Too Much, Too Soon
In past years, on the anniversary of September 11th, I have posted my writings from the days and weeks following that tragedy. This year with the sheer volume of 10th anniversary remembrances, I am hesitant to add to the media clutter. It’s not that I don’t want to pay my respect to those who, either bravely or simply unfortunately, lost their lives that day, but because sometimes less really is more.
So my plan was to gather some photos that capture some of the less gruesome, but still extremely powerful images that resonate in my mind from September 11th and the days that followed: the flyers of missing persons posted on walls, subway stations and payphones everywhere in NYC; the military tanks preventing everyone but residents from moving any lower in Manhattan than 14th Street; the empty streets and dazed, meandering pedestrians on September 12th; the candlelight vigils.
Alas, I am not posting those pictures. I braced myself for the deluge of images long-blocked from my mind when I clicked “images” after googling “9/11,” but I still was not prepared for it. A moment scanning the images and I changed my mind. It’s too much. Too soon. Even ten years later, it’s just too soon.
So back to my backup drive I went to dig up another instance of writing-as-therapy from the days after September 11, 2001.
As background, this one was written in December 2001. We were living in Chelsea in Manhattan. I had only moved back to NY from Washington, D.C. a year or so earlier. Elliott and I were once again working in our office building located a block from “the pile” at Ground Zero. I could see it from my office. I could smell it the moment I stepped outside my apartment building and all day at work.
Each morning I would go into my office and sit at a freshly dusted desk — recently equipped with a company-provided face mask and flashlight just in case — but every day I would leave a desk with a layer of fine dust that had seeped into the building one way or another and settled on every surface.
Like many New Yorkers, I was living with post-traumatic stress disorder. Of course, I didn’t realize that then. I just knew that I jumped out of my skin with every noise — a plane overhead, a truck hitting a pothole, the phone ringing. I knew I would not get through the day without flashbacks of what I experienced the morning of September 11th. And I knew that that night, whatever night it was, I wouldn’t sleep.
I’m still having nightmares. This time all the recognizable buildings of Washington were packed close together like Manhattan. My path home took me through the courtyard they surrounded. I began noticing people looking horrified — the not so occasional gasp, and a smell of smoke. That awful stench of smoke mixed with burning plastic and wire. I turned around to see the Old Executive Office Building (which spontaneously morphed into the Capitol Building at times) engulfed in smoke and the final effect of a slow burn. It was crumbling. Not in its entirety, but piece by piece. Debris surrounding the windows couldn’t hold on any longer and the structure itself began to look questionable.
I could feel the tears rush to my eyes, but I forced them back knowing, from my previous experience, that there wasn’t time for fear yet. That would have to wait. I hesitantly forced my fear into the little strength that remained in my body as I quickened my pace. It was a losing battle. I looked back and saw the OEOB also in the midst of a losing battle. It wasn’t going to make it.
“Not again!” I surprisingly gasped out loud as the tears succeeded in their coup. I felt the little bravery that remained in my body drain out through tears and uncontrollable mumbling. I wondered, “Why isn’t anybody running? Didn’t you learn anything?” Yet still I didn’t want to look foolish. The contradicting demands to run for survival or to remain calm began to tear my own structure down piece by piece and I found I couldn’t force myself to run anymore. The fear had taken over, and I also may not make it.Then the black night of reality rescued me and all that remained was the fear and relief that it hadn’t happened. At least not yet.
After that day that shook our perhaps unjustified sense of security, it was expressed over and over that “things will never be normal again.”“Nothing will ever be the same. I’ll never be the same.”“When things get back to normal, whatever that is…”
Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, normalcy quickly settled in as the days drifted by, but here “Ground Zero” is still a part of our daily vocabulary. The city seems to stop for a half-second at the sound of each airplane flying overhead. The overwhelming presence of police, military and various forms of security are becoming less noticeable. And then there are the signs – the messages of hope and remorse from the world over. Photocopies posted on subway walls are no longer advertisements one step up from litter, but rather mini-shrines for those lost. Pictures of young and old, that seem to deserve homage and call to each passerby for at least a glance. The depictions of the skyline from “before everything” immediately draw a somber response. The words “World Trade Center” are almost taboo, unless spoken in the context of tragedy.
Yet somehow, nearly 3 months later, normal doesn’t seem so far away.
But then the nightmares come.
The Too Much, Too Soon by MushBrain, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Terms and conditions beyond the scope of this license may be available at mushbrain.net.