Posted by: michelle @ books my kids read | September 9, 2011

forcing myself to remember

I like to listen to NPR in the car when the munchkin isn’t with me, the older one that is. A few days ago they started running pieces to remember 9/11. I turned the radio to a different station. This morning, as I left J off at school I turned to NPR and they were finishing up a political piece. After that, they went on to a piece paying tribute to Father Michael Judge, the first official death of that horrible day. I forced myself to listen. And then I cried.

Most of us can remember exactly where we were when we first learned of the planes hitting the twin towers, that’s the reality of that day. I have tried for the last 10 years to forget that day and the days that followed. Somehow I think forcing myself to think about it and write about it here might actually be a healing process.

I lived in NY 10 years ago. I worked downtown in the meat packing district and lived on the upper east side. I also had a bum knee which would be operated on in 2002 so I often chose to take a cross town bus and then hop on the 1/9 instead of having to deal with the stairs at 14th street. I was on the bus when the first plane hit. We heard about it, but reality didn’t sink in and everyone thought it was a fluke. I got on the subway and started my ride downtown. They started making announcements that the train wouldn’t go further south then 14th street, but I didn’t care since that was my stop anyway. When I started walking to work, reality started to sink in. I saw the first tower actually fall. I saw people falling and/or jumping out of the buildings – they were small since I was a number of blocks away, but it was an unmistakable sight. I got to my office and everyone that was there was watching CNN. We sat there in a state of shock. We kept trying to find out about everyone else we worked with and to make phone calls out to let people know that we were okay. After an hour or so, we all started on our journeys home. A group of us walked together heading north, breaking off as we got closer to our own neighborhoods. I don’t know where I wound up walking by myself, but I know that by the time I was close to Bryant park, I was alone in a sea of people making the long journey home. As I passed the park,  I remember seeing people covered in dust. It was fashion week, and it took a moment for my brain to process that these were people who worked closer to the towers who were covered in dust instead of people who had been involved in the fashion shows. It’s funny how your brain doesn’t want to acknowledge reality. A few blocks later, people started running west and saying that there was a bomb or something at Grand Central. There was no such thing, but we were already freaked out. I got back to going north. When I hit Central Park, it was like the whole thing disappeared. There were two different worlds. I finally made my way to 90th. I don’t remember the rest of that day. I know it was passed by watching the news and having moments of complete freak outs.

The next day, the upper east side was awash with people acting like it was just another weekend. Lots of outside brunching and socializing. Me? I felt completely alone and isolated. My closest friend had recently moved to Texas. My other truly good friends lived in New Jersey and Westchester. My close LA friend who had also moved to the area when I did had stopped speaking to me a year earlier. I had recently broken up with a guy. For someone who needs to have people around her, I was lost. I had panic attacks. I cried. A lot. When I got a phone call that our offices were going to stay closed for a number of days, I actually called my boss up and asked if I could come over to her place since she didn’t live that far away from me and I couldn’t be alone anymore. My brother wanted me to find a car and drive home to LA. I was truly grateful to my Jersey friends who let me stay there for a few days. I remember driving up to Woodstock and sitting in on a recording session since that was already on their schedule. I listened to one song for 8 hours and it was nice to just be completely removed from reality. Then I was driven back towards the city and I saw the sky still smoldering and had to face up to it again.

When my office opened back up, I was grateful. I have always been a workaholic and now, more than ever, I needed to be surrounded by people, even if it was just the superficial relationships between coworkers. I needed to be doing something. I needed to be useful.

That year for Christmas, my bosses gave us photo books commemorating the day (I did work for a photo agency after all). They were tied in brown paper wrapping. Mine stayed closed up in that brown paper until just a few months ago because the paper was starting to open up on it’s own. I never went to see ground zero. It was something that I couldn’t face.

In my own way, I have glossed over the date each year. The first anniversary hit me hard and I was glad that NY businesses closed down. Each year after that, it managed to get a bit more distant. This year I can’t ignore it. Now that we are marking 10 years, there is no way of escaping. Perhaps it is good to remember. I am fortunate that I did not actually lose anyone that day. So many people suffered tremendous loss, I just suffered emotional turmoil. But I still get sick thinking about it. Writing this was incredibly painful and has put my stomach into knots, but one day, maybe the memories will truly get dimmer and perhaps I will actually  want to recall my story.

They say never forget. For me, it has been something more of an allow yourself to remember. We all move on. My life has changed in so many ways. I will never be as alone as I was that day and the days that followed. But we need to live each day to the fullest and always tell the people around us how much they mean, for we never know what tomorrow might bring.

To anyone who has read this, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to get this out and thank you for caring enough about me to read the whole thing. Much love.

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Responses

  1. Thanks, Michelle. It has been hard for me to hear these stories again, too. But as someone who was also relatively close, I understand your responses completely. There is an extraordinary set of essays at the beginning of this week’s New Yorker that also helped me a lot. xo Peter

  2. So moving. Thank you for writing this because it helps me understand how you felt and still feel about that day. I hope writing this helps you heal. Until reading this, I never realized that you saw people falling. If you told me, I probably erased the horribleness from my mind. I cannot imagine actually seeing what you saw and the long walk home. I felt so guilty for moving to Texas and leaving you in that terrible time. If I was there, you know you could have stayed at my place and neither of us would have been alone.

    I have been turning off the NPR stories too but listened to the one you mentioned. I cried too. I wasn’t even there but it affects me still so I cannot imagine how many more fold 9/11 affects you.

    Funny thing about the picture–one of my parting gifts from Lorraine was a picture featuring the World Trade Centers. Everyone in the lab signed the back. It was up in my office at UT and I removed it a few days after 9/11 because I couldn’t look at it.

    Love you. Thank you again for writing this.


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