Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Trauma (and Recovery)

At 11 AM yesterday, I receive a concerned call from friend Allie in Philadelphia:

"Hey, where are you?? Are you near this?"

"What happened? I'm in Connecticut," I sputter. I am working in East Hartford today.

"A building exploded in Manhattan! We are watching CNN in the office. It looks pretty bad."


We hang up quickly after Allie gives me the sparse details that she has. I can't get to my computer, so I immediately call J and ask for an update. He visits CNN.com, and assures me that all looks fine.

"It doesn't seem to be terrorists," he asserts quietly.

I exhale.

On September 11th, 2001, I found myself back at work at One World Financial Center around 8 AM. Within the hour, my life was decidedly altered when a plane hit the Tower across the street.

The events of the day are foggy at best. Physically, I ran from the crumbling Towers, and was at one point covered in pulverized debris. Struggling to inhale and blinded by the gray matter, I calmly asked my new friend, Brian, if we were going to die. "No," he replied, and I believed him. "But this can't be good."

We were lucky that day, when so many others weren't, and I am grateful. Yet emotionally, the effects of that Tuesday remain with me. I suppose they always will.

I've made great strides in overcoming the fears that at one time were debilitating and all-encompassing. Years ago, I couldn't hear a plane flying overhead without my pulse beginning to race, my palms sweating, my adrenaline pumping. I was always ready to run. Everyday in our Lower Manhattan neighborhood, my roommates and I felt like moving targets. I couldn't eat. I lost ten pounds. When Vanessa got an ear infection, we were convinced she was infected with anthrax. I had nightmares every night without fail, horrific ones comprised of bombs exploding and bodies being tossed in the air like rag dolls. The first time I flew - alone - after the attacks, terror nearly suffocated me.

Compounding matters, towards the end of that school year, a two-alarm fire in our dorm roused us in the middle of the night, making it that much more impossible to heal. Now, the fear had seaped into our safe haven, our home, and no place was secure.

For me, the answer was distance. I had to move away from the scene, then back to it, to get some clarity. I had to really feel it, and stew in it, and talk about it, and write about it, until it simply exhausted me. I had to examine it, and dissect it, and face it head on to really begin to take back my life. I had to be in a harmful relationship through this process, and then end that relationship with startling finality, to move past the mess. I had to take a job that required travel, so that I could be on a plane, alone, and handle it. And it's still hard, especially on an overnight flight to Paris, in which J is woken up approximately every five minutes to hug me during light turbulence. And of course I had to eventually be in a healthy relationship, with a man who is infinitely patient and understanding, especially when the fire alarm goes off in our Providence hotel room, and I bark at him to run: "We've got to move!"

After yesterday's explosion on 62nd and Madison (which we now know was the failed suicide attempt of a doctor who was determined to screw his ex-wife on this 10 million dollar property), old memories were dredged up. Luckily, today they are primarily showcased in my dreams. Last night's nightmare was a bad one, but I am now far better-equipped to handle such incidents at 4 AM with the wisdom I have gained, and of course my Friends DVDs. After all, it's still a process, one that has made me that much more resilient and hopeful.

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