Two years ago today I wrote the following on Facebook:
“Today the kids and I found a dying baby squirrel out front on the street. It’d fallen from a nest in our tree. Its mother was screaming from above. I called every vet in our area and explained the situation, that the little fella was suffering and could they help? I must have sounded so desperate. I’d even pay them. Please? No. Because it was a wild animal. It couldn’t have been but a few weeks old.
So I ended up driving to Madison where a vet finally said they’d help.
He was too badly hurt, broken neck and head trauma. He didn’t make it.
And I wept like a baby.
Elliot came along (Toby worked from home) and as we were leaving he said, “Mom are you crying? Did he die?”
“Yes. And yes he did.”
“I don’t understand why he had to die. Why couldn’t they give him a bandaid and make him all better?”
I spent the morning writing about 9/11. I didn’t publish it because a falling baby squirrel brought all my intentions to a screeching halt, the punctuation mark equivalent to a brick wall.
When I returned home from Madison, I looked up at the nest. His mother was silent or maybe gone and I noticed a hawk circling and I wept some more.
Today was a rough day and I’m not even sure I’m fully aware of what it is I’m not quite dealing with, but man I wish that squirrel had survived.”
Two nights ago, someone wrote on our local Facebook page that a baby squirrel had climbed up her arm on the way home from the playground and so she took it home with her. She was writing to find out what she should do. Without thinking, I said I would take the baby squirrel, but it was late in the evening and it would have to wait until morning. She said that was fine.
The following morning the squirrel had been promised to a wildlife sanctuary where it could be bottle fed and then one day released. This made sense. I am not sure what I was thinking taking in a baby squirrel with three cats and a dog. But this wasn’t about thinking.
Last night, another friend posted saying she too had found a baby squirrel and that they would keep the squirrel overnight and I said that I would take the squirrel in the morning and figure out what to do with it.
When I spoke with her today, she told me that the squirrel had died at some point in the middle of the night.
This time, I was able to hold back the tears in a room full of people.
On September 11th, 2001, I was 27. I was working in SoHo at the time as a graphic designer. And I watched the first plane hit the WTC.
“What a terrible mistake.” I’d thought.
But when a coworker ran in screaming saying that another plane had hit the other tower, it occurred to me that no one makes two mistakes like that.
Planes don’t just suddenly start flying into buildings.
That was the moment life went from “before the event” to “after the event”.
The hours would continue to unfold in such a blurry and terrifying manner. My brother had started his job the day before, a job down where the planes hit, down where the buildings would eventually fall. And so I spent most of the morning focused on trying to find him. Most of the phone lines were full or down and so you’d dial out and nothing would happen.
Dead air, a signal without a receiver.
When the buildings fell, massive clouds of dust pushed up Broadway. I’ve never seen anything like that, a tidal wave of destruction. People tried to escape it, running, like that alone might kill them. People poured up toward us, they went from clean to dust-covered to finally: white.
“There is no way he could have survived this.” I said and wept into the arms of coworkers and strangers.
Most of the communication antennas were on top of the Towers, so we didn’t have much in the way of getting through to anyone. And that would continue for weeks. But that may have been a good thing, because I didn’t want much to do with anyone living outside of NYC. At least not for a while.
On that morning, the National Guard was called and we were told that if we worked below 14th Street we shouldn’t yet try and leave. I guess they didn’t want a mass exodus and there really wasn’t anywhere to go anyway. Plus, many of us wondered if more planes were going to fall from the sky.
So we waited and watched the buildings fall and the office paper continue to move up broadway, white tides. I remember feeling terrible for thinking the paper looked like snow and finding it kind of beautiful.
We inhaled polluted air. And later, after a group of us were turned away from the hospital while trying to give blood, “There are no bodies.” She had said. That’s when we realized that our lungs were also full of the ashes of loved ones.
(I’m so sorry. I wish I could have held my breath and let them reach the sea.)
My brother eventually showed up at my office and we were invited to one of my coworker’s apartments in order to wait and see when we could leave and head home. He served us drinks as we watched the fighter jets circle ahead. Many of us sat in silence. Some of us cried. Others didn’t know what to do so they acted like it was just a normal Tuesday. That was the first time in my life I witnessed someone go into shock. She had just started working at one of the towers. She joined us hours later and as she sat on his couch, she just kept laughing, the kind of uncontrollable belly laugh you sometimes get after an all-nighter. It was the craziest laugh I’d ever heard.
And she kept saying, “WHERE AM I GOING TO DO MY SHOPPING NOW? THE STORES ARE ALL GONE? WHERE WILL I GET MY MORNING COFFEE? I HAVE NO JOB.” And then she’d maniacally laugh some more. “I NEED TO GO SHOPPING.”
Friends took turns hugging her.
We waited there until midday when the National Guard started letting people return home. I think I took a subway home but that seems almost impossible.
That evening and well into the night, I sat on the roof of my three-story walk-up with my brother and watched lower Manhattan burn. The smells were strong and acidic and burned our noses. I won’t ever forget the color of that sky. Everything was still and strange and nothing would ever be the same again.
I still haven’t worked through that day and I doubt I ever will. Instead, it bubbles up to the top in the strangest ways and when I least expect it—like when I try and save a baby squirrel while also having an emotional breakdown on a suburban street in front of all my neighbors and their children. And at least two of those children have since mentioned the day “Emory’s mother cried really hard in her front yard because of that baby squirrel.”
Or like how I have to send the gift of an owl to a close friend who shares a birthday with today.
And I’m not sure where I’m going with this post. But I guess it felt good to write again.
What I want to say is, what I need to say is:
May you find love today. May you hug a stranger. May you cry if you need to cry. May you acquire an owl, pour yourself a drink and share something you haven’t yet shared.
May you save a baby squirrel.
May your air be clear and may whatever signal you send out, may it be met by a receiver.
And may you reach the sea.