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Last Updated: 09/11/2002
By Alex Marx



I have resisted writing more for so long, I suppose because I have buried the emotional trauma that spurred me to write in the first place. So much emphasis was placed on returning to “normal” that we buried our pain and set about to reclaim our mantles of being New Yorkers.

And yet, despite getting on with work, life and pleasure, despite the steady return to business as usual, especially down in the areas around Ground Zero, deep inside clawed the monster desperate to get out through the already thickened walls that serve to smother my normal emotional self.

As if indigestion, this pain manifested itself in many other ways. The necessity to always bring up the topic of the WTC, whether the other party cared to hear it or not. This was especially painful and especially noticeable when I spent 3 weeks in Rome at New Years. Partially to escape from the daily prison of life in the “affected” area and partially to try to continue with my previous life.

The previous life was an attempt to escape from pre-9-11 New York. A city that I have spent all my life in and where I have lived through all the good and bad, that is my home, my city. I was tired of it, tired of the endless noise, the grating energy that embraced the mid-90s anything goes as long as it can go on the internet and we can do an IPO mentality. The wealth without culture, without care, without heart, without soul.

I was bored, frustrated and depressed with my life, its surroundings and its manifestations. I longed to run, to hide within some daydream. I knew full well that this was futile, where you go so goes your head. My shrink has beaten that into me, and it is a mantra. But the fight cannot overwhelm the depression, the chemical imbalances that control our very being and the day to day lack of ambition and desire. Flight is easy, it’s fantasy, it takes no energy to imagine, to plan, to believe. It was so real, I could taste it.

Over a visit with my good friend Barry we hashed out a plan. He is an American in England for the past 20 years. A man with facing his own large transitions in life, with divorce and the end of a business he put heart and soul in to for 20 years. In several walks, which included several visits to the Trade Center, we decided that we could spend at least 3 months in Italy, studying the language, the food and the wildlife. I was to sublet my apartment for an exorbitant premium over my pre-boom years rent and that would finance my half of the venture. Over the next months we searched the Internet for apartment sub-lets, made plans to meet and check places out and to find places to study.

Barry was far freer than I was, emotionally and financially. I was caught in the black hole between fight or flight. My best efforts were half-hearted at best. Oh, I had good excuses, work, a worsening economy which made sub-letting at the expected windfall rate near impossible, the inability to get the apartment in shape for any tenant, the lack of will to really leave.

Barry moved onward anyway, still supportive, still encouraging. He found a place, found a school, found some wildlife and some freedom. And some peace.

I struggled forward, slipping backwards in my plans and in my hopes. Subletting was becoming impossible as the economy slipped away and I couldn’t find the energy to sterilize the apartment to make it habitable by others. The thought of packing away closets, moving art in to secure storage, neutering the computer, and a dozen other requirements to provide decent habitat for indecent dollars.

Then 9-11 shattered all pretenses. There was no way to leave, even if I could have sublet my apartment, which now that was in a “frozen zone” had no chance of being rented. I didn’t even consider it, though at some point later, I thought it might be valuable to someone displaced who was looking for work at home space. In fact, my broker, whom I never cancelled, brought a couple of people around sometime in November, but they were all in a hurry to move in, and I wasn’t in a hurry to move out.

At the end of my service to the Red Cross on December 1st I decided to join Barry for the end of year holidays and to take a two week class in Rome. Layla and I headed out on Christmas day to spend a week catching up on life and then I would continue from New Years on with Barry and then start my class a week later. It was great to be away, but Italy was cold and school was, for me, not that great.

I found that I needed to talk about 9-11, but, surrounded as I was by Europeans, few had sympathy for my position. Most were seemingly embarrassed to have no way to relate and respond, many felt that, in some way, we deserved it. America, for all its lure, is not popular politically by the younger generation of Europeans.

They are too far removed from the Second World War, the Marshall Plan and the Cold War. They only see the spoiled, rich Americans, complaining about their high taxes, the high cost of gas, and their unrelenting use of SUVs. To say nothing of our position as the world leader in pollution, our “blind” support for Israel and our unilateral use of force to get our point across.

Although there is some validity to our unrelenting use of oil, our unmitigated output of pollution, and our cowboy attitude towards world politics, it doesn’t make us the root of all evil. Maybe just awfully spoiled and immature. But hey, were only about 225 years old, mere adolescents…

Like many Americans, they have their opinion, fashioned by their place and time, and for now, they will stick to it. There sympathy for the tragedy extended only as far as the initial shock and horror. When the impact died down, so did their sympathy.

It was a lonely, cold time. Both physically and emotionally. But there was one person I found who had some sense of the tragedy. There was a retiree, whose son had set him up with a little Internet rental place. It was around the corner from where I was staying and it became a bit of a haven. Signore Colombo had pictures of the intact Trade Center with “God Bless Everyone” framing the scene. It was obviously printed from the Internet at some point. When I told him that I lived near the Trade Center, he told me how much he loved America, his eyes watered a bit as he told me how he visited NY and the Trade Center with his son. It was a gift to the son for graduating college.

He told me too, that his father had worked in America, in Boston, for 35 years. Although Sr. Colombo spoke only a few words of English, he made his feelings clear by his passion and his tears. He also had a streak of xxx in him as he loved “dirty” words both Italian and English. He would make a true New Yorker. And I think we would have been proud to have him too!

I came back no freer or clearer then when I left. Although cold, it had been a dry winter. This helped keep the pace of the cleanup down at the pile. The endless days and nights of “the smell” trickled down to few and far between. I can’t even recall when it stopped entirely. And the debris changed from the larger pieces of structure to the grim task of digging out the lower six levels of the Trade Centers.

I was shocked at my next trip down, not only could you get fairly close, but all the remaining structures were gone, buildings 4, 5 and 6 were clear down to grade. Even the Borders book store, so important to me as a sign of the survival of the best of man, was gone. And it turns out my dream about wandering the nearly intact interior of the bookstore was incredibly real. Not that I got to wander the bookstore, but I found a photograph in the official engineering report about the collapse of the bookstore. Aside from fallen ceiling tile and fixtures, and, of course, the white powder, it was remarkably intact. You could even see the main windows were intact. It’s particularly amazing in light of the fact that the rest of the building, #5, was almost completely destroyed by fire.


Except for the literature, art and music.

And so time past, winter to spring, cold to warm, darkness to light. I wandered through my existence, part of me frozen in those days of September past, parts in my own prior life and part in the present. That part is survival. In all this I stumbled in to an unexpected side-effect.

Noticing that a lot of my habits and traits resembled something of an attention deficit disorder, I eventually got around to talking about it with my therapist; he eventually got around to recommending a specialist. And he wasted no time in recommending the standard treatment; Welbutrin, the anti-depressant. Not being much of a drug taker, though in middle age I find myself reaching for the Tylenol more often then the past, I was concerned but agreed to give it a try.

Miracle drug. It’s not that it gives you an instant high, a quick fix. No, it is a more subtle effect, it takes time and you don’t really notice it. But suddenly one day you realize that you’re attitude has changed, a weight is off your shoulders and your emotions seem to be more balanced. And you even remember that getting dressed in the morning involves putting on all your clothes in one shot, not scattered over an hour or so…

So here I am, almost a year later, straining, as many of us are, against the agony of that tragedy. And marveling how fast the year went. Although still taking my “happy-pills” as I call them, the clarity of the unremitting and overwhelming darkness of September Eleventh has begun to overtake the peace I began to see. This is, however, normal for anniversaries of tragedies. Post Traumatic Stress seems to manifest itself far more at these yearly reflections then it did during the actual ordeal.

Since part of survival is turning bad in to good, darkness in to light, negative in to positive, I am going to use that emotional energy and finish what I started a year ago. I am going to add the final chapters to my story. And with that done, perhaps, move on.

And so we begin…again.

Photos from the FEMA "World Trade Center Building Preformance Study, 2002" Chapter 4.

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All Portions Copyright © 2001, 2002 Alex Marx