Such anniversaries trigger memories, don’t they? They sure do for me, especially with this one.
My 9/11 story is unusual, and it also involves my brother and his family. I was working at the time on a very busy and chaotic Med/Psych floor in Boston, and I was far too busy to notice the news for hours. Meanwhile, some rather psychotic patients were watching the news on TV and were far better informed than me. Occasionally one of the one would mention it to me, and I have to admit that it took hours for me to believe them. There were usually dramatic rumors floating about… Eventually admin called to set up a meeting about staffing. That day, it seemed everyone in Boston – it’s Boston after all – assumed NYC couldn’t possibly manage on it’s own and we’d soon be hit with a tidal wave of casualties that failed to materialize. When I drove home, straight through Boston at rush hour, it was surreal: no people on the streets, no cars, no airplanes: near silence on a sunny fall evening. I left the radio off. A State Police car sat parked on the Mass Turnpike underneath the Prudential Tower with its lights on, apparently to somehow dissuade any potential bomber. We were all making it up as we went, right?
My first thought when I first heard (and believed) the news was simple: my dumb brother is going to get himself killed. He’s that kind of guy, a danger moth. He was a local newspaper photographer and, sure enough, he caught the last ferry into Manhattan before they cut off the island, went straight to the site and took the dust cloud in the face as the second tower collapsed right in front of him. He said he couldn’t see a car headlight at arm’s reach, and tripped over an old man who’d passed out, picked him up, and carried him away until he found an EMT to give him to. It turns out there were lots of random EMTs in the area trying to figure out what to do.
He spent days at the site; the paper eventually published a photo book. I have a copy. He’s in a registry, and to this day he gets respiratory illnesses far more often than he should. We toured the site together a couple of times, once when the wreckage was still fresh and people were wandering around, still searching for missing relatives against obvious odds. I’ll never forget the metal, thinking “that looks just like the pictures on TV…” I also saw the cleaned up hole while they were still figuring out what to do next. I need to get back and see the memorial, but I can’t say I’m in any rush to go there again. I’m just not. Heck, it took me until today to bring myself to get this close to it.
My brother’s wife was a theater biz type on Broadway, very ambitious. She promptly dropped her career, they started a family and she insisted on moving to Vermont. They still live there, and I hardly ever visit NYC any more. I just don’t.
One more detail. All those decades we’ve put up with countless noisy “tests of the Emergency Broadcast System.” 9/11 may well have proven it will never actually get put to use, except for all the screechy tests. “In the event of an emergency, officials will provide…” what exactly? I’ll tell you what: nothing, exactly nothing. Too afraid of saying the wrong thing to say anything at all. Making it up as they go…