The Body Remembers, Everything
Wasn’t going to post about this today. Figured there would be ample content and many whose stories were “more important” than mine. I didn’t think it would effect me, this date, because I wasn’t directly impacted, because I wasn’t one of those people covered in soot, ash and blood, because … because…
Amazing how the mind, my mind, can justify and rationalize to discount something. Truth is, we all were effected that day. Every. Last. One. Of. Us.
If you were alive on Sept. 11, 2001 — the events of that day touched you.
My eyes opened this morning at precisely the moment, 20 years ago, when the first plane hit. My body quaking literally from the inside out. Marrow of the bones stuff. And so I write, to share experience, to exorcise demons, to acknowledge, and hopefully to continue to heal.
I was in Washington DC that day, in a hotel in Georgetown. I was there on business with plans to head for New York by train the next morning. I had opted out of going for a run that would’ve taken me around the Pentagon. Instead, I sat eating a fancy room service breakfast, wrapped in the luxury robe of a fancy hotel, watching The Today Show.
I remember the expression on Matt Lauer’s face. I could tell the control room was saying something. He stated that a commuter plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. But when they cut to the camera at the top of 30 Rockefeller Center and zoomed in, the wind shifted, revealing the gaping wound rending the side of the building.
“That was no commuter plane,” I thought. “Not unless it was loaded with dynamite.”
My next thought: “Too many Tom Clancy books, Cathy. It’s an accident. Just an accident.”
Funny how the subconscious works.
Like everyone else I watched. Frozen. Feeling in my bones there was something terribly wrong. Just how wrong became clear when, moments later, the improbable — a second plane entering the frame from the right lower corner.
“Too low…not real…not happening…wait…run…is this a movie…Not real…Run…” Fragments of thoughts with no function as the south tower erupted in flame.
“Run!” My head screamed again, but to where? Immediately I picked up my phone and began calling people in California waking them up. My first call was to my friend Ted who was watching my dog Archie. Telling him that if I didn’t come home he had to promise to take care of my dog and my cat. I remember thinking how big an ask that was. My cat Princess hated everyone except me. Odd thoughts — My cat, my apartment, was it okay to wake people, would I die, what was next, was that excessively priced granola the least meal I’d eat? It wasn’t long after that when the plane hit the Pentagon.
I remember trying to get a rental car to try and flee home. I remember trying to connect with work colleagues to figure out what to do.
I remember the lobby bar in the hotel opened at 9:30a. I remember that I began drinking.
The rest of the week before finally being able to get home, mostly a blur. Snippets — the military vehicles and armed soldiers posted at every corner. Bringing food to them and to police officers who were posted everywhere. The column of smoke rising from the Pentagon. The explosive thunder of Marine One as the President returned to DC. It was the quiet though that was most chilling. The streets filled with people walking. Whispered conversations. Streets empty, save for screaming sirens of an occasional motorcade. A sky devoid of any planes save for the roar of jets or the thunder of military helicopters.
For years, I felt guilt about the trauma I felt over that day. After all, was I ever really in any immediate danger? I didn’t lose anyone directly. I was not a child whose parents died and would grow up without a parent. I was not someone who lost a brother, sister, a loved one.
It felt somehow that my grief was not legitimate, that I didn’t get to feel traumatized by events that may have changed the world and how we live in it but didn’t really touch my life as it had for others.
On Oct 1, 2017 when a madman executed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others in an act of domestic terrorism in Las Vegas, I experienced the trauma of what happens when a City is wounded. All these years later and suddenly collective grief and trauma made sense to me. Like that other day two decades ago, I was not in any danger that night. I was not directly effected by loss. And yet for months I was unable to even look at the Mandalay Bay Casino Hotel without shaking.
Last week, I turned on my TV and clicked the link for Hulu. I clicked play on the first episode of a four part series by National Geographic telling the story of 9/11 through the eyes of some survivors. It was the footage captured by the New York fire battalion that had been downtown investigating a gas leak that got me. They were downtown, several blocks south of the twin towers, filming their investigation of a gas leak.
The roar of a jet. Too low. Too close. The camera swings up just in time to capture the jet passing overhead and flying directly into the tower.
A video I’d never seen before. Or maybe I had and didn’t recall. It felt, in an instant, that it was that morning 20 years ago. Except this time, I know what’s happening, what’s about to happen. The hatred and violence being unleashed on the world. The start of what has become a seemingly impossible and insurmountable challenge to face. A rending of the very fabric of society — kerosene poured on the fire of hatred.
Shaking. Frozen. Ragged breath.
My bones, trembling from the inside. The tears, which I’d thought long spent, erupting anew. New pain. New sadness. That so much time has passed and our world still feels so broken, so shredded.
Trauma, the memory of it, lives in our bodies at a cellular level. Excavating that trauma, excising the roots, takes time and work. And here’s the dirty little secret I’ve found— doing the work doesn’t mean pain goes away. It lessens, sure, the ragged edges smooth a bit, soften. The harsh clanging noise fades to an echo. It is not, however, ever fully eradicated.
Those shadows remain, serving as the touch points for growth, the guideposts along the journey; and if we pay close attention the distant memories can inform and guide to a better future.