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east river drive traffic
Thinking about September 11, 2001
by Deborah Marcus on Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 7:59pm ·

I don’t think that I have ever written anything in any venue about September 11th.  Sometimes it is hard to believe that it has been 9 years since that morning when things shifted in our corner of the universe. I have many and conflicting thoughts about the days events: what led up to it, who and what played roles in the culmination that was 9/11. Mostly I think about the feelings and experiences of those around me, as I observed them. Those observations were largely visual, for at that time I was not yet a cochlear implant recipient. I wore no hearing aids, and depended to the largest extent on lipreading and other visual clues, with my remaining hearing filling in only the smallest gaps in my experiential world. And so, it was with muffled sounds around me I stepped off of the subway car at Penn Station just after 9 o’clock that morning. I saw a number of individuals standing on the platform straining to hear an announcement. I could hear some of the sound but none of what was being said. I thought ooh there must be some kind of transportation glitch, glad I’m where I need to be already. Someone asked me if I could hear the announcement, which I found amusing, but also had the effect of pulling me in and now I too wanted to know what all the excitement was about. Soon I realized that people were saying “a plane hit one of the towers”…”there may be a second plane”…”no, just a rumor, but there was an accident, a plane hit the trade center” and so on. I was so confused, in that way I would often get when I understood what was said but thought surely I must have misunderstood? I ran up the stairs to the street. At the northeast corner of 8th Ave and 34th street I looked all around me and saw people standing around talking on cell phones.Trying to use their cell phones, anyway, from what I could tell. I had no cell phone, could not hear on any of them. A long line grew at the single functional payphone on that corner. More snippets of dialogue filtered in to my brain and I thought what the hell? and rushed on to the office. I went straight to Angela, my supervisor, who shared what she knew, and wonderful person she is, made sure I was kept up on the news reports that I could not hear. The rest of the day was a blur of emotions. I was pulled in several directions. I was concerned that my TBI clients were ok. That Don was ok. Wondering if my Dad decided to go downtown this morning (he had not gone that day but went to the financial district and the towers often enough for me to worry.) The screams of a co-worker who feared that her sister was up in one of the doomed towers (she was not up there that morning, thank God.) Letting friends near and far know that I was ok. Wondering how, or if, we’d go home that evening. Thinking about how close our office building was to the Empire State building, and with the news of the Pentagon and Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, I don’t think it was excessively paranoid of us to start to envision jet planes ripping through Macy’s and landing in the lobby of our building. Knowing that those buildings were down, the fate of so many desperately uncertain. After a long stretch of frantic calls to clients and their home care staff to ensure that all were safe and coping (reasonably) well with the situation, I stepped out for a breath of air and walked towards 8th Avenue. There was a strange pulse in the air, a vibration. Everyone seemed dazed, and as I walked past a homeless woman I could see that she was repeatedly saying “it’s over…it’s the end…” and I found myself thinking that on any other day I’d be thinking sad thoughts for that woman, how disturbed and delusional she was, but today I wondered if she didn’t have it exactly right.

I will not speak to the details of the attack that crashed over us in the days and weeks to follow. I will also not, in this note, say more than a most heartfelt God Bless to those who lost their lives, or lost loved ones, at the Towers. What I want to share is a little snapshot of the face of New York City in the days following the event. My then husband and I commuted by subway to our jobs in the City from Brooklyn. For at least a couple of weeks, as we rode the F train over the elevated stations toward Manhattan early in the morning, the dark drift of smoke and dust and debris that lingered over and drifted away from the Towers was in plain view. When we were able to bury ourselves  in a book or magazine (looking at the newspaper guaranteed endless images and commentary on the attacks) we would pause in our reading and glance out the window and be thrown right back into that maelstrom of emotion tied directly with the knowledge that the kind of illusory sense of impermeability we once had was gone forever. New Yorkers are a hardy bunch. Events that would make front page news in my new small town in North Carolina are barely noticed in the five boroughs. There are those who misunderstand the New Yorker and see them, from the outsider’s vantage point, as rude, pushy, loud, callous. We (and I include myself here for I will always be a New Yorker) are all of that from time to time but there is a heart of gold there, too. It is mountainous and accessible if you know the way. It was most apparent as I saw people comfort those openly weeping on trains and buses, city streets and offices. I saw it in my neighbors and friends taking a gentler step through the day and extending a longer than usual helping arm to one another in those weeks following that terrible morning. I saw it, too, in efforts to heal through artist expression. My friend Sarah came to me one day and suggested that we might create with our hands objects that are expressive of how we are feeling and dealing with the grief. I decided to go along with this although I really couldn’t see what its value might be to me. We got plain hinged wood boxes and came to the table with various materials and each of us made something that was unique, personal, and in fact amazingly healing. We talked about it a bit after the projects were completed. For me, just having this box that I could open and remember what each little item meant to me was priceless. I have no doubt that similar projects were undertaken all over town, most of which we never heard about because they were meant as objects for personal healing, nothing more.

Each of us undoubtedly have a defining moment around 9/11. For me, it is a single piece of paper found by Don a few days after the attack, on our terrace in Brooklyn. Having stepped outside for a moment, he rushed in saying that I must come outside immediately. Opening the door to the terrace, I peered out and saw a sheet of white 8.5 x 11in paper. What could be the big deal? I thought. Picking it up, I noticed that the edges appeared burnt. Looking closer, I felt a deep chill as I realized that it was a fax from a  company in one of the smaller towers that was later demolished. I cannot tell you the details at this moment because we decided that Don would keep the item. Coincidentally–or maybe not?–I noted that it had been faxed on my birthday the year before. Soon, people would find similar bits of paper around the city, for they drifted with the breezes for miles. I felt like I had been slammed in the head at that moment: any shred of a sense of this all being some kind of  big misunderstanding was gone. These remnants, evidence of what had occurred just days before, were spreading all over the city, demanding to be heard. The challenge was, and remains, in the translation.

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