MEMORIES OF GROUND ZERO

 

 

I originally posted this essay on September 10, 2010, on my Goodreads blog.

On December 3, 2001, I visited Ground Zero at night time. That evening, when I got home, I quickly typed out my thoughts. Being a writer, it is my habit to try and polish my words so that they shine. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to put my impressions of Ground Zero down, immediately, because I knew that I would always want to remember what I saw…as painful as it was.

Here is what I wrote that day in 2001:

We got down to the World Trade Towers about 8 p.m. Ground Zero is blocked off for about five blocks or so with wooden fences so you can’t really see it at street level except for one break in the wall. The fences or “temporary walls” are covered with all kinds of tributes. People are still putting up fresh bouquets of flowers on a regular basis; we were both surprised at how fresh and pretty the flowers were. There were several wreaths with Teddy Bears inside, letters from children and adults, and in one spot I noticed a policeman’s badge — which really hit me in the gut.

On a telephone pole, someone had written a letter to NY saying something like, “I’m very very sorry that you are so hurt. I love you so much and I feel so bad for your pain and your loss. I know I am only one voice, but I am praying for you. I love you New York.”

There were letters from children in the windows of local stores. At one spot on the sidewalk, I noticed a grouping of about 12 small candles. Only one was still burning. There were all kinds of shrines. Photos are always the most difficult to look at because you’re seeing just one person; one person who was real and now is gone. But there’s something about that policeman’s badge that really struck me. I just expected someone would have taken it because despite all the very good people around, there are still the nuts. But nobody had.

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All of this, was right at the base of where you were allowed to stand. What we did see ahead, looming down the street was horrid and grotesque — the kind of sight that forces you into deep introspection and silence. I remember feeling very much the same way when I stood alone in Anne Frank’s bedroom, looking at her movie star photos on the wall, and it was also the same kind of quiet that comes over you when visiting the Holocaust museum.

Anyway, you can see GZ from many vantage points (even in NJ) because it is SO very lit up. It IS surreal, just as you’ve heard many say. There are these huge and hideous piles of twisted wreckage that looked as if they had been there for hundreds of years. It was hard to imagine the World Trade Towers and other buildings in their place. It looked exactly like the footage you see on TV of the war torn villages in the Middle East. To look at this devastation, one couldn’t help but translate the images into thoughts of hate and ignorance that brought this to be, of the lives lost, and of the way the world will be changed forever. Everything looked chillingly quiet. The entire area was in a sepia-like color, which made it seem like you were looking at old war photos in a dusty old book that you’d just found in the attic. Only the image had come to life; but at the same time, it was dead. It was all so dead.

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To the left of where the towers had stood, was a Liberty Place building that had a huge hole in it but is going to be fixed. It is draped in a black cloth with a large American flag at the top. That flag, and the large red and the large yellow cranes at the sight are the only real splashes of color. The entire scene is lit up like a movie set, but there is eerily little action that one can see from such a distance.

At one place in the makeshift walls, there is a break where you can see the ground level. I could see lights placed in different parts of the wreckage and maybe a few figures in bright yellow coats moving about. I knew there were many, many people down there working, but I could not see them. The entire site seemed to have been abandoned. The entire scene rather transfixes you. You go into another zone and just find yourself staring and staring, almost as if you’re going to keep on staring until it starts to make sense to you. Only that doesn’t happen and so eventually you have to walk away. I did take a deep breath and could smell the smoke, but luckily, I was too far away to smell that “smell of death” that so many talked about.

This is what I saw on December 2, 2001. To see this, and then imagine this same site two and a half months ago, well, that literally defies comprehension. I had not been in downtown Manhattan for 15-20 years, and incongruous to Ground Zero and in shocking contrast to the site, I was amazed by how built up lower Manhattan was. Very close to the site were so many absolutely gorgeous buildings that I’d never seen before.

When you look at it, the one thing you are amazed and grateful for is that such an amazing number of people (something like 25,000) managed to escape. There was a man there with his family who was a rescue worker of some kind. He said that all of the wreckage was supposedly to be down by January 1. Hard to imagine, esp. as they are taking it all down piece by piece. It seems as if that chore alone could take years. I also heard the man say that the mayor didn’t want people to stop working on Christmas.

As you walk away,
you can’t help but keep turning back to take one last look, to burn it all into your brain, to make it real in one sense because in another it will never be real.

Note: 9/11/2013: Every time I have driven into New York since 9/11/2001, not seeing the World Trade towers in the lower Manhattan skyline has never gotten easier. And I don’t want it to be so.

Please share your own memories of 9/11. I would love to hear them.


Comments

MEMORIES OF GROUND ZERO — 11 Comments

  1. I remember receiving a phone call from my mother-in-law saying, “America is under attack!” I switched on the TV and just watched in total sadness and shock for hours and hours. Just glued to the TV the whole day and the next and the next. Seeing the same images of the planes flying into the Twin Towers repeatedly but still needing to see it again because it was so unbelievable. I feel the same way now when I see the footage. Just cannot believe the total devastation it has caused the people of America and the world.

    I truly can’t imagine what it must have been like to visit Ground Zero. Your essay is very touching and has taken me back. Thank you for writing this and thank you for sharing it.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your memories, Lisa. I think nearly every person can remember where they were and how they found out what was happening. I know that I do. Just one of those moments you don’t ever forget.

    And yes, we all watched that footage SO many times and it held the same shock with every viewing.

  3. Lisette,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I got chills when I read this and I still cry every year on this day. What a tragedy. I will always hold in my heart the people who lost their lives and their families, those rescue workers who lost their lives and their families. I also am thankful to those who help and pray for the survivors. This was a horrible event and no one wins.
    Peace
    Sheri

  4. What I can say about Lisette’s memorial description of Ground Zero, is that her description is simple, eloquent, and so very true. Anyone who has visited Ground Zero will never, ever forget it. It is burned into one’s heart and mind, and changes your way of thinking about life…and even death, forever. I am still filled with the power of the experience of having been there myself. And I pray for the well-being of the souls of those victims, and for their families. It was a tragedy in every possible sense of the word. Thank you, Lisette for posting this remembrance. Time to remember to remember.

  5. haunting piece Lisette. It’s incomprehensible, what you must have been taking in. I know that here on the other side of the world we were as shaken and shocked as if it happened here. Everything suddenly became so fragile and fleeting. I never thought anything would be normal again. Great writing – thanks.

  6. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your perspective. What a beautiful tribute. I remember getting my little ones down for a nap on my bed only to turn on the news and watch the horrific events unfold before me. The uncertainty of what was actually happening slowly began to shift as I heard pure fear in every reporters voice as new information was reported. I reached down for my precious one year old twins grasping their little bodies close to me. I was alone with them and could feel the insurmountable fear rising in my heart, mind and somewhere deep inside of my soul. I was visually catatonic. I was unable to get through to phone anyone to help me if I needed as I am unable to drive due to my disability. I watched in disbelief and horror as time passed. It was unimaginable and my sense of peace and well being was fading. I now am able to look back and even though I was physically miles away, every fiber in me knows that those involved were feeling some of the same emotions as I was that day. It was a sad and senseless act of violence that not only affected those involved, it affected our entire world. Today my daughters are 13 and returned home from school to share that not even a moment of silence was offered at their school today. I shared my memories of that day tonight at the dinner table and we prayed together. Later, my daughter approached me and informed me that she is required to do a production video/report for her class….she looked at me and said mom, “I’m going to share with my school how sad it is they cannot dedicate a moment of silence in honor of those lost and their families from 9/11”. I lovingly and proudly smiled back and realized that one voice (who was then one years old) will remind others of the respect and honor that we should be sharing with the world. None will be forgotten.
    * Lisette, we share a dear friend in common, Matey Ross! 🙂 Blessings and Again thank you for sharing your story.

    • Hello, Billy:

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog and taking the time to share your memories of September 11, 2001. Your account of the day was chilling to read: your shock, helplessness, and reaction to all that you were seeing and could do nothing about.

      I am saddened that your daughter’s school chose not to share even a moment of silence, but I love that your daughter is going to do something about it. That is wonderful.

      With all best wishes,
      Lisette

  7. I wasn’t there, and yet I was…glued to the news coverage. When I got home from school that day, my mom and I held hands and cried together that first night and then others. The reason for our tears shifted after a while, as we saw pictures of just what you described: flowers, photographs of people not found. The kindness and helpfulness of strangers touched me deeply for a long time, and continues to this day. Your last words resonate in me deeply: to make it real in one sense because in another it will never be real.
    Thank you for tweeting this link today, Lisette; I’m glad I got to read it.

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