I lived in New York on September 11th, 2001. I wrote about my experience 3 days after the attack. I watched the first plane hit without the protection of a TV screen. I watched people jump to avoid the fire. I watched them run up Broadway, crying. And then I watched those magnificently tall buildings fall. September 11th, 2001 was the day that something inside of me changed forever. It was the day every nightmare I ever had became a reality. It was the day I thought I lost my little brother.
A few months ago, Amanda B. sent me some interview questions. I answered every one of them until I got to the very end. There was a question about 9/11 and where I was and what I saw. And I began to answer it. After about three pages worth of text, I realized I was crying. I never sent her my responses because ultimately the answer to the final question would never end (Sorry, Amanda B!) because I realized I may never recover from it.
The other night, Missy, my brother, Ryan, and I sat around a table outside at Spring Street Natural talking about that day. I still can’t talk about without crying. If you show me images from that morning I tear up. I can’t hear anything about it and not shudder. I am not sure I will ever come to terms with what I saw. I’m not sure I ever want to.
After the attacks, I figured that since so many lives were directly affected much more tragically than my own, I didn’t have the right to hurt. I wanted to. I called therapist after therapist in hopes of finding a way to come to terms with what I saw. As one might imagine, it was next to impossible to get a therapy appointment in New York City at the time. This further convinced me that my pain wasn’t as urgent as everyone else’s.
For two years following September 11th, not a day went by that I didn’t think about it. I began living existentially. I firmly believed that there might not be a tomorrow and that it was the beginning of the end of the world. Now, writing that down, it just sounds silly. Would you believe me if I said it was shamefully true? I wanted to hit the ground around low-flying aircrafts. I stared at shady-looking people (I irrationally deemed as potentially dangerous) on street corners and on subway platforms. Every time a subway came to a stop I was convinced it was going to explode. I even remember the day I finally surrendered to fear entirely and accepted the fact that my life was going to be that way and I would have to learn how to live with it as one does after sustaining a physical injury. I simply could not imagine spending one day without remembering.
Eventually, the minutes of terror making up those days became less frequent. The fear came every other day and on occasion I had to force myself to notice that I hadn’t noticed it all. And I guess I’d call that progress.
While the recent events in the Gulf aren’t to be compared with what happened on September 11, 2001, that acts of God are much different from those of man, I can’t help but lay them side by side. And I wish I could sit down with someone from New Orleans who witnessed the recent devastation first-hand and show them that things are rebuilt and that people do eventually heal. While New York wasn’t wiped out 4 years ago and we weren’t forced to evacuate, I chose to run from the city, the day, fear, and myself.
The towers were built the same year I was born. And on the day they came down, something inside of me was destroyed as well. And today, four years removed, New Yorkers are seeing something grow in their place. And I’m too close to myself to know if it’s true, but I’d like to think that’s what will happen to me as well.
Today, I realize that I must figure out a way to forgive myself for feeling so much pain and not addressing it. Perhaps some day I’ll have the courage to actually talk about it with someone whose job it is to sort out the pieces and rebuild. Most of all, I need to realize that pain isn’t absolute, it’s absolutely relative.
That day held, without a doubt, some of the most horrific moments of my life. Only in retrospect have I realized that it opened up an avenue leading to some of the best as well.