(written in 2014)
My 9/11 experience is indelibly marked in my memory. There’s always worse and my story is certainly not as bad as countless others, but I’ve stopped thinking of it that way. Trauma is trauma. Traumatic stress is traumatic stress and it stays with you through the days and years and moments and nights. And while I know they say that we become better people because of the difficult situations we endure, I still wish that day had never happened.
On that morning, I had only three trivial thoughts (which of course seemed important to me at the time). First, I was tormenting myself at a decision not to vote in the NYC Primary Election. There were four candidates running for the Democrat Mayoral slot and I liked none of them. Second, was getting to work. Third, was a root canal appointment later that afternoon.
I arrived downtown late (as usual) and exited the subway at my usual exit – Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall. There had been a lengthy delay while in the subway, but I had no reason to believe it was anything different from a typical delay. I came up the subway stairs at the little park in front of Foley Square and noticed some people there looking up. I inquired and they pointed to the Tower. They said a plane went into it. From my eyes, as from most, it looked like a small occurrence. I entered the courthouse where I work. I stopped at my office and already there were emails from friends around the world asking if I was alright. I’m embarrassed to say that, when I still thought the incident was something trivial, a part of me thought this was going to be an exciting day. I went to my supervisor’s office on the Sixth Floor of the courthouse, where we have to go each day to “check in” for work. You could see the Towers from the hall window. While there, he got a phone call telling him about the Pentagon. A moment later someone ran in the office saying the first tower had fallen. I started shaking. Court officers started parading the halls instructing us to evacuate. I went to my office, gathered my belongings and started to walk out. I remember one of the Judges had to help me on the stairs, as I was shaking so badly.
To the resonant sound of “GO NORTH” or was it “WALK NORTH” I became one of the walking zombies heading uptown. I walked North, or Uptown as we say in NYC, but frequently turning my head back. I was in shock. disbelief. Probably still am to some degree. A few streets north, in Soho, perhaps around Spring Street, I heard a collective gasp and then screams. The second tower had fallen.
I did not work that week. I was in a fog. Smoke was in the street. I attended many vigils. I cried a lot. Everywhere were signs posted of people missing. Everywhere. I wish I could have run. It would have been therapeutic, but I had a bad case of plantar fasciatis.
We returned to work almost a week later. At a court gathering in the rotunda of the courthouse, we were told to hug each other. Most of us thought that was silly, as we were still very concerned about our safety. We also received sombering news that, on the morning of 9/11, upon hearing of the crash of the planes into the World Trade Towers, a number of court officers jumped into Jury Vehicles and went to help. Three very brave court officers never returned.
Today marks the official opening of the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
The official dedication is this morning. The Museum will open to the public on May 21st, but First Responders have been invited to visit the Museum in hour time slots around the clock from today through May 21st. Employees of the Unified Court System, which, as explained above, lost three brave officers, have been invited to visit the 9/11 Museum as “First Responders.” I am going at 10pm tonight. I will be there, standing tall, proud to be an American, with tissues in hand, PTSD in tow, remembering that tragic day and all those who perished, including distinguished members of the FDNY, NYPD and Court Officers as well as my law school classmate, Neil Levin (Director, Port Authority) and running teammate, Vincent Kane (FDNY).
One email reminder I received said this:
We are looking forward to sharing the Museum with you during the Dedication Period previews. We know that visiting the Museum for the first time will be an emotional experience, and we want to ensure your visit is as comfortable as possible. To that end, support from the American Red Cross and FDNY counselors will be available.
In tribute to the way that so many came together after the attacks and businesses stayed open 24 hours a day in support of the recovery effort, there will be a 24-hour “Pop-Up Community” on Greenwich Street at Cortlandt Street during the Dedication Period. Refreshments will be available, along with information about activities in lower Manhattan.
We also invite you to explore the recently launched 9/11 Memorial Registries. Through the participation of those close to the history of 9/11 and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the registries create an ever-growing record of survival, witness, rescue, recovery, and commemoration. You can share your story as a survivor, witness, or rescue and recovery worker or submit information about 9/11 memorials worldwide at registries.911memorial.org. Touchscreens are also available in the Museum for you to browse the registries or make submissions during your visit.
Another email I received from the CEO of the Museum said this:
Additionally, the emails advise visitors to look at the 9/11 Memorial Commemorative Guide, which provides background information about the World Trade Center, the September 11, 2001 attacks and the 9/11 Memorial. It also includes an overview of how the names on the Memorial are arranged. The entire names arrangement is available through our Memorial Guide app for iPhones, online at names.911memorial.org and on electronic directories at the Memorial.