9/11 on Repeat: A Personal Memory

Images replay in my head like a record that skips when it wants because you accidently scratched it when your daddy said not to touch it. Things come to me forewarned and on constant repeat like that as if it’s going to happen again.  As if it’s going to happen again. Again.

Ten years have come and I still wake with images of bodies being shipped on barges across the Hudson River toward Jersey City, ambulances taking people arriving at the pier by Exchange Place in Jersey City  to the Jersey City Medical Center—now a condominium. Half-jokingly, I tell my friends that I’d never want to live there, in those new condos. I’d bet good money that the souls of 9/11 victims walk and haunt the halls, like me—a broken record replaying incidents, not knowing where they are, wanting to be free.  And some days I wonder if I’m still alive.

After being late for a job interview, and missing the train to take me to the WTC, I drove my car with a friend to the pier and watched the second tower fall. I had only lived in NYC area for only a year and I was still ungrounded in where I needed to be career-wise. I was alone. I was lonely. I didn’t understand my purpose. Yet, I did know that I was meant to be in NYC.

For the longest time I had convinced myself that I had killed everyone in the World Trade Center. When driving back to my house, my car had stalled, blocking DOZENS of ambulances on a one-way street. I remember the sirens and my sobs and my sweat and screaming at my friend “PUSH! HELP ME PUSH GODDAMN IT! PUSH!” as we pushed my 1996 Subaru Legacy up Communipaw Avenue and finally out of the way of the many ambulances I blocked.

WTC Memorial at Journal Square Train Station, Jersey City, NJ (Oct 2001) by Stephen Earley Jordan II

I could not leave the house for two weeks. I had no tv, and I only listened to the radio then. Instantly, I felt as if I left the house all chaos would emerge and only in my house would I ever be safe. When I did leave the house, everyone had flyers and candles lit at train stations asking, “Have you seen my father? Uncle? Mother? Son?” and so forth, most of which covered in dust from the tragedy.

I worked from home for two weeks, then the air quality around Ground Zero was deemed to be suitable—which we discovered to be a fabrication. The trains to and around Ground Zero were all closed. My company paid for a car service to pick me up and drive me home—an expense I scoff at because it had cost more to pay the car company than I was being paid in salary. It took me two hours to get to work and even then, the cars wouldn’t go close to my job—one block from Ground Zero.

Ground Zero image, taken from my office (Oct 2001) by Stephen Earley Jordan II

For seven months after the 9/11 tragedies, it took me two hours to get to work and two hours home, walking in rubble, smelling burned hair, skin, of life long gone, of despair. The Fall and Winter season made everything, too, seem so drab and cold and lonelier.  I had no family. I had few friends.  And, walking to work everyday, soon in the snow, there was an eerie silence that would get caught in my throat.  I didn’t feel alive. Without having a backup plan, I quit my job—all for the sake of sanity. Otherwise, I would have lost myself.  

I give a slight smirk when I hear of how everyone worked together during 9/11 and how we’ve deemed NY Fire Fighters and Policemen the heroes, especially during the aftermath and cleanup. The radio stations were advertising that NY City was looking for volunteers to help sort through the rubble and clean up. But not everyone would be picked—you had to have a construction background, maintenance work, etc. And, these people were each handpicked at the Jacob Javitz Center.

Ground Zero image, taken from my office (Oct 2001) by Stephen Earley Jordan II

No one focuses on how some of these handpicked individuals  and New York’s Finest and Bravest were looting the dead bodies of their jewelry, expensive clothing, and credit cards before carrying their bodies to a gurney. No one discusses that. We like to forget things like that and things that make us uncomfortable—like the true ill intentions of humans. We like to think that the citizens in a given area bond during times like this. And we do—yet still, we never focus on the true nature of humans and the fact that we’re always trying to one-up our neighbor. And, if it came down to it, we’d steal from a corpse if we knew we’d get away with it. No one discusses the looting of the bodies at Ground Zero—it was an insider thing. Only people who worked there knew of it and spoke to their close friends about it. Similar to Abu Ghraib US Soldiers—we’ve probably been mistreating POWs for generations, but it just happened to be this generation, a generation of technology, grew sloppy and documented it. No longer were the tales just stories to be discussed at VFWs or American Legions. Our generation documented it on video and cell phone still images. The clean-up volunteer crew, for the most part, kept everything quiet. 

Citizens across the world wave flags, wear tee shirts and caps that read, “9/11: Never Forget”.  It’s probably a defense mechanism, but I can’t remember the rest. This is what keeps repeating in my head. Nothing else. For I’ve not seen the commercials or images of the plane crashing into the towers, of people jumping from the towers—I can’t watch that. I never have. I don’t think it’s something I’d ever be interested in seeing.

I’d rather know what I know and keep everything else as a smudge.  Sometimes we’re better off that way.

About Stephen Earley Jordan II

Author of "Beyond Bougie", "Cold, Black, and Hungry" and many other books. www.StephenEarleyJordan.com
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4 Responses to 9/11 on Repeat: A Personal Memory

  1. steelcowboy says:

    Some wounds remain raw and never heal. Others fester and kill, poisoning everyone and everything…

  2. Bryan Norman says:

    As I was reading your memories of 9/11, I was having images flash in my mind about where I was and what I experienced on 9/11 (I was living in Washington, DC). I could see the plume of smoke rising up from the Pentagon from the balcony of my apartment a few miles away from the attack. I remember the chaos outside, so I stayed inside where it felt safer. I remember watching in horror as the towers collapsed on TV. No phones worked, all roads had been shut down. We were trapped and unable to flee. I remember the terrible sound of numerous fighter jets and helicopters flying overhead and sirens blaring from every direction. And for weeks after, every time I heard a siren, every time I heard a plane overhead, I became immobilized with fear.

    I had no idea that people were looting the bodies in NYC. That thought makes me sick. Stephen, I don’t believe that stealing from the dead is our true nature. I think our true nature is both good and bad, evidenced by those who really were there to help, as well as those who were there to loot. To be sure, there are lots of bad people in the world, but there are also many good folks, too.

    I, too, can’t bear to watch anything about 9/11. My partner is fascinated with every show about it. I don’t ever want to experience the trauma of that day again.

  3. Sumeeta Patnaik says:

    Hi! I just read your article, and the pain you felt at that time, and still feel now, permeates every word. That is what makes this article so brilliant. I can feel your torment, and through that, I can feel everything that was happening in NYC at that time. When I arrived in NYC in December of 2001, four months after the attacks, I did see the suffering, but saw a NY in recovery. Thinking about it now, as you took us on a tour of the city, I now realize that you were in recovery as well. This essay serves as a reminder that there is always more to a story than the public ever knows, and that even when our memories are a smudge, they still retain their potency.

  4. Dawn Stevens says:

    When I read something that touches me profoundly I will spend a long time thinking about it. My thoughts today were focused on the theft of the victim’s belongings. I can be naive at times. It never ocurred to me that such a thing could happen, especially by police officers. I could see how they rationalized it. After all, they were dead people and they did not need those things, so it really wasn’t that bad. It would be far worse to steal from someone who was alive, right? In reality what they did was far worse. The reason why it would never have, even in the slightest, crossed my mind is because I assumed that everyone else saw the true value and treasure of those objects like I did. For those who lost a love one that day, I can only imagine what it would have meant to have that necklace she always wore placed in my hand. Or to get back the ring you placed on his finger the day you were married. The comfort those objects could have been to those who lost that day. What these people did was nothing short of cruel and evil. When I first read this I got angry and there was no place to put that anger. Then I thought that in order to acquire those things those people had to be deep inside of that place in the dust and stench carrying bodies out. Day in and day out and for months. I know that many people worked at Ground Zero following 9/11 and to those who were honest I wish them nothing but happiness and health. For those who stole, they may have gotten away with it and even made a pretty penny, but God saw it. One of your FB friends used the term ‘Law of Return’ but those folks, they got away with nothing, and if the Law of Return does indeed exist (regardless of what power is behind it) than in time or perhaps already something far more valuable has been taken from them.

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