Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My 9/11 Experience Remembered

I woke up with a phone call that day.  I was off, in between film gigs.   My friend Kristin called me to turn on the news as a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center Towers.  I said, “Really?  What kind of plane?”  She wasn’t sure but that I should turn on the news.  I saw the video on the news and because of scale thought it was a small plane.  Like a four or ten person plane.  She and I got off the phone and I started watching the news.  

At that time AOL instant messaging was the hot tech social network of the time and I started IM’ing with my friend Heidi.  We sat there typing and watching on live news the horrible events unfurl.  (I printed the text and still have it.)

That afternoon I met with friends at a local restaurant.  Everyone was walking home from work.   People were walking by stunned, tired and covered in dust.  Looking back they had walked at least 5 miles to the Upper East Side after running for their lives from falling buildings.  Everyone was out and about because the need for community was strong.

The next day, Heidi called me and said, “Let’s go volunteer.”  She and I headed to Chelsea Piers.  The weather disconnected you from the mayhem that was going on downtown.  Thousands of were dying or dead, yet it was beach weather.  It made reality confusing.  It should have been a gray dreary day.
When we arrived they said they had enough people they just needed supplies.  People were walking up handing over bags of stuff from clothing to Band-Aids.  So she and I headed to a Duane Reade and bought all kinds of first aid.

After that I felt empty and we went home.  In my need to process grief, I had to do something.  I couldn’t just sit in my apartment and watch the same horrific video over and over again.  The next day we heard they wanted people and to register at Javits Conference Center.  There was a line that felt a mile long.  I thought, “This is crazy.”  I waited and waited finally putting in my name and phone number.  “We’ll call you if we need you,” said the woman at the table.  I was devastated. I needed to do something, anything. Years later, I still wonder who those people were and what they ever did with my information.

That night, I headed to Chelsea on the rumor that they needed help at night.  Lo and behold, I arrived and they said they could use counselors.  I said that I wasn’t a therapist but was a trained and certified life coach.  He asked me to come on in.  My ID badge was a two pieces of yellow duct tape.  One said Lorin K the other “Counselor.”  

The first thing I was asked to do was go get some food! How? Ask restaurants.  I ran around to several restaurants and asked if they would cook and deliver food…for free.  They all said yes.  I arrived back and told them food was on the way.  Next thing I know, pizzas, Mexican plates and sandwiches were showing up!

After that I some of the folks from Ground Zero started coming up. Police vans would drive them up so they could get food, a change of clothes and a cot to sleep on.  I would meet them at the detox area.  We had them change, take showers, put their dust covered clothes in garbage bags, and got them food.  While they ate I would talk with them.  Some just couldn’t sleep.  They needed to talk about the body parts they were finding and putting into buckets.  I’m sure those images are still there after all these years.

The next evening, I came back with my “ID” and they welcomed me back.  I walked a 20 year old guy back from Javits that was so sleep derived from digging at Ground Zero that he seemed drunk.  He still didn’t want to sleep.  He kept saying, “What if I was in that rubble? I wouldn’t want people to give up.”  No matter what I said about the fact that there were hundreds of others helping, he still thought that sleeping was selfish and unacceptable.  I made him lay down on a cot in a small room and turned off the light. I assured him that regular police vans were coming up to pick people up and that he could go back down if he wanted.  About an hour and a half later I checked in on him and he was gone.  

I stood outside Chelsea to get a breather and watch truck after truck head up the West Side Highway full of WTC debris not realizing at the time what it really meant.  A police van pulled up and asked me if there were volunteers that were ready and able to come down. I asked if they needed any counselors and he said it would be great.  So, ran inside Chelsea and grabbed some people.  As we rode down, I’ll never forget the images, the smells and the feeling.  After years on film sets, it looked just like one.  All lit up like a huge Spielberg action movie. All of this just had to be made up!

South of 14th Street there was no electricity and no lights.  The only thing lit up was Ground Zero.  Once downtown, I’ll never forget the Winter Garden with no glass roof, the fire hoses that I almost tripped over a million times in the dark, the wet paper pulp, wet cement dust that covered everything, the personal items scattered around, the half inch water on the marble floor of the World Financial Center and the open doors to offices.  Mostly, I’ll never forget the image standing on West Street and Liberty…looking squarely at the rubble with smoke coming out and huge lights…it looked like a movie set.

I hung out with First Responders, as they are now called, in St. Josephs Chapel helping to organize clothes, rope, knives, gloves and face masks that no one wore – there was even dog food.  I spent time on the Spirit Cruise ships that docked to provide food to the volunteers.  I would spend time with them, hearing their stories.  I’m sad that I don’t remember their names but I do remember many of the faces.  

A couple days later we were all kicked out of Ground Zero and Chelsea Piers.  New York City’s Office of Emergency Management was taking over the grass root operation.  One guy admitted to me that they won’t be nearly as efficient.  My roommate Kellie was happy for me to be home.   We talked for hours…days.  

A week later, New York Texas Exes, the New York alumni chapter of the University of Texas was to hold our annual dinner cruise around New York Harbor.  I was the President at the time and we decided to try and still do it.  We contacted the company and they were on board, letting us know that we wouldn’t be able to go south of 14th street.  We understood.   

The night of the cruise, we all climbed aboard and instead of a celebration it became a gathering to grieve.  It was our tradition to invite the NY Aggies to make it a “Texas” get together.  But that night we all admitted that we were New Yorkers forever – as the NY police allowed us to drive all the way down by the site to the Statue of Liberty.   

We turned off the music and silently rode by staring at the lights, the scene, with the smoke rising through the air.  Not a dry eye to be found.  We stood together in the moment.  Arm and arm we all prayed in our own way.  Many of us making resolutions. (For me, a new career!)

Here we were, eating food, drinking beer, dancing and moving on with our lives while others were stunned and grieving for lost ones hoping and praying for a miracle rescue that never came. 

As I write this, twelve years later, I can still see the images and they are beginning to fade but the feelings, they remain.

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