Wednesday, September 13, 2006

9/11

I wrote this for a post on my other blog, which I seem to be writing more in lately--it's a bit more personal. I'm not sure if anyone reads this, but I'll go ahead and post this here as well, anyway.

Okay. Here goes.

Sept 10th I returned from a vacation that was cataclysmic for me. I went to my first radical faerie gathering with my friend Jon. I had met Jon at a dinner hosted by a friend Damon who had recently graduated undergrad at Brown. Damon and I had met when he was 18 and I was 28. There was a mutual attraction, but I wasn’t going there. 4 years later he had been rowing crew for four years, 6’2 black hair and green eyes, and was just stunning. And OUT OF THE CLOSET!! So he had a very gay dinner party. Jon walked in with Birkenstocks, a beard, and cotton drawstring pants. We hit it off. I dress preppy-ish, but I’m really a hippie. Neither of us had been to a gathering, so we went, camped out, and hung out in a field for ten days. It was amazing. And there I met a man, David, who I would end up dating for a year—eventually leaving NY and moving up to Vermont for. But that’s in the future at the moment. Monday night I meet one of the guys I met at the faerie gathering, Mo, for a screening of Funny Girl at the Ziegfeld. Mo, an actor and a great big ham, tells me stories of seeing the movie in London in 1964.

Sept 11 was my first day back at work. The sky was beautiful, clear, and I was carrying great memories of the weekend, heading back to my job at the investment bank. I had been working there for about three years at that point. I had worked all over downtown with Tiger Temps, a temp company that used artists, performers, etc. I had worked at 3 WFC for about a year and a half. We had a satellite of the group I managed at One Liberty, but I was heading to the main office down from the stock exchange. I think I had my walkman on. Or maybe not, as I remember someone asking around as soon as I got off the subway “Did you just hear that boom?” I didn’t. I kept walking. I was heading South on William. I looked to my right where the building cover opened to reveal the trade centers, and I saw smoke, then fire coming out of one of the towers. I stood and looked at it for a couple of minutes. “Hmm,” I thought, “The World Trade Center is on fire. Someone will take care of it.” I turned to walk to work. Some random bits of paper and flotsam started falling on my head, and you could smell the burn. I heard a woman scream and start to freak out. There was a cop directing traffic. “I don’t know what the big deal is,” I thought, “I’m just going to get my coffee and breakfast.” It sounds weird, but I actually thought those words. And then I went and got coffee and breakfast.

When I arrived at work, everyone was watching on the TV screen. We were about 16 stories up and near the water on Broad. We couldn’t see the trade center. We were all watching footage of a few blocks away. Then the second plane hit. Everyone ran downstairs and out the door. We all converged outside of the building. The man we had hired as the permanent manager said “We should be inside answering phones. They said it was safe.” I mentioned that as two planes just flew into tall buildings a few blocks away, and that we were in a 30 story building completely open to the air on one side, perhaps people wouldn’t feel all that safe. And who was calling in for computer questions right now? I can see now he was trying to gain some control, but at the time it just seemed idiotic and insensitive. We all eventually were ushered back in, as there was nowhere else to go—it’s not like we could head north. Inside people were freaking out. A woman from the agency we all worked with burst into tears with her father on the phone. I remember thinking she was in a leadership position, and should hold it together better. Nice, huh? One of our co-workers lived on Staten Island and was 7 months pregnant. Her husband taught pre-school at a site near the WTC. He had the forethought to get his entire class out and to safety. Everyone was answering email and cell phone calls, and finding out if everyone was safe, reassuring relatives. We also were watching the whole thing on TV. I remember looking out a window and seeing people in suits and office clothes running through the streets, looking for cover. We had a group in One Liberty. The police had told them to go back in the building, but luckily they left. One guy just went home, but the rest actually came to our building. It was lucky: the floor they were on had 8 inches of debris on the ground in some places, and all the windows shattered.

The first building collapsed and we couldn’t see out the windows. Everything was gray, like we were trapped in a big piece of lint. The second building collapsed and everything turned a deep shade of blue, almost black. The sun was blocked out, but it was the light coming through that turned the debris that color. It felt like being suspended in outerspace. The air wasn’t moving. I don’t remember most of the rest of the day at the office. I remembering David emailing from Vermont to make sure I was okay. We had to make sure the phones were covered, and since I was a manager I had to stay and make sure as well. It seemed like everyone wanted to be valiant, to be a hero in some way—like if we cover the phones we are being noble. It’s a good human impulse, but it was interesting watching people try to wrest as much control from an uncontrollable situation as they could. Having been to meetings about contingency plans, meetings about meetings, etc, this was one thing we had never covered. By the time the three of us could leave—my immediate boss, the consultant liaison, and me—there were no gas masks left. We wet papertowels and held them over our mouths as we walked outside. There was no wind. I can describe it no other way than to say it was like being in a sandstorm on the moon. Everything was covered in a white grey powder. I looked to my left at Wall Street and couldn’t see to Trinity church. There was a man in the street in what looked like an astronaut suit. It looked like he was walking on the moon. And there we were in our suits and ties, with papertowels over our mouths.

The smell was that awful acrid smell we would smell for months. Burning plastic, chemicals. When I first moved to LA I smelled that smell and it freaked me out. I looked over and saw a car burning in the street. It smells like that. After going back to work, sometimes the smell would suddenly infest the building as the wind had changed. We would all feel nauseated. People went home sick. We walked through it that Tuesday afternoon, emerging to light somewhere North of Fulton. As we walked past City Hall, there was a large group of people gathered around a construction site. There were hammers lying in the grass, and wood being used to shield construction was being ripped off, sawed in pieces and used to make stretchers. There was a flat bed truck full of them. Everyone wanted to help. We walked on; another guy who had left with us kept saying “this is just like that movie”. I didn’t know what he was talking about, and this was definitely not my kind of movie. Later, my guitar teacher told me that she felt a little guilty, but it actually looked beautiful from her buildling on W4th--beatiful and terrible, with the glints of the sun relected in the exploding glass, a glittering shower. Everything was cinematic.

We finally made it to the W4th station after walking for about 45 minutes. I got on a train going uptown looking down at my black shoes, covered in fine, white gray powder. A girl sat next to me saying how we shouldn’t be surprised. She was half Jewish and half Arab, and with the way we treated other countries we should be surprised that it didn’t happen earlier. I think I told her that that may be true, but perhaps this wasn’t the best time to explore those ideas. I really don’t remember what I said, but someone on the train thanked me for being patient, because they would’ve decked her. I guess she was making everyone tense. You could feel people breathe when she got off.

I lived up by the Cloisters, and I invited everyone I knew over. Peter and Matt from downstairs; Jon, who I mentioned before; Vivian; Roxy; another David from school; a friend of Viv’s. I made chicken soup for everyone and we watched funny videos, because we couldn’t bear anymore news. We just wanted to be with each other. And laugh.

We were off work for a week. My boss called to tell me that we would be back the following Tuesday. I said that perhaps some people might have a difficult time returning. “Why?” he asked. Um, maybe because something pretty fucking TRAUMATIC happened the last time they were at work?? Just amazing, that one. I had a hard time going back. I had a hard time accepting a tank and armed soldiers outside of the Starbucks. “Doesn’t it make you feel safer?” someone asked. No, it didn’t. Nor did I like the family wearing “9/11 never forget” T-shirts while walking around downtown either. The tourism of the whole thing really began to get upsetting. And now the nostalgia-izing. I think I still have that "lets' move on" attitude--that there is so much wrong and so much we need to work on in the world, let's not stew. But then, here I am still affected by it, I think. There are more flashes from that time—I remember going to group therapy; we couldn’t get past the barricade at 14th without being a resident, but there was a deli on 14th and 8th that had one door on each street. If you entered on 14th, you could exit on 8th and walk right past the police. Toward the burning buildings and into the therapist’s apartment where we all just sat kind of shell-shocked. People were kind, I remember, and we were all being polite. Everyone was in shock. New Yorkers get a bad rap anyway--they are usually friendly, just aggressively so. I don't think it was the friendliness that was different, I just think everyone was more vulnerable and the way it came across was gentler. I remember a VP thanking me for how great I was, and that I made her feel safer. I still have no idea what I did. I think I just didn’t break down. And I think after that I finally went on Zoloft. Which was helpful. I think I still don't believe it--that such a huge thing is gone. A daily thing--I would still catch myself saying, "Oh I'll just walk over to...oh no I won't. It's gone."

And I didn’t lose it when I went to my temp agency, and saw the list of 100 artists, actors, musicians, that were lost at Cantor Fitzgerald. Wall Street likes to use temps. And I guess I was lucky. My 4 year job started with a one day assignment to pass out stamps. I’m sure some actor got a call on Monday saying “Are you free tomorrow? I have a one day assignment at Cantor Fitzgerald. It’s on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. Be there at 8:30”

2 comments:

Fru_Gal said...

Wow. This is an incredibly powerful essay. The last paragraph about the temps who were artists really hit me hard. You should try and get this published outside the blogosphere. I think it would move a lot of people.

Fru_Gal said...

Wow. This is an incredibly powerful essay. The last paragraph about the temps who were artists really hit me hard. You should try and get this published outside the blogosphere. I think it would move a lot of people.