nine

Dammit, don’t wonder why we called.

We love, and then we were afraid we lost.

Scott Swanson, 11 September 2002.

i remember not knowing what to do with myself that afternoon. stuck in queens. going to the nearest hospital to donate. directed to a blood center on long island. getting there. a man asked me if he could borrow my cell phone to call his family. he was heading home from manhattan. long line. couldn’t get to all of us today, come back tomorrow. wrote an email. went to church. the songs. that was the last day i could sing them.

school was closed since access to everything below 14th street was cut off. in the spirit of carrying on, sachin and chuck and i ate at daniel. 65th between madison and park. that damned stench carried all the way uptown. later that week we hopped on a bus to sachin’s parents’ house in eastern pa for the weekend. subway service was spotty. suspicious packages and whatnot being called in. a guy working for bell atlantic was waiting for the bus. said they finally restored service to lower manhattan. said the commuter lots along the way would be full of cars waiting for their drivers who would never return.

on the notesfiles. “thank god no one we know was there.” except one of us did have someone. i’m so sorry, matt. i won’t forget.

later. the memorials everywhere. flyers and posters on seemingly every available space seeking information on loved ones. anger. sadness. fear. but also thanks and gratitude. new york’s finest and bravest. friends who were in class on that day. friends who lived blocks away from the towers. friends who were stuck in traffic on the williamsburg bridge on their way to school, conscripted to bear witness. all of us getting calls from family and friends present and past wondering if we were okay. we don’t live or work near the towers. kind of surprised.

But don’t you understand? For those of us who lived in NYC, conducted our business and our lives in that place, we know how often life seems to inexorably draw us to that area. The subways, the sheer number of companies in the buildings, the hotel with its conference rooms… How many meetings, seminars, visits did I have down in WTC? How many times in the last week, the last month, the last year I was there?

And now I was 3000 miles away, in a land of eternal sun and blasted heat and rebirth and death and constant nothing and all of the sudden my friends were in danger and I had no idea about their lives, where was class today, who had what meeting where, was somebody meeting someone for an interview…

And I had to know, then, right then. Was Tony okay? Was Sendhil okay? Were Bill and Laura okay? All my friends, all my compadres of five years that I barely even remember anymore… the mass death, the totality of obliteration, and who the fuckall knew who was alive and who was dead and who was dying and who was trapped and….

The City is a big city, but it’s also a meshed city. You can be anywhere. One hour you’re at Lincoln Center enjoying a string quartet and the next hour you’re at dba slugging down beers made by monks in a country you forgot existed.

Dammit, don’t wonder why we called.

We love, and then we were afraid we lost.

Scott was also attached to the Office of Emergency Management in addition to his employment at CTW. The operations center was in 7 WTC. Much later, he would confess to me his own form of survivors’ guilt; that he thought, had he still lived in the city and been on duty that day, he would most likely have died then. Scott, I hope you are taking care of all of them.

Sometime soon after that day, the call came for amateur radio operators to help provide communications support at Ground Zero. Rather obviously, they wanted hams with handheld radios and enough battery packs to last at least a full shift. I couldn’t go. I only had my mobile radio in my car. There I was, in the very situation I wanted to be prepared for, to be able to help…and I couldn’t.

I will never be as unprepared to help as I was that day.

3 thoughts on “nine

  1. We walked down Water St on the 12th, hoping to help, and along with thousands of others were turned away. There were already too many. Too many people already giving blood for rescues that were hoped for but never happened. A frustrating thing, trying to figure out how to help. I think I know how you feel.

    *hugs*

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