(The following is LONG. It is emotional and it is depressing. Since I started blogging, I have written something about the events of 9-11, and I have linked to a website where a very small part of the following is posted. This year, I have simply consolidated the entire scrapbook and writings that are in it, and created a new gallery on my photo website so all is viewable and archived.)
Wishing you all peace. Hugs to you, Kerin. Jessica. Arlie. Anoki. Love you.
I was a writer who couldn’t write, a photographer who couldn’t record images. A crier who couldn’t cry. The events of September 11, 2001, had such an effect on me that my normal outlets—tears, hysteria, the stability of an ordered sentence, the capturing of my impressions on film, all proved elusive.
My tribute to 9-11-01 quilt. Around the edges are the initials of people I knew or that friends and family knew. I am more than willing to add initials of someone dear to you.
Tears, except those shed in utter disbelief at the moment, didn’t come until eleven days later, when my car, my ticket to a more normal weekend in Virginia with my fiancé, decided it was not going to leave New York. I cried from frustration at the payphone at Dunkin Donuts, when Timmy couldn’t fix the car over the phone and I knew I was going to have to turn around and go home. I cried wracking tears at 6:30 the next morning, when he arrived here instead, and he held me for almost an hour, while the past eleven days horrors washed themselves somewhat from my senses.
I spent my first week post 9-11 in the house, unless I went to work. I studiously avoided the newspaper, except for the Advance. I pointedly refused to drive anywhere where I might come in contact with the skyline of New York. I closed my kitchen window to the stench of burning that wafted this way. My camera sat abandoned since Tuesday, the film taken directly to be processed, but the thought of any more pictures sickened me. I looked at my prints once. I pride myself on seeing things, and using my camera to express myself uniquely. I LOVE to take pictures of old broken things. It took me over a week to be strong enough to go down to the Terrace for the first time. I saw this eerie nightscape there. I recorded it. But the things I would have normally focused on—the details like the rescue workers at the ball field—I couldn’t bring myself to document. I don’t think I am going to be able be a photojournalist. I felt too intrusive on people’s sorrow.
Words were even more difficult. They were all too small. Too inconsequential to describe my thoughts. Too trite to describe this reality. A reality that I was only on the periphery of, yet found overwhelming. How could my little sentences make any sense of the enormity of so much pain? They couldn’t and they didn’t. No urge to write out my feelings came to me. It was almost a month before I could put pen to paper. Before I could think of anything to say. It hasn’t been easy and it has taken some time. What follows is my essay. The present tense is very tenuous, so if it sometimes doesn’t follow a linear timeline, this is the reason.
The view of lower Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry, June 2011.
- But first, an update. It’s September 9, 2011. Ten years ago today, we were over in Kearney, New Jersey; my now husband was being fitted for a kilt for our wedding. From the streets there, of course, you could see the twin towers, just like you could see them randomly from many places throughout the city. I think we may have acknowledged their existence, but barely. Because after all, they would always be there. Ten years ago tomorrow, we would have been sitting in the Cargo Café on Bay Street, having a lunch that we wished would last forever, doodling on paper placemats with crayons, and when we came out, we stood talking on the corner, then wandered past the harbor, again, seeing but not noticing the towers. That is how life went.
- Today, Osama Bin Laden is dead. Downtown Manhattan has been turned into a construction zone to rival all comers. Survivors survive another day.
- Today, water is devastating large swathes of the East Coast, and fire the state of Texas.
- Today, my daughter lives in Pennsylvania, (evacuated from her home by the above-mentioned rain) my brother in California and my husband and I are here in Virginia. We are about to become grandparents—my stepdaughter and her husband are expecting a little girl any minute. Literally, her water just broke.
- Life goes on.
I’m leaving New York.
I’m outtaheah! (One word) This time next year, I’ll be an ex-New Yorker, a former New Yorker (an expatriate?) My thoughts are scattered. I almost feel wrong to leave now. But, my plans, my future, my happiness, are not in New York. They lie in Virginia, where my fiancé lives.
How can I go? Abandon my home? Will it give credence to those who are scared of New York to begin with? Who can’t conceive of such a place? Who always shuddered at my home?
I knew I was leaving, long before September 11. I have known for some time and looked forward to the day I would live in a place where the pace is slower, where people are friendly and know each other and say hi and smile as a matter of course. So when I went into the city, I absorbed and noted more details than when I knew I would always be here. I started looking at things with wistful, will this be the last time I do this eyes. Savoring my times there. Because as excited as I was by the prospect of leaving, I was sure that I would miss here. Because, things do change.
I had these ideas, that in years to come I would return to my hometown, and wistfully point out this street and that building to friends, grandchildren? Share little stories as we walk through these streets. Being confident enough of where I was that I could lead a group of wide-eyed neophytes through the mean streets with assurance.
However, when I return, I will be a stranger in my own home. Already I feel like a tourist finding my way around this city we call downtown. The trains are finally running, in a fashion. They arm us with maps as we disembark the ferry; hastily printed signs direct us up tiny streets barely capable of holding the crush of our controlled stampede. We head for subways that are unknown to me. Subway lines are playing let’s pretend. R’s act like N’s, 1’s proclaim to be 3’s…
I liked my 1/9; it was easy, clean and took me most places without complaint. Now, of course, it is closed. I am getting to know parts of New York City that I used to bypass blindly. An MTA worker stands with a bullhorn, monotonously repeating simple directions to our stunned ears. Left to Brooklyn. Right for Uptown. Left to Brooklyn, she says, as we quietly shuffle into subway stations that are not our own.
Once on the train, the mood is subdued. We bypass stations that are closed. They are dark, quiet, we rumble slowly past. So many dreams lay wasted. So many souls found release there. There is a subconscious connection and respect among us, of where we are, for there is an awkward silence until long after Canal Street station.
POSTCARDS, the Staten Island 9-11 memorial. Lady Liberty sits in the lower left, Robbins Reef Lighthouse is between the envelopes. You would have seen the towers here.
Typical New Yorker that I am, when I heard the DJ on CBS FM, announce that though we may not believe it, a plane has hit the World Trade Center, I thought “some Bozo with too much money and not enough brains convinced his pilot to give him a “view only money could buy” plane tour… Since the DJ went back to the music with a promise of more info as he found it, I shook my head, and gave it not much more thought as I continued to quilt while my laundry dried.
He came back and said that another plane hit. He had no more information. I didn’t want to stay at the Laundromat any longer. I went home, to see what’s going on. Maybe I just wasn’t listening carefully. An inkling of unease crept into my sub-conscience, but I was still innocent, so I squashed it down.
I knew my little brother was heading for the city that morning. He was probably on the boat already; hopefully not further—Where was his job exactly? When I arrived home, the door was unlocked. I ran up the stairs—oh good, you haven’t left yet–thank god, did you hear? He of course was busy primping and didn’t have the TV or radio on. He was still innocent.
With no concept yet of the calamity unfolding, we turned on the TV to see what was going on. The stations were all snowed out. This was the first feeling of something really wrong. Our television signal was transmitted from the top of the Tower. However, I volunteered to drive him to the ferry, since my laundry would be almost an hour. So off we drove, down Forest Avenue on a trek I’ve taken too many times to count.
At the corner of Victory I turn left, as I have done all my life, and am usually rewarded, on a cloudless day, by a breath-taking view of the skyline of Manhattan, laid so carefully at the foot of this hill.
I think of the painting Sarah Yuster did of this intersection, years earlier. I recall the essay I wrote a few years back on a sparkling Halloween day, when Lady Liberty popped through the leafless trees while I was walking in the park. I had not even at that time acknowledged her mighty friends, so caught up in the fact I had missed her all these years, dwarfed in the harbor as she was by the twins. We began the descent down this hill into my past; trips with Grandma to the dentist, to Marie Perine’s chocolate shop, with Daddy Gus to “down below”. I don’t recall first seeing the towers. I must have been all of five or six by the time they were finished. I have only vague, ephemeral memories of time before then, so I guess they were “always” there.
Today though, we reach that point in the turn where the skyline comes into view. I gasp! My hands shake and go to my face. Oh, My GOD! Tears fill my eyes as I see twin chimneys of the city roofline smoking, blackly, harshly, heading to Brooklyn. A huge scar in a crystal sky.
Anoki is sitting next to me. He reaches out to me and says intense. He tells me its OK. We drive. We have no choice. Still, I think the ferry will be open. Still, I don’t get it. The police are already blocking the boat. People are along the terrace, out of their cars, holding their bikes, holding each other. My eyes continue to peer into the rearview as we drive away. I need my camera. Home. I must go get my camera. I can’t miss this. I am a photographer. I process thoughts through imagery. Had my TV been working, I would have gone there the first time with my camera.
Anoki agrees to go back down to the Terrace with me. On the ride back to St. George, we hear on the radio that another plane has crashed, this one into the Pentagon. I am shaking. My world is collapsing around me. We go down to the Esplanade, the fancy new boardwalk/parking area built for our baseball stadium, a stadium designed with this bleeding skyline in mind. There are a lot of other cars. People with videos and cameras. All are quiet, just absorbing the unabsorbable.
We see Brooklyn, with its black hovering cloud, but we can’t see Manhattan yet. As I get out of the car, I am fussing with my camera. As we walk, I want to get a “framing” shot to begin my story, and then do some more detail. I still haven’t comprehended that terrorism has hit our shore. I have yet to process a list of people I may know in the buildings. I didn’t see the plane crash videos yet, so I still think it’s fixable. I think I have all the time in the world to record this smoky ruin, all day, indeed, there is no rush to compose these shots of the two towers.
I stop. Wide angle, smoking towers in the left third, people in the foreground. I take my shot and keep walking. I pull my camera away from my face to really assess what’s going on, look down to re-adjust the lens, and hear a low deep rolling roar and a scream high-pitched from my side. OH MY GOD! Was that the building! My hands go out and up at the same time, pointing and covering the huge sobs coming from my heart. “There are supposed to be two buildings there! Anoki! The building is gone! Those people… there’s a city in that building!”
I picked up the camera and took some more pictures, but I don’t recall doing it. I held Anoki and he held me and we cried. Wracking tears. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. I couldn’t bear to look. I squatted on the sidewalk because I couldn’t hold myself up any longer.
The sky was blue. A crystal clear cloudless day had dawned. A gorgeous late summer wonderful-to-be-alive morning. The kind a tourist wishes for, so spectacular was the view of the city from Staten Island. Amazing photo-ops from the ferry, of Lady Liberty, of the unique and spectacular southern Manhattan skyline kind of day. And slashed across it harshly, is this swath of black, fully as high as many of the buildings are tall. Suddenly the end of Manhattan is obliterated. Gone. Totally surrounded by this huge unending wall of dust, smoke, ash, sheet-rock, concrete, paper, people.
On a clear day you can see forever. I said that to Anoki, as I watched this cloud overtake lower Manhattan. We watched, clearly, as unknown numbers of souls searched for forever, floating high in the air, escaping the screams, and heat, and noise and smoke and fear and pain and crushing darkness, souls reaching for light and peace.
After an eternity, (20 minutes?) I couldn’t look anymore. It seemed obscene to be photographing this. Why would I ever want to see this again? Surely you don’t want pictures of your nightmares!
Slowly, unsurely, we turned our backs and walked towards the car. We had apparently kept walking closer as we watched this unfold; the car was far from where I thought we left it. I turned back every few steps. I told Anoki I needed to just make sure the other tower was still standing. It was. I turned the car around to leave and heard people cry out and I knew. I had stopped checking, and it fell. I drove, following the Terrace back, and stopped in a traffic lane, and took another few pictures of this unbelievable horrible dream.
We drove up by Arlie’s school, to see if they were letting the kids out. I went to high school on Richmond Terrace, and saw the city every day of my high school career, so I knew she could see, up there on the hill, everything that happened. They had already locked the schools down throughout the city, so I drove home without her. She had to come home on her own. And experience this with her friends.
Home. We are without TV, except for a grainy channel 31, which eventually was commandeered by the New York affiliate of ABC. The radio and phone and internet work. Kind of. The phone is for local calls only for the next 11 days. Verizon, our long distance carrier, was in the building. Verizon leaves us an urgent voicemail a few days later. PLEASE do not save any messages that are not important. They don’t have the capacity to store them. I heard somewhere they were afraid that messages left by victims would be erased from the system before they could find a way to save the dying words of so many.
Family can’t call me, and I can’t get through to them. Thankfully our internet connection worked. I was able to keep in contact with family and friends. I was able to find out what was happening outside my window. From the kitchen, I could only see the smoke.
I have never been more grateful not to have cable! The images from a fuzzy 12” black and white television were far too much for me. How did everyone deal with watching this in color? Over and Over? Big screen? Now and then, I see a still photo of the impact, of the explosion of jet fuel. The orange is too bright. I could see the flames from Staten Island, four miles away. They must have been five or six stories high. In this endless nightmare, the news anchors, the newspaper reporters, provide me with too much information. We are all now knowledgeable of things we should never be aware of.
The construction site at Ground Zero, June 2011
That bodies are cremated at a controlled 2500 degrees for 30 minutes and that the fires at the towers have been burning for 5 days at 6000 degrees. That 110 stories of building takes the better part of an hour to descend by stair, provided the stairways are accessible and not firetraps. That a building, which took over three years to slowly climb a quarter mile into the sky can fall and flatten itself in about a quarter of a minute. That some victims were the victims of victims, being killed by falling people. That “I” beams fell from the building and came down with enough force to drive themselves through the street, through 5 feet of earth and then a concrete wall, to finally become impaled on the subway tracks.
We learned to look up. The ultimate tourist give-away, for no New Yorker gawks at how big and tall everything is in Manhattan. Every time we hear a plane, we look up.
Tonight, three weeks later, in the dark across the harbor, lies a city lit in all its splendor. But what city is this that lays at rest in our water soothing? It’s some other city, foreign to me, but during the day it’s a lovely thing to look at. And wonder where you are, with this collection of skyscrapers, that appears to be undamaged. Beautiful even, from a distance. But not home.
At night, it is bad. It’s a tale of two cities. One brightly lit, sparkling necklaces strung from island to island. Another city lies to the west just a bit. It is dark. Lifeless. No one needs to be told something is amiss. The movie lights highlight the steamy smoke, coming from the incessant fires that keep burning seven stories below the surface.
But, back to that day. All day long I sat and watched my tiny TV. I tried to connect with everyone I needed to find. I needed to make the unreal real. Online I gathered news, sent out emails, connected with my online friends; assured them of our safety and provided them with a front row seat to horror.
As a family we watched building 7 topple. We listened to pleas for blood, for all available doctors, for all off-duty and retired NYPD and FDNY to report for duty. We watched on the news as time after time, the ambulance would roll up, and no one would come out. Empty. No survivors were discovered after the first few hours. Field hospitals were quickly set up, staffed, supplies at the ready. Then the Doctors were designated as Medical examiners instead; the hospitals were to be temporary morgues. After a few days of waiting, it became apparent that those too were mostly unnecessary. Two months later, only about 500 bodies have been recovered. Four thousand or more are still missing. Pulverized, or vaporized or blown apart.
I tried to answer the questions of a shocked teenager with the same platitudes offered the country over to toddlers. That there are bad people in the world, who for some reason hate us very much. What other answers did I have, shocked as I myself was? What other answers are there?
Timmy left a message around 9 AM, wanting to know if it was true, what he was hearing, that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. After hours trying in vain to reach me, he knew it was true. We went to bed with heavy hearts that night, but so far we had escaped any personal losses. We knew that would change.
I opened the store at 9 am on Wednesday. At 9:05 a very distraught woman came in and needed us to help her find yellow ribbon for all the co-workers she left in the building on Tuesday, when she had escaped. And so it went. They turned to us for yellow ribbon, for the missing. Black and purple for the firefighters and police we were mourning. And red white and blue by the mile to show the world our strength. Anything slightly resembling patriotic sold. The lines where phenomenal. Everyone was talking about someone they knew who was lost, who lost someone, who was working day and night at the pile.
I needed to borrow a customers cell phone to call my store in New Jersey, to see if they had yards of white fabric for her church so they could make coffins covers, because Verizon was in the towers and the phones were out. For coffins that were not needed. The bridges were out, so my employees who lived in the Bronx or were visiting family on their day off couldn’t get to work.
Arlie had no school Wednesday. They had closed them all, but hers was being used as a Red Cross shelter for the displaced from Manhattan. So I left her home sleeping, although all of a sudden, I didn’t like the idea of her being alone. Even though Anoki was there. She called me in the late morning, crying. I asked what was wrong, and she answered that Catherine had been at Jessica’s all night long. Jessica’s father was a firefighter. He hadn’t come home. Arlie said that he had driven her home on Monday afternoon. She had been excited to share with him the story of her recent success with her road test.
What could I possibly do for her? I was so upset and angry. I was stuck at work. My closers called out. I should be with my Child!
When I got home that night, I took her in my arms and rocked her while she cried. I told her that she had been given a great gift on Monday, having had a chance to say Thank you and Goodbye. Of course at this point we still had this hope someone would be found alive.
Thursday, there were bomb-scares all over the island. I ended up closing the store because of them. And so it went. Day in and day out, hearing more and more of the horrors. Waiting it out with Arlie, knowing somewhere deep inside me that no one was coming home, but on a great show of confidence that the next news report would make me a liar.
Proud always of being a New Yorker, I have never been as proud as I was during this time. The world, the country, our brothers and our enemies got to witness exactly what kind of a city we are. We may be loud, boisterous, arrogant; we may push and shove, and demand only the best, first, and with no consideration for the next person. We may call our neighbors names, not look anyone in the eye and move through a city of 8 million alone. But don’t even THINK about hurting us. Don’t even THINK about trying to break us. Because then, all 8 million become the big brother out to chase the bully who is teasing the younger child. We can say what we like about our family. Don’t you even try! We pull together like nobody’s business. New Yorkers have always known this. Now the rest of the world knows too.
Mayor Giuliani, Governor Pataki, the police and fire chiefs, all worked admirably and hard trying to keep us informed. To keep us calm. There were no riots. No looting or carrying on. Only far too many volunteers, ill-equipped to do anything, desperately needing to do something. Images of hundreds of firemen, ironworkers, police and K-9 officers, construction workers, EMTs, just plain strong guys, snaking through a 16-acre tract of land, climbing a pile of debris, handing it down bucket by 5 gallon bucket, night and day with no rest. It was not labeled a recovery effort for almost two weeks. It was a rescue. Success was defined as finding any body part.
Arlie and I took our first trip into Manhattan on Thursday, September 20th. We needed to go buy theatre tickets. Something I normally would have done myself. But it was important to me that her first trip into Manhattan after this be with me, not alone or with friends. It was misty and gray that late afternoon. From the ferry, it was just odd. We were taking a trip I had taken so many times before. I hardly ever acknowledged the towers. I would point them out, if asked, as if anyone could mis-identify them. I didn’t see THEM. They were just an integral part of the cityscape, not a separate entity. I know I would stop reading when passing Lady Liberty, just look up and admire her, think of how lucky I was to have her nearby, her symbolism, of how many people on the boat today came with the express purpose of seeing something we commuters took for granted. And she was BEAUTIFUL. The towers really just completed the landscape. They made New York New York! Those of us of a certain age assumed them to identify the New York skyline.
The Freedom Tower, June 2011
But had I ever taken pictures of the World Trade Center? Well, of course!! One day in October, I looked through all my photos, obsessively, to prove I had done so. And so it turns out I had. Many unchanging skylines on so many trips on the ferry. Or from Staten Island. The last time I photographed them was from the new ballpark on the 5th of July, during a game, with a promise to myself to go down there some other night with my tripod and take a really beautiful portrait of the city. But only one time did I actually photograph them while actually on site. That was about two years ago, when Anoki asked me to photograph a series of ICONS of Manhattan for a project he had in college. And in doing so, it became clear WHY I never bothered to photograph them. They were too big! You could never get them in a frame easily. If you posed a person in front of them, all you got was a bit of glass and metal. Nothing to identify them. So, other than those distance shots, really I have only my memories. Of the banks of escalators in that always light-filled concourse levels of both towers. Being on the floor above and looking out, and looking down and never being in awe at the moment of how SPACIOUS the design was, but inherently loving the light and glass and room. The hustle and bustle of the mall area, where I worked at a Bath and Body Works when they were opening up there.
Of course, I saw them all the time. Indeed I sought them out on many an occasion after coming up out of the subway, to use as my compass. Once I found them, I knew where south-west was and would be on my merry way. When driving home from work for over a year when I worked in Paramus, or coming home from any trip to upstate New York, I would at various points see them bobbing up and down, appearing and disappearing. I knew when I was aligned with them to my left that my trip home was mostly complete.
Driving in from southern Jersey, at about Exit 4 on Route 440 north, with the mountains of garbage that our Island is sadly noted for blocking everything all around, suddenly would appear as if sitting on the top of the dump, a pair of buildings on an otherwise barren land. As a child, I used to be amazed by the fact that we could see Manhattan from almost Tottenville! I don’t recall if you could once see the whole landscape, but I have always pointed out when the towers were about to appear to anyone in the car.
On this gray night, however, as we disembarked, there was no towering wall of glass and steel and light. There was sky and smoke and rain. We went to Times Square and purchased our tickets. It was probably the weather, but Times Square was not at all busy, but it was full of red, white and blue banners and lights and flags and ads, and the news on the buildings was all a horrible recounting of the past week.
We were walking towards our subway stop when we heard sirens and saw flashing lights and everyone stopped walking. We turned and watched, enraptured by what we were seeing. Led by a police escort down Broadway were over two dozen flat-bed trucks, each carrying a piece of a crane, cranes so large that it took four trucks to carry them to their destination, where they would be rebuilt and put to work, taking apart two of the tallest buildings in the world. We were silent, (as silent as Times Square can be) lost in our own thoughts for a moment while we watched this procession of heavy machinery which quietly announced to us that the rescue effort was coming to an end and a recovery/clean-up effort was about to commence.
We got off the train at Union Square, wanting to go to the place that had become a shrine for the missing. Union Square at 14th St. was at the beginning, as far south as anyone was allowed to venture in Manhattan. It became the place where people gathered and prayed and sat and thought. They post pictures of their missing, they lit candles, and brought flowers. Nine days later, the pavement was thick with melted wax, and the air was sickening with the scent of so many drenched and dying flowers. The night was illuminated by hundreds of candles.
On the trip back from Manhattan was our first real view of Ground Zero, as the movie lights illuminated the cranes and the huge gap. We were able to look down between two buildings and see the destruction.
When Timmy came up that weekend we decided to take a trip to Central Park, something he had wanted to do for some time. So we got off the boat, and walked up Broadway, and turned and took all the detours they had set up and walked to Fulton Street to pick up the train. The air was hard. It was acrid and nauseating at times. The smell is a smell I will forevermore be able to identify. It was difficult to take in a deep breath. There had been two days of drenching rain since the 11th, but on the awnings of most every building, on the windowsills, in the gutters, everywhere, you could see a grey layer of dust that would not budge. It was a bit spongy, soft, like the feeling of powdered sheetrock and it covered the entire southern end of Manhattan.
At the intersection of every corner people turned and looked to their left. All of these tiny downtown streets were seeing sunlight! They had been for decades in the shadow of the towers, dwarfed for blocks by their big neighbor. At most corners, there were police barricades, military police. We found a street where we were able to turn left and walk closer. I needed to take pictures of this. I needed to make this unreality a bit more concrete in my head, and the best way, the way I needed to do it was to put my camera lens between myself and this nightmare.
Michael Fiore’s memorial service was on October 27. It was bitterly cold and windy and had rained the entire day before. We walked to the church because all the streets in the area were being closed off for the funeral. The earth was wet and cold beneath my feet and I stood outside on the lawn of the church for over two hours while I listened to story after story of a man that I wish I could have said I knew better. I will never hear another Jimmy Buffet song without briefly seeing his smile though. I can not, after having almost been brought to tears time after time, imagine the strength that the widows of these men have had. After the family and close friends went into the church there came a procession, loosely organized, of women who went in next. It turns out that they were the widows of the other firefighters who where lost at Rescue 5 and elsewhere in the city. Eleven men from this one company died that day. One who survived arrived, still on crutches. The service was incredibly moving. Each eulogy was more inspiring than the last. His oldest daughter, Jessica, whom I have known since she was not quite 5, made her father very proud, I am sure, speaking on behalf of her brother and sister. About 100 firefighters, all that could be spared for this funeral, were there. The fire trucks that came to honor him wore magnetic sheets proclaiming they belonged to Rescue 5 and the FDNY, as they were really borrowed from Elizabeth New Jersey. The rescue 5 truck had been damaged at the site. Others were destroyed, still others were busy doing the same for other families.
Post 9-11, everything has changed. I listen to songs that have always enchanted me or touched me in some wistful way, and they seem written for 9-11. I sat and watched a performance of Les Miserables, a play I have loved and listened to many, many times, and felt a new and special connection to the lyrics. So now, even my past is touched by the present, and everything has to be re-defined.
Three months later, the dawn of a new year makes 9-11 last years news, and I think about how, in small and large ways we have all changed. I remember the day that I learned the power of saying I love you to someone. It was the day my grandmother died, in 1982, and I came to my grandfather and stood in the living room with my arms around him and I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me too. He had never been big with the mushy stuff, and it meant a lot to have him say so.
I think today that we all have learned how to say so. We have become more patient, although we keep saying the first sign of our healing is the impatience we have with each other. But forever, we will recall these days when people were not as closed, when we waved to each other and said :”how are you”, and actually listened to hear that we were OK.
I remember as a school-child, the great patriotism and pride we all had when we sang You’re a Grand Old Flag, how we recited the Pledge of Allegiance with booming voices and no real understanding of the words, and thought Flag Day was a wonderful idea. We leapt at any opportunity to be the Flag Bearer, and took up with little urging the idea that we should make paper flags in art class. We would happily sit around the piano during music and belt out the Star Spangled Banner, or America the Beautiful, and the term “corny” never crossed our minds.
I remember vividly standing in the middle of a street, on the southern few blocks of an island, narrow and teeming with pedestrians. The life-blood had not been sapped from New Yorkers, as I stood there, in the shadow of the ghosts of the Twin Towers. I held my daughter as she sobbed softly into my shoulder for five minutes, looking down Maiden Lane, seeing the rubble and the cathedral like structure that entombed the father of her friend.
The reality came and smacked her solidly in the gut. We had taken the trip over once already, and been in the city, but this Sunday was the first time I had taken her there, and until we came upon a cross-street that gave us direct visual access, she was fine. And then, as I knew what was coming, I cautioned her, and she looked to the west. She grabbed me and gasped, and sobbed as people passed us, as people gasped themselves, shocked by the sight, as people pushed on, breathing apparatus on their faces to protect them from the onslaught of nauseous odor and dusty, smoky air.
And flying about from nearly every window and flag pole was an American flag, and people wore red, white and blue in as many incarnations as you can imagine. Ribbon bedecked their collars, and was tied to their backpacks, and was woven into the fabric of our consciousness, everywhere, red white and blue, and I am almost sure somewhere deep down, these words were on everyone’s minds…
“You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high flying flag and forever in peace may you wave. You’re the emblem of the land I love the home of the free and the brave, every heart beats true for the red white and blue…”
And I bet that these cultured and sophisticated New Yorkers wouldn’t be embarrassed to be caught singing along. Post 9-11, everything HAS changed.
One of the many memorials in downtown, this gentleman spends his day polishing this relief, and preaching about all the facts and things people need to remember about the Towers. He used to work in one of them.
Sometimes I used to cry in the middle of the night.
I could hear the sirens scream in the dark.
Fires can make people die.
I know that die means never coming back.
Daddy taught me that when my goldfish stopped swimming.
Daddy took me to work, and I could make the sirens cry.
I would climb up in his big red truck, put his heavy hat on
And giggle because it covered my eyes!
Daddy’s hat is BIG!
Daddy was a strong man. His job was to be brave.
He ran into burning buildings.
I am afraid of fire.
It hurts to get a burn.
One time I touched mommy’s iron, so I know.
Daddy said he loved his job.
He could always make people happy
Because he could carry them away from fires,
And he would go and get their dogs out of the buildings too.
Mommy says I don’t have to cry anymore when I hear a siren.
Because we don’t need to worry about where Daddy is.
Daddy can’t get hurt by the fires anymore.
Daddy watches me when I sleep now,
So I don’t cry at night.
I just cry in the middle of the day.
©Trish Casey 2001
This poem came about as I was working on my 9-11 scrapbook. I cannot imagine having to face my daughter and tell her daddy died; to think of the thousands who faced such a nightmare that day makes me tear up.
Ten years later, reading this through before posting has made me cry, and is really working on giving me a sad sad feeling…that blah, blue, lethargic, hug those around you kind of feelings…
This scrapbook is based on the photos I took that day, and the experience of the 6 months following 9-11-01. All the photos here, and in the scrapbook pages are my own unless they aren’t. (Newspapers, magazines. Photos you’ve seen a hundred times ….collage materials.)
This video is something I discovered, and something that many people have never seen—it’s worth your time
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