I wrote this in 2010. This being the 12th anniversary I thought I’d repost it since I have some new readers.
That Tuesday Morning
Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
It has become my generation’s, “where were you when?”
Where was I? Sicker than I’ve ever been in my life. I had the worst kidney infection that week than I’ve ever had before or since. Monday I started feeling the pain in my kidneys, but knew I had to work for the next two days. I thought I could just take some Ibuprofen and deal. That night I passed out in the shower and my husband called my boss at home (she was a close friend) and told her what had happened. Being my boss she forbade me to work and ordered me to go to the doctor that morning.
Tuesday morning. I should have gone to the emergency room the night before, but I didn’t. We waited until the urgent care clinic opened at 9:00 a.m. We didn’t turn on the TV. We didn’t turn on the radio. Our daughter was 3 months old. We walked into the clinic and saw everyone, literally all the patients, nurses, doctors, receptionists, gathered around the TV. I was annoyed. I didn’t know what was going on. I wanted the receptionist back behind the desk so I could check in and see a doctor as quickly as possible and seek some pain relief.
I was in so much pain, what happened next is pretty much dreamlike. From watching TV my husband could pretty much figure out what was going on. I was in too much pain to ascertain anything of reality around me. Pain can be transcendent like that. The doctor diagnosed me with the worst kidney infection he’d ever seen. I had a high, high fever and they gave me Cipro (and antibiotic given to those who’ve been exposed to anthrax). I wasn’t allowed to nurse my daughter while taking it. They said I could pump my milk and discard it. I could barley sit upright…you expect me to pump for 10 days?
I remember waking up on my couch at home. The TV was on…the disaster being played over and over again on every channel. I had taken Tylenol to break my fever. I woke up covered in sweat and milk. The Lortab eased my pain but made me nauseated. I couldn’t even hold my baby. Once most of the pain was gone I began to understand what was happening. The reality of the situation hit me in an instant.
I was scared.
My best friend had just moved to New York City exactly a year before.
My heart was racing. My best friend. I befriended her when she was the new kid in 6th grade. She knew all my secrets. She knew all my faults and loved me anyway. She hated all my boyfriends. We spent hours giggling together until our sides ached. We endured high school together at different high schools. We experienced college together on opposite sides of the country. She’s been there for me through it all. She was my maid of honor at my wedding. She was my baby’s Godmother.
I wouldn’t allow my mind to embrace the possibility that she could be dead. I knew she lived in Queens and worked in Manhattan. Where in Manhattan? It’s so big. Please don’t let it be in the Financial district. I couldn’t imagine my best friend running for her life while the towers crashed around her. I saw the people jump from the buildings. It was the most awful thing I’ve ever witnessed. Please, don’t let that be her.
In the afternoon her mother called. The minute she said, “Marisa, this is Jessica’s mother. She’s okay,” I burst into tears. She told me that Jessica worked in Midtown, several miles away. Her cell service was sketchy. The first phone call she made was to her mother. She appointed her mother as the caller to every one she knew letting them know she was okay. At the time she was living in Queens.
She had no idea what would await her when she got home. Her roommate had a job interview at the Windows on the World restaurant that morning. It was at the top of one of the towers at the World Trade Center. She rode the N train all the way home to Queens thinking her roommate was dead, praying that she somehow got out alive. Her roommate was home when she got there. Her alarm hadn’t gone off and she missed the interview. A few weeks later her roommate was in downtown Manhattan where she saw a Jewish lady screaming, “It smells like Auschwitz!” She had to move to LA she was so traumatized. She should have died. A broken alarm clock saved her life.
That whole week was a fog of pain pills, antibiotics, sweating, and watching the disaster unfold every single day. All the channels were running the story. There was nothing else to watch. It seemed vulgar to even think about watching a romantic comedy to escape the non-stop disaster-athon on the Television.
Major Giuliani said that we all became New Yorkers that Tuesday. I know I did.
Monday, March 17, 2003
I am standing at the gate overlooking Ground Zero. It is bigger than I can ever imagine. There are signs on the gate detailing the disaster. I read the signs and tears stream down my face. I remember what that Tuesday morning was like. I take pictures. I want to remember how I feel. It feels profane to do so. Grief hangs in the air. It is heavy. It is quiet like a graveyard. All of a sudden I hear singing. I look over my shoulder. There is a group of high school aged girls standing in a circle with their arms around each other. They are singing, “Amazing Grace.” They sound like a choir of angels. My tears come quicker and faster. I grab my best friend’s hand. We smile at each other as we look at the wreckage. We know how close we were to losing each other. There is a big hole in the ground where people used to live and work. Three thousand people died on this spot. How scary were their last moments? I saw them jump out of the buildings on TV. It was better than burning alive. Over the last 18 months I have heard story after story of people’s loved ones dying, or heroic acts of bravery. It is so real in this moment. It feels like we will never recover. Later, we take the Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty. She is like a beacon of hope calling to me. We will survive. We always have.
Two days later we dropped bombs in Iraq.
Friday, July 2, 2010
Jessica and I just got off the Liberty Harbor cruise. It was a very romantic sojourn. Too bad our respective significant others couldn’t have shared it with us. We walk around Battery Park. There’s a piano just sitting there asking to be played. Literally, there’s a sign on the piano that says, “Please Play Me.” A couple stand at the piano. They turn around and ask us if either one of us can sight read Chopin. Jessica immediately outs me as the piano player. I try Chopin. He’s too hard. They have Bach. I can sight read Bach. I played “Ave Maria” at my mother’s funeral. Bach and I are peeps. Another couple comes and wants to show off their jazz playing abilities. We clap at their first song, but when it’s obvious they intend to put on a performance, we leave.
We walk out of Battery park. We walk along the edge of Manhattan. Jessica lives along the East River way uptown. She never comes this far downtown, she says. I take pictures of the cool buildings. We start walking toward the financial district. The architecture of the buildings takes my breath away. Everything is closed. People have gone home for the weekend. Not even a restaurant or a cafe is open. And I am hungry. Without even realizing it, we walk closer to Ground Zero.
I can feel it.
I can feel the panic.
I can feel the fear.
I can feel what the people who worked down here felt on that Tuesday morning. I imagine these almost vacant streets full of people running for their lives. Confused, scared, horrified. I feel it all. We round the corner and I see the church. The church that survived the imploding of the towers while all the other buildings surrounding the area were damaged. We can’t help it. We walk closer to Ground Zero.
There it is.
It’s massive still. Not much progress as been made since I was standing at this same spot 7 years earlier. We walk past the fire station and next to the World Trade Center museum. We round the corner and there is a memorial on the side of the fire station. A picture hangs there with all the faces of police officers and fire fighters who gave their lives that Tuesday morning. It is overwhelming. I tell Jessica it’s okay to cry. She’s not much of a crier. She’s working on it. We walk around the entire site before we find the entrance to the subway we want. The air is still thick with grief. But the grief is lighter. We will never forget but we are healing. I take Jessica’s hand. We’ve been here before.
Life has gone on, and we are healing.