournal and if you happen to find it send me the link and we can all have a nice laugh about my earnestness and angst together.  Oh to be young and depressed and to have had your heart crushed by the first woman you’d ever been in love with who ran off to Florida with that golfer who was nothing but trouble partially because you were all “I’m so new at this gay thing” and you lived at home with your mother.  Those really were the days.

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4 responses

14 09 2009
CKHB

That was plenty coherent as far as I’m concerned. I’m glad you were okay. I’m glad the Guardsman let you through. I’m glad you posted a beautiful photo of the twin lights. I’m glad we’re happier now than we were then.

21 09 2009
Uccellina

Hey. Found you through Cecily, and I know I’m late in getting to this post. Just had to say, I was a rescue worker down there, and you can stop feeling guilty now. It was wonderful of you to try to donate blood, but the sad fact is, there were no victims who survived to need it. You did all you could, and it was enough.

21 09 2009
Baby Power Dyke

@ Uccellina
Thank you for your kind words.

🙂

8 04 2010
Kaia

I think this is the fifth time I return to read this post. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how it was, but thank you for writing it.

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