As another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has come around, I find myself remembering that fateful day. It has been 13 years since that horrific day that will be forever etched in my mind, and the minds of anyone who was old enough to remember it. It was especially emotional for me since my office was located in One World Trade Center, the building that was attacked first. Although I was not physically there on that day—choosing to go to Augusta, for a fall vacation—it was nevertheless very traumatic. People always ask me why I moved to Augusta, and if I am being honest, I have to bring up the WTC, because that is part of the story. Inevitably, they ask, “Were you there that day?” and I say NO, even though I want to say YES. People seem to think that if you were not physically present, you have no right to be traumatized, but that is not true. Many people sought counseling to cope with the unbelievable and horrific events, including my brother, who didn’t even work there. But, just the fact that my office was there, watching the 2nd attack and buildings collapse in real time on TV, wondering if my coworkers got out, losing a friend, and realizing that by the grace of God I was away that day, is traumatizing. I cried for 6 months each time I thought about Angela, or when I saw pictures of the twin towers. I kept thinking, “Why was she killed and not me? Why was I not there that day?” I had “survivors guilt” for a long time, thinking, “Angela was such a wonderful person. It should’ve been me instead.” I thought of all those people I used to see in the elevators each morning, some disabled on crutches, and wondered if any of them got out. I think of the bravery of Alex, a security guard who lost his life at 36 because he chose to go back into the building over and over to help people. I think of Abe, a religious Jew, who lost his life because he refused to leave his wheelchair bound co-worker and friend, who happened to be Hispanic. I had been thinking of moving to Augusta for a while, but when I was laid off a year later with hundreds of others, that sealed the deal. I then decided that I would embark on a new chapter in my life. I started something called the “Layoff Log” just to cope with the insanity and bitterness that ensued after being let go from a job that was my “identity”. This journal documents that tumultuous time in my life, and gave birth to the writing I do today. The following excerpt from The Layoff Log begins with the few days leading up to the 9/11 attacks, which ultimately resulted in the massive layoff. This was written in 2001:
Events leading up to the attacks:
September 7 and 8th 2001
I have been working in the World Trade Center for about two years now. I am scrambling to finish the medical policies and send them out for review before I go on vacation to Georgia. I am feeling very stressed and am keenly aware of all the filing that I have piled on my desk that I MUST finally do when I return in two weeks. I e-mail the policies to Carmen so she can send them out to the appropriate people with hers as well.
September 10, 2001
I am finishing up some last-minute packing before my friends pick me up to take me to the airport. I am happy and excited in anticipation of seeing my friend and her family again. I arrive uneventfully and enjoy a relaxing dinner at Macaroni Grill with Janet, her husband Bill, and daughter April. I am feeling very mellow and can’t wait until the next day when we will be heading to Hilton Head for a few restful days.
September 11, 2001
My world and everyone else’s is changed forever. The Twin Towers are attacked and thousands are killed. It is approximately 8:46 and I am blissfully running that morning in Georgia, when I hear on the radio that there is “something going on at the North Tower of the WTC.” They were not sure but thought that there was a fire or some sort of terrorist activity. I quickly try to think if my office is in the North or South Tower and pray that it is not the North—later I realize it is. I am shocked and almost get run over by a car when I cross the street. I am on my way back anyway and race to the house. Janet is descending the stairs and I tell her to turn on the T.V. We watch in horror as we see the gaping hole in Tower One, my building, and I almost lose it. I note that the hole is high up and hope that my co-workers will be able to get out. I think of my ex-husband who works there too. Then we see the second plane hit the South Tower and I turn to Janet and ask, innocently, “Were there people in that plane?” She says grimly, “Yes.” Before long, we watch in disbelief as the South Tower collapses. We are crying and shocked. Then about a half hour later, Tower One collapses too. I pray and pray that my friends got out. I then realize that I have not told my parents that I am on vacation—they must think I am in the building. I am frantic and Janet takes charge, calling, calling, calling, and finally gets through to my Mom, who is crying on the other line. She said she and my Dad thought I was dead. Janet finally gets through to Mark who says he didn’t even go into work that day—he had a doctor’s appointment that morning. He said he didn’t know anything about other friends in the building and he would contact me later in the day. We sit and watch all day long, shocked and numb, but yet unable to tear ourselves away from the T.V. The disbelief is palpable and I feel that I am in a dream state. We cancel the trip to Hilton Head. We finally decide to go out to dinner and wherever we go, we cannot escape the horror. It is all over the T.V. and I am totally amazed that some people seem to be going about their business as if nothing has happened. I feel compelled to tell people that I used to work at the WTC. I eat but barely taste the food and feel guilty that I am even able to eat at all.
Mark calls me later in the evening to tell me Angela, our friend, his close friend—did not come home at all and nobody can get in touch with her. Elliot thinks she is dead. I am shocked and sick, sick, sick. I go to bed and pray but, in my heart, I know she is gone.