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.
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.
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.
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.