9/11 Stories

Debra S. Clark

I have lived in the Chelsea part of NYC since 1977. The night before the attack I had been out with a friend, but for some reason when I lay down to sleep that night, I could NOT get to sleep. I was restless. I was uncomfortable. I just couldn’t sleep, and it was so odd for me, who usually can fall sleep anywhere, anytime. I kept getting up and down, tried reading, watching TV, nothing worked. About 6:30 am I drifted off exhausted. I dreamed of my mother, and another friend, both already passed on to the Other Side. They were both so happy to see me and kept telling me how glad they were to see me there, and I was delighted to be in their presence.

I vaguely heard my phone ring, and then my Dads voice on the machine: “Deb, turn on the TV and call me”. In a fog I glance at the clock, it’s almost 9, and I am thinking my Dad wants me to see something on Regis, and it’s important enough for him to call me, so I pull myself out of bed and turn on the TV, while dialing his number. What I see on the screen baffles me beyond comprehension. My Dad tells me a plane hit the Tower, and we both watch with the phone to our ear in stunned silence. He later told me we watched the 2nd plane hit, but I have no memory of it at that time. All I can think was this must have been going on for a while, and surely they have gotten everyone out, surely we are just watching the conclusion of them getting this under control. Between the shock of the event, and not being quite awake I am slowly coming to the awareness something terrible is happening, and my blood feels cold in my veins. I tell my Dad I want to walk down to the West Side Hwy only 2 blocks from me, and he tells me to be careful. As I am dressing the first tower begins to fall and I become aware of the constant wail of sirens down the WSHwy. I feel like I am dreaming, wish I am dreaming…walk out my door and head out, wondering if everyone on the street is aware of what is happening, I reach the Hwy to see the smoke billowing, but I cannot see the other tower, too much smoke, I cannot see it…where is it? Then I hear a man walking by saying to no one in particular…“it just came down, they both came down, both towers, they came down…they just came down” Already people are walking up the West Side Hwy, walking, walking, but not talking….occasionally looking back, but most of them…just walking…looking north, not back, the strangest silence filling the air all around us. I have no idea what we are up against, I head back to my house, each avenue crowded with more people walking up from downtown, lines at all the phone booths, people trying their cell phones but to no avail.

I return home to the TV news…trying to absorb what is incomprehensible. Hearing about the Pentagon. Hearing all air traffic is grounded! WHAT IS GOING ON? My phone keeps ringing, my friends from all over the country trying to reach me, thankful to get through at last, being sure I am okay, wanting to know how the city is.

The City. I will never forget those days, that first week, the month that has followed. Going out that afternoon to find most places closed, traffic practically non existent. The sound of millions of foot falls on the sidewalks…people by the thousands, out, walking, wondering what to do, where to go, how to help. The deafening SILENCE of New Yorkers in deep shock. Days of being on the streets where our pain is palpable. Each day, more flyers of the missing, each space available collecting more and more faces: Have you seen…..???? Missing: from the 80th floor, or the 101st floor, or the 70th floor, Oh how can this be? So many people? So many loved ones. So much pain. So much grieving. Each day, more flyers of the missing. I cannot walk by them without looking, and I cannot look without crying. I have been fortunate enough to have not personally lost anyone, but I know I, like the rest of us, have lost MUCH. Our naive innocence, and our illusion of safety, crashing all around me. I head for work on Wednesday, not sure I can do it, but thinking I must. I fear going underground to the subway, and almost walk the whole way to the Hyatt over Grand Central Station. The fumes in the air are strong and smell terrible. The ground feels uneven, and unsteady under my feet. I know it is my mind, and I continually look down to make sure my feet can touch solid ground. Bomb scares at Grand Central.. At work our dining room staff is told they are being laid off indefinitely. We get the same news in the bar several days later as more and more of our world unravels all around us. I cry frequently. The tears just come. I have no desire to stop them. When I get home I cannot sleep. I watch the television. No comfort. No sense. No answers. Not really. How can there possibly be an answer for this kind of craziness? Thinking I am exhausted, I lay down, letting the silence envelope me. I burst into tears, sobbing. I cry for all I comprehend and all I cannot. I hear a plane over head. Logic says its the jets patrolling, no airplanes are flying yet, but it sounds so loud, it is so loud, surely they are bombing us now, in our weakened state they are coming to finish us off…I should get up, dress, be sure I have ID on me so they can identify me when they find the bodies…what am I thinking? My mind no longer logical.

The next day I buy things for the relief effort. Gloves, rope, flashlights, batteries, socks, toothpaste and toothbrushes and walk them over to Chelsea Piers. I need to do something that feels like a contribution. I walk down the West Side Highway where groups of people wait to cheer on the workers who are going to the site, or coming back from it. I feel so small and insignificant.

Tuesdays seem to be particularly hard for me. Call it cellular memory, but I find myself extra fragile those days.After only one week I was in a meeting with a small group of people, and at the end the facilitator asked “How is everyone doing?” in reference to this horrible experience. I was ready to blurt out “I’m a MESS!” when all those around me calmly relayed how they were doing okay! I was stunned into silence, and had to quickly leave, certain they would see me as some kind of nut, some weakling, some crazy, fragile creature, unable to cope. “OKAY??? ” HOW IS ANYONE OKAY? TELL ME THAT? I am incredulous, walking home in tears, blinded by my tears, wondering how they can keep coming, so hot on my face, so incredibly endless. Nightmares. People are chasing me. They want to murder me. I can’t see them, but they are there. There is no where to run, they are there, unseen, waiting ready to spring at a moments notice. My mind begins to try and process what it all means. I cannot.

I keep trying to balance. I realize everything seems so uncertain, and all my certainty up to the 11th of September was in reality an illusion. It’s difficult to accept this. I try to draw on my awareness of The Greater Reality to help me understand. To help me find the whys. To help me find the lessons. So many layers.

I know many of us immediately learned how important it is to let those we love know we love them. Now. Always. Continually.

My family pays my way to come visit them in Va. A friend encourages me to go, saying it will do me good to get away from the immediacy of this experience. Leaving the city, as the skyline comes into view without the towers I realize how the lower Manhattan skyline is now nondescript, almost invisible from this distance. In my mind I think “The Twins are gone”, and then realize that I have had an affection for the sight of those immense buildings in our skyline.

Driving to my Dads I see a low flying plane, about to land at Dulles, and feel my heart beating fast, my breath shallow, I feel a clench in my gut, and tears flow out of my eyes, as I point and say to my sister, “See that? That to me is a horror show right now” and she agrees, but reminds me how we have driven the road many times and the planes came low over us before landing at the airport. I nod remembering, but all I can think is, “yes, those planes seemed safe. They all did at one time, but now, now…how will I know? We all thought they were safe. We never knew, imagined, comprehended…”

Even tonight, when the wind changes, the smell of the burning towers still reaches me. As I mention it to a friend on the phone in Florida, she says to me how only a few weeks ago the statement “The wind has shifted and I can smell the Towers still burning” would have been insane. We sit in stunned silence for a few moments before hanging up.

As I approach 7 weeks ATC (after the Trade Center… as opposed to BTC -Before the Trade Center…)I feel the pain and shock moving to the deeper places of my heart and soul, and find that some balance is actually somehow surfacing in my life again. The ground is beginning to feel solid under my feet again. I can usually fall asleep and I am not jumping out of bed if I hear a plane overhead. I don’t reach for the remote of the TV to check the “latest developments” even before getting out of bed. The TV isn’t on constantly in the background “just in case”. I don’t feel compelled to read the papers cover to cover. I don’t cry as much, though tears still flow easily. My feelings of being shattered to pieces without safety or hope…the feelings of being helpless and hopeless…they have lessened.

I am greatly saddened by the path Humanity must take at this time. I don’t want more death and destruction, yet I understand our great principles of Liberty and Justice For All are threatened, and the terrible truth is that there are times one must fight to keep safe what you cherish. I pray for ALL of Humanity that there will come a time we will RISE UP…as a WHOLE HUMAN RACE to find a way to live together, love together, and grant each other the right to choose our own way of life, while honoring the differences and diversity of each other. We are Beings with so much potential, yet we continually let it degenerate into power struggles and greed.

I pray we each take a step forward by creating peace in each of our relationships. By being willing to work it out, find a way to compromise, find a way that each of us can understand the other….the peace process can begin with each of us, one at a time.

Debra S. Clark

Aftermath, NYC

Have you seen
her? - Yes -
at each corner
smiling back at me
from some other time.
Have you seen
him? - Yes -
at that phone booth,
or along the new mosaic papering this wall.

Oh yes!

Yes! We are missing them so much! with all our hearts and souls.