Friday, September 11, 2009

This is not going to be a nice post.

I wasn't going to write about this. I had a bad and insecure day yesterday, and I was going to blog about how you pick yourself up when you feel like you've made an ass of yourself all day long... and this is a writing blog, not a political, or social, or personal one... but then I read a few posts this morning on the subject... and now I have to talk about it.

If you don't want to read about 9/11, stop here.

If you don't want to read profanity, stop here.

I am from NYC. On 2001, I was working at a law office in midtown Manhattan, but on September 11th in particular I was part of a group of attorneys doing document review in Newark, NJ. My train that morning went under the WTC pretty much moments before the first plane hit. I arrived at the NJ location to see people glued to a tiny t.v. that was black & white, and full of static. But we were just over the river and could see the towers out the floor-to-ceiling windows in the back of the NJ office. We kept on the radio, and the t.v., and we saw the towers collapse as we watched through the window.

I had a cell phone, and my then-boyfriend-now-husband relayed messages between myself and my parents as we confirmed everyone was safe. NY-to-NY calls wouldn't go through (too many local cell phone towers down, I guess), but my husband was out of state, and we could call him.

One of the attorneys on site that day had a boyfriend in NJ, so we stayed at his place overnight. I wanted so badly to get back to the city, but even just across the river, it couldn't be done. Our hosts drove me to the train station, but the trains weren't running. I just wanted to go home. Not to my boyfriend in Boston. Not to my parents, even, because I knew they were way uptown and safe, but to MY home. My home in Manhattan. My apartment on 63rd and First. To my little green parrot. I wanted to be alone with my small pet, in my city.

I came home the next morning. I've never seen the city so empty. Silent. Even when there were people on the street, there was no noise. No cell phones, no chatter, nothing.

And then there was the smell. The haze of the smoke that enveloped everything, even miles uptown. I remember the smell.

I went back to work right away, I think. Everything felt hollow. Our company donated office space to lawyers displaced from downtown, and asked us to spend the company money in the WTC area whenever possible. We did all our business lunches downtown, from the first moment that the area was open to us.

There was an earthquake in Manhattan not too long after 9/11, and that vibration was the most horrifying thing I'd ever felt. And a month or two later I saw a low-flying plane disappear behind the Prudential Center Tower in Boston, and I screamed.

There was a tribute concert on television shortly after the attack, and it ran on damn near every station, and it made me furious. Who did these people think they were? Who did they think we were? If a New Yorker had time or money or blood to give, they'd already given it. I didn't want to think about this shit anymore. I didn't want to watch Celine fucking Dion singing in front of a backdrop of how my city used to look. I didn't want to read on the internet about how traumatized people were, when they lived in totally different states where there was no chance of a similar attack ever happening, had never so much as known a single person in NYC. They saw it on television, and I'd seen it out my goddamn window, and I smelled it every day, and I saw how empty the subways were every day, and I saw the military presence on the streets, near the courthouses, in the 14th Street station on the platform for the 6, every day. And I didn't even think I had any particular right to be "traumatized," because I didn't have any damn bodies falling on me. I didn't lose anyone I loved.

My dad was already retired, but his company had an office on the 105th floor in the South Tower. Some of his friends got out. But he went to funerals for about 3 weeks straight. I went to dinner with one of his best friends, who had lost one of her best friends. The friend she'd lost had also been her weight-loss buddy, and now she knew exactly how little his remains had weighed after he'd jumped out the window. That is some fucking trauma. So who were these shitheads singing on my television? I switched to the SciFi channel, then a DVD.

People like to talk about how the crisis brought out the best in people in America. Hell, all over the world. (And, personally, I think we squandered some of that potential, but I'm going to try not to get political on top of being morbid.) But I saw it bring out the worst as well. One of my coworkers that day lived right in the shadow of the towers. Her kids went to school right next door. She couldn't get back to the city, so she called her ex-husband who was still in the city, and asked him to pick them up and take them somewhere safe. He agreed.

And then he kidnapped them. Custodial interference, technically. But he took those kids out of the state, and enrolled them in another school and moved to get new custody papers -- claiming his ex-wife abandoned the kids during the 9/11 crisis -- because the NYC courthouses were completely out of commission, and there was no paperwork available to contradict his new story. (Yes, she got them back, with a little assistance from some lawyer friends and a cop or two.)

There is no grand lesson to be learned from 9/11. People can be evil. Life can be short. We already knew that. If you were motivated to do something great after 9/11, or after Katrina... can you go do it again, now? Donate blood, donate time to a homeless shelter, visit kids in a hospital, something? Just do it. It's not about a motivating crisis. I think New Yorkers know this. It has a reputation as a harsh city, but it never really was. New York is certainly more welcoming to strangers and visitors and new residents than Boston is. (I love you Boston, but seriously, you're pretty clique-ish.) New Yorkers got on with life because we had to. We don't forget, we just don't fucking talk about it. If 9/11 made you want to be a better person, then just get off your ass and go be a better person.

I had a bad day yesterday, and I may well have made an ass of myself on multiple occasions. It doesn't fucking matter. I'm going to go do something worthwhile today. And maybe tomorrow. And hopefully the day after that. Not because of 9/11, but because it's the right thing to do.

I was born in Tokyo. I grew up in Manhattan. I live in Boston.
I am from New York City.

This is my city.

This is my city.

This is my city.

This is my city.


  1. I live 2000 miles from the city, and I don't understand people around me who talk about how hurt they were by it. Yes, there was a loss of innocence, a loss of arrogance, a loss of our sense of security, and that affected all of us—but you're right, I didn't know anyone. I didn't lose anyone.

    Yes, I remember what I was doing when I found out, but this isn't "my" tragedy. I think you do have a right to feel traumatized, though, even now. I hope you have a better weekend and make a difference :) .

  2. CKHB, this is such a raw and moving post, and I'm glad I took the time to read it. Thank you for sharing your first-hand experience, with honesty and grit.

  3. I just feel like bursting into applause. Strange.

  4. I know. It's called catharsis what I'm feeling. Crying. Thank you.

  5. I read your post over at Rachelle's and had to come by. I lived in Fairfax County, VA when this all happened. My husband and I had spent our first night away from the baby in Annapolis, MD. Driving back into the city should have taken 45m. It took us 1 1/2 hrs.

    We drove with numerous tanks and ambulances. We listened to the news coming out of DC, all the rumors and chaos, and learned there were car bombs all over the city (later proven false). It was like driving into Armageddon.

    I'll never forget crossing the Wilson Bridge and looking over at the black smoke billowing from the Pentagon.

    My neighbor was one of the twelve severely-burned victims who survived the Pentagon attack. He was in the hospital for months and months.

    Every time I glance at a clock and see 9:11, I pray for those still hurting and recovering. The shock, the ugliness, the horror return anytime I see footage of those burning towers.

  6. Caroline, I have a friend who briefly worked in the section of the Pentagon that was hit. People forget that D.C. suffered, too.

    And, one of my credit cards has an expiration date of 09/11. It feels so wrong to have to say those numbers on the phone when making a freakin' take-out dinner order...

  7. Wow, finally someone who feels as I do about that event. I don't understand people in California who were so affected by it, either--they weren't crying over Darfur, certainly. There is no lesson, you're right. Or it is this: bad things happen, and you should act accordingly ALL THE TIME. This is not a popular point of view, I've found, so I appreciate your well-written post.

  8. I live in Oregon and have never even visited NYC, in many ways I feel like I'm not allowed to grieve. But I was on an airplane on September 11th. I hear about the attacks when the pilot announced them over the intercom and told us we would be landing. I spent 3 days in the midwest on an unplanned vacation until the FAA reopened the skies and I was aloud to go home.

    I ended up staying in the home of total strangers that I met at the airport. During those three days I felt very hopeful. Like even though people were doing everything they could to tare the world apart, there were even more people helping stringers. Random midwesterners were giving me a place to sleep.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I think it is important that we not forget.

  9. Well written. Well felt. Right stuff. Great work.

  10. i'm glad i read it all the way through. excellent post.

    Where Romance Meets Therapy

  11. I read it and I can't imagine what it must have been like that day for those of you in the city or even the US.
    I felt deeply that day, but from afar and safe. Anything anyone could say to those there would be trite.

  12. Good post. I know that those of us who didn't know anyone in the attacks or that lived in those places (New York and D.C.)can really understand it or feel the depth of emotion that those who were there do. But I liken this to Pearl Harbor, as has often been done in the past. It was an attack on American soil, just like 9-11 was. It was a very deep shock in 1940 just like it was a very deep shock in 2001.

    I grieved for the lives lost. I still grieve. Those were American lives lost. And though I will never be able to understand the depths of grief that those in NYC have endured and felt and those who lost loved ones have endured and felt, I also believe that those of us who were not directly affected also have the right to feel sorrow and to grieve, as well, for those who were lost. I'm going to be honest - even though I was in the middle of Nebraska when this happened, it impacted me tremendously and yes, I grieved. New York is a city beloved all over the world and beloved in this country. The people were Americans and their lives were tragically cut short. That makes me grieve.

    Hope I didn't step on any toes, but I just wanted to throw in my two cents (and maybe some change...).

  13. What can you say other then I'm sorry you had to live through this and I'm sorry you had to see the worst it brought out in people.
    I first heard about it over the radio from a DJ that had a lot of offensive jokes.
    I didn't realize it was true until I got to school and was talking to my friend that had just moved from NYC over the summer, who's dad had just been transferred out of one of the towers over the summer. We lived right next to NASA and Edwards Air Force Base and Boeing at the time and everybody I knew thought that made us a likely target for the next, inevitable attack.
    But that is nothing, NOTHING compared to what you describe. Even then I knew that and was angered over the people I knew acting as though it was their lives that had just been ripped apart

  14. Carrie, I am crying. I have no idea why. I wasn't there. I have no right to cry really. But I am. I was a million miles away when it happened. I was living and working in Hong Kong, but I watched those towers fall and I watched my American co-workers so far away from home watch the same screen as me in absolute horror. There are no words. Pain is not a university. There is no curriculum or passing grade. It just plain sucks. And it hurts. I don't know about NY, but I do know about pain. Maybe that's why I cry. I feel you in this post and I want to say that I care about what you have been through. I can't imagine. Who could?
    Hugs to you. And I will hug my babies and the man I married a little tighter tonight.

  15. Melissa, no toes have been stepped on. I agree that the attack had a national impact, and I do respect the right of non-New Yorkers to grieve.

    But sometimes I just see or hear one too many self-indulgent comment... like I said, it's not a nice post. Sometimes people are selfish, and they co-opt the pain of others for a variety of reasons (some conscious, some un-), and it cheapens what little good that might have come out of the situation. And it makes me angry.

    On the other hand, plenty of people get slammed with the pain and emotion in an honest way, and then they go home and hug their loved ones and do the best they can, and I certainly don't want to play the "I'm bluer than you/more entitled than you" game with them, because those reactions don't trivialize the situation at all.

    After all, it would be a sorry state of affairs indeed if people in Nebraska and Australia and everywhere else had cavalierly said, "hey, nothin' bad happened to ME, so it's all good." Empathy IS a good thing.

    I am so sorry for those who had real losses in the attacks. I am thankful for those of you who sent your best wishes and good thoughts out to me, and who continue to send those thoughts out to those much more in need/deserving than myself.

    As I said, people continue to hurt in the world every day, without the help of terrorists or a hurricane. I'm going to try to dump some of my own selfish anger by putting something good into the world. I hope you all will join me.

  16. Thanks for this. I think some people have forgotten. Or our children don't know what that day was like. Bravo!

  17. Brilliant post. The best thing I've read in a long time about the event. The story of the woman whose children were kidnapped is heartwrenching.

    I'm a Californian who first heard about the catastrophe from a Mexican American friend. We grieved as anyone would, for our country--which is, in a sense, an extended family. But of our grief wasn't the same as that of the people who were there. We were like second cousins at the funeral--New Yorkers were the widow.

    But your anger is justified. Not because we grieved, but because of the way your pain and trauma has been exploited: Faux News and radio ranters maligning the 9/11 widows and survivors, while using the tragedy to further their own neo-fascist ends and perpetrate endless war. 9/ll is still happening for a lot of people in those war zones. And they are just as innocent.

  18. Hi CKHB, Thanks for the support. :)

    I'll spare you and your readers a lot of what I remember of that day and during the clean up. The details are best left forgotten. The images however are burned into my head. As much as we all saw on television, it pales to what it was like there. Like pretty much every New Yorker, I lost someone on that day. For me, 9-11 is a day of mourning and also one of rage. (I don't want to lost that, btw) I don't intend to pray for our attackers and that they see the light. If anything, I pray that I run across some of them in a dark alley.

    Anne Rallen makes a good point above. This happens all the time around the world. I do think about that too. Thanks.

  19. What a powerful post. Thank you for sharing your feelings about such a tragic day.

  20. Nothin' to say really, but your post was compelling and I want to say something to let you know I read it, I took it in, and it will keep me thinking all day long. Thanks for writing that.