ARC Part II
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"World Trade Center Building Preformance Study, 2002" Chapter 4.
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