So I hope this isn’t me trying to appropriate someone else’s trauma for my own purposes (one of the things I most enjoy accusing others of), but for some reason I’ve been thinking about the FIRST (1993) bombing attempt on the World Trade Center.
I do truly believe that it was God’s grace that got me out of NY before September 11th happened, but I also know that, at the time, when people said to me, “It’s so great that you’re not there”, I just kept thinking, “but I WANT to be there!” I wanted to be with the city I loved, in the same way that people tend to want to be with family when tragedy strikes. Still, I will be the first to acknowledge that I was blessed to have avoided that time.
One afternoon, we felt and heard a boom that seemed to come from above us . . . we stood there and asked each other, “Should we be evacuating the building?” It sounded that close.
Soon afterwards, news came that there had been an explosion in the basement of one of the towers. A friend of mine, who I suppose I considered susceptible to conspiracy theories, called and said, “They’re saying it was terrorists.” I clearly remember my response: (it was 1993, remember)”Give me a break. It wasn’t terrorists. People always say it was terrorists.” I’m sure I then told her that it was probably a gas leak or something.
But then the police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances started to appear . . . hundreds of vehicles, so many more than I had ever seen in one place before. When the unmarked cars started to show up, and then the fire departments from New Jersey, I started to re-think my friend’s theory, as implausible as it may have seemed to me at the time . . .
The one thing that I *do* remember is a woman who came into our store asking to use our phone, since all of the pay phones were in use. (yes, it was 1993, and although there were a few people with cell phones, it certainly wasn’t the norm.)
I remember her for two reasons. First, because when she used our phone to call her mother, I could hear her mother’s voice coming through the phone lines, this desperate wail of panic and relief. It was one of the most disturbing sounds I’ve ever heard.
The second reason I remember this woman is that, when she got off the phone, my boss asked her, “Do you want to use our restroom to wash up a bit?” She looked at him blankly, not sure why he was asking her this strange question. She had no idea that her face was covered in soot. She had walked down some 45 flights of stairs, along with many others, and was in such a state of shock that she wasn’t aware of the dust covering her own face.
It was quite a day. But it was nothing like what was yet to come, and I can barely get my mind around the immensity of that other day, no matter how many times they recreate the collective trauma of a city and a nation on TV.
Yes, you may call me “lucky” or “blessed” for having been spared the direct impact of that day, and I know that I am . . . but I also have this odd sense of loss, knowing that the city I love was hurting, and I was not there to do what little I could to ease the pain.
the pain meds are starting to kick in (YES! I SURVIVED THE ROOT CANAL!), so I’m going to go lie down and find some re-traumatizing TV to watch, but I will say more later.