eleven things about september 11th

1) answering the obligatory question “where were you when you heard?” . . . I was sleeping (I was working second shift at the time) and my friend Tannel called me at about 9:30 and left a message telling me that I needed to wake up and turn on the TV because “something’s going on in NY with the World Trade Center”

2) watching TV while on the phone with Max. When the firs tower collapsed, I remember saying, “It just fell” and his disbelieving, “No, it didn’t . . . ” The idea of it falling down was so inconceivable to him (to most of us, I think.)

3) walking out of my apartment to go to work a little while later and feeling almost bombarded by the brightness of the sun. It was a perfect fall day here in Grand Rapids, just as it was in New York, and it felt so utterly incongruous . . .

4) talking to my (now deceased) ex-roommate, George, via e-mail after a bit of an impasse (we were on less-than-stellar terms when I left NY at the end of 1999) . . . on one level, it was good to talk to him, but on another level, it was annoying to hear his posturing about how Arden (our Gap district manager and my former boss–the store in the WTC was in her district) was confiding in him all the time. “Arden has kept a strong face publicly but in private has expressed her devastation to me” (sure, that may not sound to you like posturing, but trust me on this. I knew him well, and in the land of Gap assistant managers, it was all about the competition . . . )

5) hearing that Arden moved to the Philadelphia area a few years later, purportedly to have more of a chance for advancement. When I tell friends that I think she was traumatized by September 11th and that this contributed to her need for a change of venue, they don’t agree with me. But hey, I’m the one with the undergrad degree in psychology! (would you like fries with that?)

6) not knowing what to think about the words of Revelation 18.

7) hitting a point at work (after everybody seemed to want to come to me to “talk about it” all the time, I guess because I had that NYC connection) where I had to say, “I CAN’T HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS ANYMORE!” A few people expressed surprise at my reaction; I can’t remember who it was that said, “It’s okay if she doesn’t feel like talking about it”, but that person was a hero to me in that moment.

8. remembering all of the shopping I did in the WTC concourse. When I was home visiting just ten days prior to the attacks, I had purchased a Barbie doll for my friend’s daughter in the Warner Brothers store there. I also ate a donut at Krispy Kreme and a hot dog from a vendor in front of 7 WTC.

9) realizing that I’m lucky in the scheme of things, and yet I still try to reach for a connection. One such connection is that the guy on the right in that well-known picture that became a stamp is the brother of another guy that I went to elementary school with.

10) going back to New York for the first time in January of 2002 for my grandmother’s funeral. As I was driving in New Jersey along the Turnpike, I started to freak out because I couldn’t orient myself . . . there was this huge hole in the skyline and without those two buildings that were supposed to be there as a demarcation point, I was engulfed by a huge sense of loss and panic.

11) hearing these lyrics to a Julie Miller song . . . I think the song was written before 2001, but the second verse seems like it was written just for that day . . .

I`m making flowers out of paper
while darkness takes the afternoon
I know that they won`t last forever
but real ones fade away too soon

(chorus)
I still cry sometimes when I remember you
I still cry sometimes when I hear your name
I said goodbye and I know you`re all right now
but when the leaves start falling down I still cry

It`s just that I recall September
It`s just that I still hear your song
It`s just I can`t seem to remember
forever more those days are gone

remembering September 11th–the faces I knew

I was lucky, as well, in that the number of people I knew personally who lost their lives on this day in 2001 was relatively small. Of the three listed here, Jonathan Hohmann is probably the one I knew best, as I went to church with him for several years  and taught Sunday School alongside of his wife Rose. I also had his son Matthew in my Sunday School class (and have the cute pictures to prove it!)

The next is a guy I went to school with . . . he was in my class through fifth grade, and I have a class picture somewhere. (which I will not be sharing here, to protect the guilty–myself in particular–from the fashion police!)

And finally, someone from my graduating class at Tottenville High School who I barely knew, except perhaps by name/face.

yes, I am one of the lucky ones.

Jonathan Hohmann

Mark Whitford

Eddie Oliver

memories of the (first) WTC bombing

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.

In 1993, I worked at a shoe store in downtown Manhattan,  two blocks east of the WTC.  (if you look at the picture in the previous link, our store used to be where the Men’s Wearhouse is in the photo.)

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.