Sunday, September 11, 2011
But I realized, looking over this blog, I don't think I ever really wrote about 9/11. Not in depth. And I also realized that as many pictures as I have taken in my life... easily in the 50,000 range, I took no pictures that day. Not one. And I could see the smoke across the bay from City Island... I even went down to Ground Zero that October, and I never took a picture.
Part of it, I think, is because I used to work there. I had only left my job at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter (as it was known then) about a year before because a former co-worker and friend called me to work for him at one of the last "dot.coms." He said the new gig was "family friendly." My Sun was just about a year old, and my relationship with his dad was--and always had been--tumultuous so there was a lot I was doing on my own. I joined my friend's company because commuting to midtown would be easier and because I could work 10a-6p, which made it easier to pack my young baby up, get him to my mom's and still get to work on time. Turns out, not only was the company NOT family-friendly, it was about to take a nosedive and they canned me in less than a year, my friend shortly thereafter. After 9/11 he called me to say how horrible he had felt about convincing me to leave a great job at a great company, but I told him, he probably saved my life. It's highly likely I wouldn't have left Morgan Stanley otherwise.
I ended up at a company that did the back-office work for independent hedge fund investors, making a shitload of cash for someone with no college degree. But I couldn't hack that place... I got myself into all kinds of shit and walked out on the job on August 8, 2001.
I got a good severance package. They wanted to keep me quiet. I had been having an affair with my married boss and when I ended it, trying to work shit out--yet again--with the Sun's dad, my boss made my life a living hell. I really had no intention of suing him or the job for sexual harassment, though I surely could have. It was textbook harassment. But at the time I was really scared of the Sun's dad. I was more afraid of what he would do to me than I was mad about the job situation--and plus I'd brought it on myself. When I fuck up, I fuck up good, but I own my fuck-ups. I think my boss didn't want me to make a stink cuz it turned out he'd had some trouble someplace else, and gave me full pay for the next few months, plus my health care plan for 6 months. It was a sweet deal. And for the first time, at age 39 I decided that I was finally going to follow the family business, my inescapable destiny... and my heart's calling, to be a creative. I applied to Pratt Institute and to SVA for graphic design, but in order to support my application I enrolled myself in a drawing class at SVA.
By this time, my beautiful little boy was two and a half. We had just weaned. The day I quit the hedge fund I'd gone to my mom's to pick him up. I wore a long, yellow poloshirt dress. I normally only nursed him at night now, but because I was in a state that day and he was surprised to see me, he insisted on "boobie, please." I hiked up my dress up and nursed him, talking to my mom about why I'd quit. It turned out that was the last time I nursed him. I was still on my "mom's list"... an email list of about 100-150 women who had supported me through nursing, pumping milk at work, weaning and various other issues.
The morning of September 11, I had planned to go downtown with Bigbear and my Sun to Pearl Paint and buy stuff for the drawing class. But I woke up a little later than I had intended. I looked out my kitchen window. Ten years later I can still remember the legendary crisp blue sky. Nary a cloud. I began to have second thoughts about going downtown, because it was too nice a day. Sipping on my giant mug of Bustelo, I picked up the phone to call Bigbear and tell her I'd changed my mind. I flipped on the "Today" show to see what the weather would be like for the next few days so I could make a plan, and saw the World Trade Center on the screen.
One of the towers was on fire.
When I first started at MSDW, my department was located on the 70th floor. The company occupied twenty-three floors in 2WTC, starting on 59 through 74. I'm pretty sure the cafeteria was on 44, one flight below the 45th floor "sky lobby". There was one floor that wasn't really a floor. One of our engineers explained to me how it was really a large air vent system, designed to bring fresh air up into the higher floors. Each floor was constructed as a square within a square... all the elevators and staircases were in the center square, and usually whatever secretaries or assistants there were tended to have their cubes around the outside of the square. The offices were along the outside square, so that pretty much every office had a window. Every floor had it's own server room.
Every morning I would ride the huge elevators up to the 45th floor skylobby, and then take another elevator up to 70. I was single, I wasn't really dating yet after a bad break up, and I had nothing to do but work. I would get there about 8:30, make my rounds to the floors I serviced to switch out back up tapes and about 9:30, right before the cafeteria closed, my co-worker and I (the only two girls in the department) would sneak down and have breakfast. We'd do more rounds, then go to lunch. Sometimes we'd go hide out and chat in the server rooms, or take turns running down to the concourse level and go shopping.
I often worked late. In the winter when it got dark early, I would sometimes stand in the floor-to-ceiling windows, press myself against the glass and look straight down. It would feel like floating. I met my Sun's dad and got pregnant, and my Sun was born in March of '99. I took Family Medical Leave so I could be with my baby for three months, but when I came back that June, my department welcomed me back. My boss would let me bring my little boy with me to work on Fridays that summer, and SD would wait for us on West Street and drive us home.
Every three months we had fire drills. When I first got there, my co-worker was the female searcher. It was her job to search all the women's bathrooms in case of a fire. When she got married and left, I gladly took her place. We took those fire drills seriously at MSDW, and we all knew Rick Rescorla because he usually led the drills himself, and there was usually a fireman with him.
One day during a drill, we had a new-ish employee. Rick was explaining how fire and smoke travel upward, so if a fire broke out on our floor, 70, or above, we should immediately get to our designated staircase and travel downward. If the fire was below us, we should try to travel down, but if that were not possible, go up two floors. "If we're on a really high floor, would we be able to get to the roof" the new guy asked? I remember Rick saying that the roof was usually locked, so it was better to travel downward since the smoke and fire would still try to go upwards. "But what if we can't get past the fire?" the new guy insisted.
The fireman with Rick said "Don't worry, we'll get you out".
That morning, watching the burning tower on TV, I wondered if Rick and the fireman would be able to get those people out. It looked really high up. I called my mom. I told her that given the fire, we DEFINITELY shouldn't go downtown. It was too nice a day anyhow, and I still wasn't dressed. I hung up, still watching the Today show, Katy and Matt discussing the terrible accident of a plane and a building.
The woman they were talking to screamed that the other building exploded and the cameras panned away from the top of the first building to the second one, where a fireball was mushrooming. And I think everyone in NY realized at that moment that this was no accident. That we were at war.
At 9:20, I posted to my mom's group:
OH MY GOD
The Word Trade Center.... A year and a half ago, I was in one of
those buildings.... on the 59th floor. 2 years ago I was on the 70th
They got both of them. I was watching TV and SAW the second one
I still know people there!
Oh, I pray for them....
Our usual mommy chatter about new pregnancies, night-weaning and Sesame Street software dwindled and was replaced with the various reports coming in, checking on each other and husbands who may have worked in the city.
At 9:57a I posted:
We're in some deep shit. 'Scuse the french. Somebody also just
bombed the pentagon.
Oh my God.
After that, the day became a blur. The towers fell. Son's Dad, who worked at Verizon came over to check on us. He was crying. And I realized that day that our relationship was pretty much doomed, because his tears didn't move me. I spent the day trying to shield my boy from the images on the TV, checking reports, trying to fathom what my world was becoming. I worried about my ex-coworkers. I wondered if all those drills had done us good... and it turns out they had. I tried to tune out the recurring mental image of seeing a plane come through those windows, skidding through the center core and exploding out the other side.
The world outside became eerily quiet, as the airplane traffic I normally heard coming in to land at nearby LaGuardia was grounded. And then the crazy roar of fighter jets. In the afternoon, I walked down to the beach with a friend, my crazy-haired baby walking beside us, still bright, still happy. I looked down at him, wondering what his world would be like, if war would touch him. There were two Mexican day-laborers sitting on the tiny pier; they had been there all morning. In Spanish, they told my friend they had seen the towers collapse, had felt the ground rumble all the way across the water.
My sister drove down to get her children; the Diva from High School in Times Square, MoodMagic Barbie from her elementary in East Harlem. Poppy was working at the college in Westchester. And all the bridges back into the city were closed, all the trains stopped. So SD and I drove up to get him. No one was on the road. Everyone's car was parked, everyone was home. No one but us was on the road...
The smoke billowed for weeks, every day just as grey and puffy as the day before. It became clear that there were no injured, no bodies. People just didn't come home; my mom's neighbor Chantal Vincelli, another friend of a friend. I combed the lists of the missing to see if any of my former co-workers were on it, but I didn't see any. I heard they all got out. Except for Rick.
A few weeks later, I started my class at SVA. I hadn't been downtown since the towers fell, and I took the F train to 23rd street. When I came out of the subway, there were fliers papering the station: MISSING. HAVE YOU SEEN HER? LAST SEEN.... when I came out of the station, there were more fliers, littering the streets, riding the gutters, papering the walls. Hundreds of them.
In October, I took the train to Chambers, my old stop. As soon as the doors opened I smelled that smell... of death and fire and sadness. I walked my old route, the empty sky overpowering me. Everything was blocked off, so I cut down a side street and from afar I could see the jagged remains, like some huge skeleton, and mountains of rubble.
So that's my 9/11 story. Every year, even though I don't normally write much about it, I think of my old co workers and wonder if they ever recovered. I think of my friend's friend Joyce, of Meggie's brother, of Chantal. I try not to succumb to the media hype and the replays, I try not to search out the pictures anymore. One day, maybe I'll post the pictures I took of my cube and my view out the 70th floor windows, and the lobby.
And the image above... I may "retire" it after this year, but I'm not sure. I've never trashed a file before. There aren't many physical copies around. I created this image a few years after 9/11, when I was a student at Pratt Institute. The first print I matted and framed, and took it to the 49th precinct in the Bronx and gave it to them. The officer at the desk looked at me a little blankly. I often wonder what happened to that print, if they still have it, if they know that it meant something to me to give it to them.
I sold another print to a good friend and fabulous supporter, and one year I made magnets out of the image and sold them at a craft fair, donating half the proceeds to AmeriCares.
I thought to revamp the image this year, but it didn't work out. I guess it wasn't meant to.
I still have four that I printed and signed last year, but I think that's it. I think I won't print them anymore.
It's not that I think we shouldn't commemorate 9/11... I think we should always pause to remember. But I think that for those of us who didn't suffer a direct loss, we should step back and allow those that did to live... to grieve, to recover.
And I think that for the rest of us, we should use this day to remind ourselves that America is SUPPOSED to be tolerant of other religions and beliefs. We say we are, but we're not. In the years that followed that terrible day, the persecution and profiling of our Muslim Americans disgust me. Our treatment of immigrants, legal or no, has gotten worse. If we give in to the hate that was visited on us that day, we are no better than those that wish our annihilation.
Except for Bin Laden. For the record... Obama gets big props from me, for getting Bin Laden. He got his just desserts.