September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document
Email Text:Hey, Brad-
On Wednesday you asked in your email for me to catch you up when I got a chance, and I think I'm ready to do that. It's gonna be really long, but here goes...
Tuesday was a big day. Barry and I were preparing to leave town on Wednesday to go to Texas for 6 days: we were going down there for an alumni reunion at Barry's former college, plus we were gonna see his folks and just get away for some end-of-summer relaxation. Since Monday was one of those intensely busy, frustrating, working late-into-the-night, "God-I-Hate-This-City" days for both of us, we were SO ready to get out of town. But, we hadn't gotten a lot of those leaving town errands done, so we had a lot to do on Tuesday. First, we had to vote in the mayoral primary. I don't know how closely you've followed the election (I know you read the Times), but we were both torn between Mark Green and Fernando Ferrer, and had pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact that it would be a last minute, in-the-booth decision. Although I mostly freelance from home, I also had a couple of meetings at work in the afternoon. We got up early; about 30 minutes earlier than usual. I jumped in the shower while Barry fed the cats, fixed coffee, made the bed, then he took over the shower from me. The phone rang several times while I dried off, but we let the machine pick up and left the sound down; we'd deal with the messages later. I turned the TV on, sans sound, to see what the temperature was outside (there's a local all-news station here called New York 1 that always has the time and temperature on the bottom of the screen). There was a picture on the screen of the World Trade Center, with smoke coming from one of the towers. I said something to Barry and turned on the sound. They were talking to someone who had heard the plane come in; there was speculation that it kinda sounded like a prop plane and maybe it was an accident. Barry said it to me that it couldn't have been an accident, but I said what about a plane with major engine trouble? I started getting dressed but kept coming back to the TV. Barry went into the bedroom area to get dressed. As I'm watching, I see helicopters around the tower and a plane coming in from the harbor. It didn't look big - I could only see it from the nose - and I remember thinking, "They shouldn't let that plane get that close to the smoke; that's really dangerous." Then the plane disappeared behind the towers, and in the next instant, a fireball, and I knew.
Of course, the TV commentators were saying that there had been an explosion but didn't know why, and I'm calling Barry over incoherently, saying it was another plane, another plane. I flashed onto the moment years ago when I watched the California earthquake coverage, and I could tell that that highway was double-decker and that there were cars smashed under there before anyone on TV figured it out.
But, we finished getting dressed, talking, confused, in shock. My mom called; I said we were okay; neither of us could believe it; I don't remember what else. One of the women I was meeting that day, who lives in Long Island, called. We agreed to touch base later about getting together. She and I are both worried about the state of mass transit at that moment; nothing has really sunk in. Barry and I leave. Outside, our landlord was on the front stoop. We talked about the planes, but also about the fact that it had rained so hard the night before, and we'd had our 4th leak into our apartment in the last month. Our landlord said he'd look into it, like he always says. We went on down 6th Street, then turned the corner onto 2nd Avenue. I was stopped by the black smoke. It was real. But we kept on going. Barry dropped off our laundry at the laundromat; I got money at the ATM. At our polling place, everyone was talking about it, quietly, confusedly. We voted; Barry picked up the dry cleaning while I made a bank deposit (why didn't I do that when I got money out?); and Barry went on to work.
Back in the apartment, I listen to the messages - Barry's mom, his sister. I turn on the TV, the coffeemaker; I light a cigarette. I leave my dad in Arkansas a voice mail message - we're okay. I'm pacing our small apartment and not watching when the first tower collapses, but I hear it on TV. Instant replay; I see it. I face my body to my windows -the direction of the World Trade Center - and I begin to wail, in a way I haven't done since my grandmother died. OhGodPleasePleaseGodPlease. Later my friend Barbara says I was keening. Both of the cats are sitting on the sofa in front of me, looking alarmed, which pulls me out of it. And I hear about the Pentagon, and the crash in Pennsylvania, and that maybe as many as 8 planes have been hijacked. Thousands, tens of thousands maybe, lives lost. Our theatre company partner calls, my boss calls - did you hear? are you watching it? I talk to each of them two or three times that morning; I don't remember in what order of events. Our partner says he wants to go down and help. I tell him not to. My boss cries and says that men on the bus said to get out of the city. I tell her not to. No one knows what to do. I hear people are at St. Vincent's to give blood. I call our partner. Give blood. I call my boss. Give blood. Phone service is starting to get sporadic, but I get through to Barry at work - you're not staying are you? No, he's coming home, and we'll go give blood when he gets here, and go to church. But he takes so long to get here. He comes in the door, I grab him and hold him close and sob. Foot traffic was intense on Park Avenue, all headed uptown, so he was walking against the tide. He stopped to get groceries, including bottled water which is apparently already flying off the shelves. We sit and smoke and watch some coverage.
Strange, strange things are happening; things I never could have imagined. And not just the horror. I'm actually incredibly relieved to hear Guiliani's voice on television; never thought that would happen. I'm comforted by Cardinal Egan warning against vengeance; never thought that would happen.
Barry and I strike out for Beth Israel, the closest hospital. The streets are crowded; the people are quiet, numb. The line at Beth Israel is unbelievable. There seem to be thousands of people there, mostly young. We get in line and Barry goes to get the forms they're handing out. I see some friends and holler to them; they join me in line. Barry comes back; the line moves up; we all see my boss walking by and call out to her. They tell us they can't handle us all now, to put our contact info down and they'll get in touch with us. So we hug our friends, and head off to church. When we get there, the doors are open, but hardly anyone is there. It's nice. Very quiet in the sanctuary, and Barry and I just sitting the silence, heads in hands. A woman that we know comes in and hugs us. We offer to help in any way we can. She doesn't know what's gonna happen at the church, but we write our names and phone and cell phone numbers down in case they need volunteers. We head out again. We're hungry. We call our partner and his girlfriend to meet us at our usual watering hole, but it's packed, so we end up at their place, watching TV and drinking vodka. We stay awhile, talk a lot, speculate a lot, have more drinks and snacks, then decide to go out and find a restaurant. They want to give me my birthday present first, though. My birthday was on Sunday. 38 years old. It's a lovely gift - some soap and facial stuff from Kiehl's, a very nice specialty store in the East Village. Happy Birthday.
Back out on the street we have to search to find a place that has room for us, and is serving food and drink. We go one place; all they have is chicken pot pie. Another favorite place is closed. All the time we're walking, we keep looking downtown at the cloud of smoke, and listening to the sirens. We finally decide we don't need more booze, so we end up at a diner, eat sandwiches, talk more, then, when we're finished, we hug and go our separate ways. Barry and I go back to the church. The minister is there in the office. We hug and talk about our concerns over the retaliation and revenge rhetoric that we're hearing; agree that our country needs to face our own culpability in this disaster. Barry and I offer our services again. He says he'll call us. We hug again, and Barry and I go home.
When we get there, we turn on the TV again. Bush is on; not too much saber-rattling, but disturbing nonetheless. We're able to get online and there are dozens and dozens of emails. A lot from friends and family -are you okay? We write everyone back. Also, we're on a listserv of theatres from across the country and boy have they been active! Then we try and call family. I can't reach anyone, either on landlines or cell lines, but Barry gets through to his family in Texas first try. Then my mom finally gets through on my cell. After we talk to them, we turn our TV around and get in bed. We fall asleep with it on; it's comforting.
Wednesday. I wake up. I cry. I say to Barry it's like waking up in hell. It's melodramatic. Wednesday is the day I start to become aware of my own multiple personalities. I'm Apollonian and Dionysian; I'm heart and head. With all of the emotion, it's so easy to descend into sentimentality and the maudlin. I fight that. Someone I know once wrote that "sentimentality is the pornography of feeling" and I agree with that. But I fight the opposite, too. With everyone on TV using special graphics - "Attack on America" - and words like "ground zero," it's easy to feel annoyed and cynical. I remind myself that they are just fellow humans, dealing with this unfathomable thing in the only ways humans know how. I cut them some slack.
Barry and I try and give blood again on Wednesday, and are again unsuccessful - neither of us is O-Negative, which is what they need. The area below 14th Street, where we live, is cordoned off, so when we come back downtown from the hospital on 17th Street, a policeman wants to see some proof of residency. It's all very nice, no police-state-like feeling to it at all, actually. It's so quiet in the so-called "frozen zone" - no traffic, which is great; we walk in the street. The wind has shifted, though - we're beginning to smell a burnt chemical smell, and my eyes water a bit. We go to a bar for lunch; we're the only ones there at first. We talk a lot with the waitress; introduce ourselves; her name is Linda Lou. We all watch CNN together. Oh, today was the day we were supposed to go to Texas. Oh, well. In addition to not really wanting to be on a plane even if they did reopen the airports, New York is our home, our community, and we want to be here; it's the right thing. Later, we go to church again for a discussion group that they've put together. A lot of liberals with strong concerns about the tenor that the rhetoric has taken, and the fact that we're such bad citizens in the world. I'm acutely aware of how in-the-minority we are, but it's good to be talking about it with so many smart people. It makes me feel normal, a feeling I sustain until we get home and turn on the TV again. We watch; we check email - dozens more of them - then turn the TV around to our bed and go to sleep with it on again. Why do we keep it on all night? There's something there about needing to know that someone is keeping watch while we sleep, plus I think it's a simple, child-like need for a night light to ward off the boogeyman.
Thursday. Back to work. I wake up and cry again. Barry goes on into the office. I slowly prepare to head up to the theatre where I work later. I do fundraising for a living, I've got to get two grant proposals to the post office today for a September 15th deadline. I talk with a co-worker, who is already up there, by phone. We talk about the anger we've heard on the street and see on TV. We can't understand people whose first reaction, or even second reaction, is anger. We're nowhere near that feeling; our hearts are too broken, and the anger people are expressing almost seems profane, it's so beside the point. Not that I haven't felt any anger, but it's all over the map. I had a conversation with a friend the night before about all of the events, and we agree that the US's disproportionate support of Israel was a real factor. Then she says, "We asked for it." I get off the phone from her and my anger is simmering. I am offended. Yes, we've done some terrible things in this world, there's lot to blame us for, but we no more asked for this than the Palestinians do who are shot at by US-made weapons or the civilians did who died in our embassy-bombing retaliations. We did NOT deserve this; no one deserves this.
As I head up to work on Thursday, I notice how much traffic there is above the frozen zone. And all the while I'm at work, I hear cars honking and honking and honking. I also hear the radio playing. Music. I haven't heard it for days. It doesn't feel right to be listening to pop songs, but it's better than all the call-in, talk radio shows. I leave for the post office and traffic is worse. I become filled with blinding hatred at all the people who are driving their personal vehicles in the city. Don't they know how important these roads are for ambulances? How can they be so selfish? My jaw is clamped shut and I am seething, seething. I feel like it's getting ugly; that for a couple of days we saw "the better angels of our natures," but now selfishness has reared its head. I'm trying to talk myself down from my irrational anger when I see someone on the street selling American flags. My strange duality comes into play again. These flags feel so ominous, and yet I have been feeling a kind of patriotism, not this spreading jingoism but the pure kind that I feel when I look at the Statue of Liberty; the kind that loves the idea of this country. And I feel so protective of my fellow ordinary citizens, we all seem so fragile right now. I'm such a mess, so torn up, that when I'm done with the post office I head to the closest church. They're starting a service, so I stay. The comfort I find in the ritual in which I was raised is palpable. Silently, I cry and cry and cry. When the time comes in the service to wish those around you "peace," the man in the pew in front of me looks at me and gives me a big, long hug.You know, I'm a good little WASP, I don't express my emotions like I have been this week, and it's very tiring. I realize that I was probably not ready for the "real" world above 14th Street, and that things were probably no more "ugly" up there today than on any regular day. I was just too raw to deal with it yet. I'm relieved to be in the quiet eeriness of the frozen zone. I call Barry after the service and we go drink, then go home, then fall asleep with the TV on again.
Friday is the "National Day of Prayer and Remembrance." I don't like forced fun or forced solemness, but I go to a church service anyway. It's raining, the church is packed, but I don't feel the same deep comfort today being in church. I'm restless. Barry's at work, but I can't concentrate enough to work. I don't feel right when I'm out; I don't feel right when I'm at home. But I go home, watch some TV. I look through my bible for favorite passages - "swords into plowshares." I pull out the T.S. Eliot poem, "Ash Wednesday." It's so mournful and sad. A friend calls. Someone we'd been worried about - a friend we'd all lost touch with a few years ago who worked in the World Trade Center - got out okay. She worked on the 90-something floor in Tower Two. I'm relieved and, since I still don't know what to do, since my focus is nil and everything seems wrong, I take a nap. Barry comes home, we go out for dinner and drinks. We see a friend out the window of the bar lighting his candle at 7pm for the citywide vigil. We stay in the bar, but then join him a bit later and light some candles we brought with us while we talk with him. We watch interview shows when we get home - Charlie Rose, Ted Koppel. One of Charlie's guests, a minister from Brooklyn, says that he thinks it's too much to ask of humans not to retaliate for this. I'm deeply opposed to it, but I think he's probably right. It saddens me. Others are talking about what people are feeling, the grief, the anger, the fear. I say to Barry that I haven't really felt fear. We fall asleep again to the TV. I dream that someone knocks on our apartment door, I open it (which, of course, I would never do) and it's a man with what looks like a straw placemat over his face who tells me he's going to kill me. So much for no fear.
This morning, when we awoke there was a show on ABC, where Peter Jennings was talking with a bunch of kids and some of their parents about the tragedy. These kids had smart questions, and smart answers. I feel hopeful that a broader viewpoint is being heard, and Barry and I regret we didn't call his sister and tell her to put it on for our niece and nephew. We decide to clean house - it's a pigsty. While we're cleaning, which feels good and normal and productive, we hear the President from Camp David saying things like, "This will not stand" and we're going to "smoke them out" - the strongest rhetoric and saber-rattling yet. It's sickening. I also see a guy on a local show, a rescue worker, who is talking about his experience. He begins to cry, then clenches his jaw and says "we're going to get them." I have a sudden insight into the anger thing. Maybe people who are not comfortable with crying, with grief, have to express it some other way, and the way they know best is anger. I don't know.
So, that's where I am right now, Saturday evening. Barry and I talked about going out tonight, and we may still, but we're both very tired.Grief is exhausting. The Twin Towers were kinda ugly, but I miss them so much. It's funny where you try and find solace. We're drinking - a lot. Or, rather, often. And I'm eating all those things that are bad for me, like ice cream and french fries. And I went to church 5 times in 4 days - it's been quite awhile since I could say that. It's funny that music, which I always connect to, hasn't meant much to me. Although, I was thinking today about the Kurt Weill song, "Lost in the Stars." Do you know it? There's a section that says, "I've been searching through the night and the day, though my eyes get weary and my hair turns gray. And sometimes it seems maybe God's gone away, forgetting the promise that we heard him say. And we're lost out here in the stars." I've always found it poignant, and I really do now. But you know what, I am blessed; I am okay. After all, on some level, it's not about me. On another, it's about all of us.
My thoughts and prayers and love,
Email Date:September 15th
Email Subject:NYC this week