9/11: ten years on

New York City
Image by kaysha via Flickr

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a political statement. Usually, I spent 9/11 listening/watching the ceremonies at ground zero (since 2003). This year, I’m back in Canada and looking at that day from a slightly different perspective. All week, CBC radio has been focussing on the theme: 10 years on. 

September 11 remembories submitted to the local CBC radio. Weekend Mornings requested that folks send/phone in their memories and experiences so that the Sunday, September 11, 2011 show reflects the solemn and special nature of the day. I’ve added some appropriate pictures from various trips to NYC between the late 1980s through to the mid-1990s. I also want to draw folks attention to the forgotten, invisible children who attended school in the shadow of the towers on that fateful day in September; their traumatization was glossed over, ignored, and some of these kids, now adults, are still dealing with PTSD from the horrific scenes they witnessed that day. As one woman said: I was 12 on September 11. September 10 was the last day I had a childhood.

Airplane Airplane Airplane Airplane Airplane

So you’re asking for 9/11 (September 11th) remembories. I found a catch in my throat when I thought about phoning my observations in, so I’ve set them out in an email. That way I (as the “speaker”) and you (as the “listener”) can grab a breath or two. At the best of times, I talk quickly (something my former students can attest to), and when I’m nervous or upset, well – no one gets a chance to come up for air.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I’d been working at UNB since the summer. I was meeting my husband at the Student Union building for lunch. It was a beautiful early fall day with bright blue sky and a snap in the air. While he grabbed coffees and a table, I stood in line for sub sandwiches. A knot of female students behind me talked about airplanes, and towers, and disastrous results. I assumed they were discussing some made-for-tv movie or the latest flick out of Hollywood. But, I kept hearing snippets of conversation swirling around me, and I began to wonder. Unable to eat my lunch as this sickening sense that something was really wrong grew; that something terrible had happened, I left hubby at the table to go to the area of the student lounge where a large tv screen was perpetually tuned to CNN or MuchMusic.

I gasped as I saw a long shot of the NYC skyline – there were no twin towers dominating the skyscraping horizon. The twin towers we had visited and taken photographs of the city (and ourselves on the roof) from. And, as if to confirm my worst suspicions, the words below the images spelled it all out. As I literally staggered back to the table, I tried to figure out how to break the news; my husband grew up on Long Island, and had family in New Jersey with connections to NYC. I booked the rest of the afternoon off, and we walked home, hand in hand, trying to make sense of the whole thing. Hours glued to the CBC still left us empty as if part of ourselves had gone down with the towers and wondering what was next.

As we later found out, my brother-in-law was in the city on charity business, and saw the first plane hit on his way to the meeting. He told folks there that something was up and being in the shadow of the towers, the office should consider evacuating. He then walked across town to where my nephew worked, and the two of them tried to figure out how to get home to New Jersey with all transportation to and from Manhattan shut down. Luckily, they met a limo driver headed in the same general direction and rode the rest of the way in relative physical, though not emotional, comfort. My other nephew, luckily too, had accepted a promotion and a transfer to Southern California six months earlier, or he would have been in his office in the deutsche bank building; a structure that remained standing but suffered irreparable damage when the towers fell. We were among the first to sign the book of condolences on display at city hall in Fredericton.

Several strange ironies came out of 9/11. The next day, and for several days after, with the planes grounded, the world became suddenly quieter. Something I realized on Wednesday as I cut through the woods to work. The crunch of my feet on the path; the whisper of wind in the trees; the racket of squirrels in the trees were all just that bit louder as the sky silence grew deeper. On Thursday, I sat on a rock not far from the path, cleared my mind, and just listened to the music of the forest.

The increased police/military presence made NYC a much safer city; one that I took at job in during spring 2003. I quickly became aware of how traumatized my office mates were by the events of 9/11; even those who were not in the city or even country that day. Helicopters hovering overhead or small planes in the skies made them anxious. As my windows held a better view of the skyline, they would gather in knots looking upward, trying to determine if it was a traffic helicopter or a military one. My supervisor bailed at the last minute on an overseas trip, as she couldn’t make herself get on a plane. The big blackout of the summer of 2003 made them panic. Few came to work on September 11ths.

Ten years on from 2001, I no longer work in the city; and this year I will mark the day back in the Maritimes. When I’m home in New Jersey, I mark each anniversary by listening on the radio, or watching on television, the reading of the names. Each year, a different group is called upon for this somber duty, including the families of the lost. And 9/11 continues to take its victims from the ranks of the first responders and volunteers who spent days, weeks, months, years at ground zero. Ten years on, September 11 still takes a toll on the physical and emotional life of the city, the country, and the world.

blimp and the World Trade Center

blimps and glass: an eerie foreshadowingme on top of the twin towers                      me on top of the twin towers

nyc from the twin towers (world trade centre)NYC

NYC from World Trade Center


NYC from the twin towers (world trade center)


NYC from the river

Manhattan skyline from the river (aboard a very small boat!) including the towers. (1995)

Left hug Right hug Left hug Right hug

So, life goes on. I heard a very moving story on the CBC radio this week. “The Invisible Girl” tells the chilling tale of what school children with classrooms in the shadow the of the twin towers experienced on September 11th. The story focuses on Halaina Hovitz and her 7 year battle with mental health issues from that horrendous morning when Halaina’s childhood ended. But when the items that are swirling out the twin towers’ windows aren’t just papers; Halaina saw desperate folks jumping, their bodies making sickening thuds on car roofs and the pavement. The dust cloud generated when both towers had collapsed engulfed her and her traveling companions – a neighbour and her son – while waiting for the cloud dissipate before heading back on their trek to Halaina’s apartment. Halaina was sure she would die that day without having had a chance to say good bye to her parents.

A traumatic moment, yet within days, Halaina and her classmates, now relocated to an overcrowded high school, were expected to return to school. Little or no counseling was available or offered; and even then, only lip-service was paid to the children’s emotional states. Halaina’s life spiraled out of control; a bad news boyfriend, drinking and drugs, and lashing out at her parents – especially her mother. A series of health care professionals couldn’t pin down what Halaina’s problem (she was now injuring herself) was: bipolar? borderline personality disorder? psychosis? Finally, after 7 years in turmoil, a clinician suggested Halaina was dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Now 22, with 3 years after the diagnosis, Halaina is getting her life back. She is writing a book about the forgotten children on 9/11 – the school children whose childhood; innocence; sense of wonder ended that day. The Current has a slide show about Halaina and you can listen to the complete radio clip. Yet another face of 9/11; a life that will never be the same.