I suppose I need to post something here about 9/11. Everyone expects it – so as someone who was involved with the aftermath directly – as someone who was both blessed and cursed to witness it’s effects face to face – I owe those there that much. To those who want to know, because you weren’t there, or you can’t imagine the devastation, or you wished you could have been there to help, or you "felt the pain" – I owe you nothing. At best – you’re naive and displaying a childish ignorance of what that level of destruction and chaos and hell must be like and should be prevented from experiencing it at all costs… and at worst, like 99% of the media – the TV, Movie, Internet, Magazines, Newspapers and the like are … you’re an emotional leech that’s attached itself on humanity and are feeding off something far greater than you.
If you want to know what it was like – to be there – when they were still digging paths in there… go turn on CNN or some decent news program with lots of footage running. Go click on whatever disgusting revision of history you choose to believe. Like all world changing events – the reality of it, will be written by those who were not there. Reality is subjective and everyone has one – although ABC’s "Path To 911" I understand is particularly liberal with the truth. To the extent that using the word "truth" and the title of that "Docu-Drama" in the same sentence would be laughable were it not the equivalent of raping the memory of this event in the name of ratings and political muck-raking before an election. It’s propaganda and nothing more with many of it’s events never having happened at all — and this is by the admission of it’s own producers. So – try to stick with a real news channel – running the tapes of the workers there, and do yourself a favor. Turn off the sound.
In fact, if you really want to know what it was like there. Find a dark room. Pull the TV up close. So that it fills your every view – and turn on some station running clips of it all over and over and over – and turn off the sound. So it’s just you – and those images – no sound – nothing else – just you – and the destruction that seems to go on forever. And people talking and breaking into it – and talking – and you can’t hear them – you just see, what’s going on behind them – in the background.. because they’re just talking heads – that make, no sound. That’s pretty close to what it was like for me.
I can remember, Paulie – Paul Farrell – amped up and moving swiftly, and decisively and directing people and equipment and wondering to myself – when he’d fall down, because after a while, we all fell down – and Jeff Donovan crating and uncrating boxes the circles black under his eyes as if he’d broken his nose in a fight and maybe he had – and people asking questions like machine guns – and not remembering the question or the answer – but knowing it was the right answer, because it was the only answer I had and it had to be right because we couldn’t make mistakes and it going on and on and over and over… and it droned on and on. I remember seeing the military vehicles aligning the streets and the troops and the police and the emergency people, and around our command center the yellow lines in the pavement indicating you could not go beyond that point… and the rumors they’d shoot you if you did.
And I remember the looks of exhaustion, and fear and the silent argments, and the frustrations and the anger that you ate because it wasn’t helping and the job needed to be done, and people… who were all silent. The kind of silence where the very air around you – gently moving – becomes a deafening roar in your ears. I remember every second of every moment – in silence. But most of all… I remember people begging us not to make them go home. Begging them to let us help. I remember their frustration and their anger and their steel – the measure of a human displayed raw and pulsing as if the muscle of their soul was laid bare before you daring you to say no – daring you to say they did not have the right – to give every last ounce of themselves because that was all that was left in them and all that was keeping them upright – and if you took that away too… they’d fall down.
I remember the silence of people looking across the river at someplace that was to them a place of work, a place of hundreds of thousands of good and bad memories, someplace that they felt was stable and always going to be there, it was – for many a tie to reality. A constant in a changing and often chaotic world that could be counted on … and then suddnely… it wasn’t there. It was as if someone cleaved a hole in the psyche of every man, woman and child and ripped out a chunk. It was New York. People died from muggers or traffic or accidents or junkies or bad food or bad doctors or old age or through their own stupidity but… somethings you knew were never going to happen. New York – withstood it all from the bizare to the banal and the skyline remained. Until then. Until the roar, and the shock, and the rush and then – the silence.
The silence I hated the worst was looking in someones eyes after telling them to go home and get some sleep – and seeing for the first time tears – real tears. Not rolling bawling tears but those small welts of wet in the corner of eyes – the overflow of a dam of emotions being held in check by a thread of dignity so thin, so taught, it twitches like a muscle spasm, and hanging on the word "home". Hearing them say, "I can’t go home.", and turning to look across the river and hearing that silence and seeing that void, and all I could do… was be silent inside myself.
That silence I will remember for the rest of my life.
I remember the soldiers at the airport. I remember the dogs climbing over the luggage a sight I would expect in Berlin, at the height of the cold war. Or perhaps in Belfast, durring the days of the IRA. Maybe Beirut. The smell of guns and bad aftershave as soliders stopped us on the walk way to our flight home and said, "Your papers please.". The words – sounded so – out of place. Here, in an airport, in America, land of the free, home of the brave, they did not belong. And for a moment it welled up inside me to say so… to be angry that this kid who could barely shave would insult the uniform he was in by even using those words here – how dare he??? And then I remembered where I was, what had happened and I looked in that young mans eyes and there – in those eyes – were the sincere thoughts of a man and his brothers sworn to protect and to serve this country – holding out his hand like some kind of Iron Curtain KGB enforcer and from his lips the words came again, "Can I see your papers?" … and from his eyes all I could hear was, "Man this hurts to say that – I’m So Sorry Mister.".
And between us, there was that awkward moment … of silence.
In that moment, while I fumbled for my boarding pass and my ID and proof of why I had traveled there… I knew that I had flown to New York in the days following 9/11 to see the last dying gasps of an America I had grown up with and would never see again. My country, America, would go on – it would persevere, it frankly, would barely be affected by this gnat of an attack. But it would change. It had already changed. Whatever country I had come from, had in that short time, been replaced by something else.
I was not a victim of 9/11. No one – not even those who were there to be with those who were the true victims – can claim that. To be a victim of 9/11 … you had to have survived it. And those, are very rare, and very few people. They are heroes, and to speak of them – without a level of reverance and respect is wrong. So – I was not, like my friend, who was there – who was in building II – a victim. I was, like all of us, merely a witness to the crime. I have no right to be angry. I lost no one. I have no right to demand vengance or retribution or justice. My rights – do not exist – and I will defer to the true victims for how they wish this event to be remembered, how they want this event in history to be recorded and what justice should be demanded, what price extracted for this insanity. I have no right to speak for them. I will live 100 lives, before I earn that privlege.
All I have… All any of us who lived in America before 9/11 have … is the silence.
The silence that fills a void where something great, and proud and mighty, once stood.