Observations and Trauma

The following posts were taken from a now-defunct newsgroup that was my sole contact with the rest of the world on that morning.  The responses others made have been deleted for their privacy.

From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: oh god. oh god…
Date: 11 Sep 2001 09:01:39 EDT

a plane hit the world trade center this morning. We can see it from our office windows. There’s a five story high hole in the side, smoke and fire everywhere.

Oh dear god…
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Re: oh god. oh god…
Date: 11 Sep 2001 09:11:43 EDT

A second plane hit the other tower. I saw it, saw the fireball.

No, this wasn’t accidental, folks. Not any way in hell.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Re: oh god. oh god…
Date: 11 Sep 2001 10:03:35 EDT

The tower just fell. I heard someone scream, ran to a window, and saw it crash.

I’m shaking, in anger, not in fear.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Re: oh god. oh god…
Date: 11 Sep 2001 10:27:08 EDT

It was the South Tower that fell. May god have mercy on the emergency workers who were down there…

A Palestinian liberation organization has claimed responsibility. May god have mercy on them as well, if true,  because I sure as hell feel none.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Re: oh god. oh god…
Date: 11 Sep 2001 10:30:20 EDT

The second tower just collapsed.

a moment of silence for the souls of the departed, please.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Re: oh god. oh god…
Date: 11 Sep 2001 10:42:34 EDT

Our building is in lockdown. You can leave, but you can only come in if you have photo building id. Draw your own conclusions.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Re: oh god. oh god…
Date: 11 Sep 2001 11:02:17 EDT

I’ve actually been in constant touch with my family — may I say a quick, heartfelt “thank you” to the creators of Instant Messenger? It’s calm here, for the moment. We’re making plans on where to sleep tonight, wondering what we’re going to do for lunch. There’s already been a run on the soda and candy machines.

A lot of tears, a lot of prayers.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Re: oh god. oh god…
Date: 11 Sep 2001 11:16:04 EDT

>And if there’s anything any of the rest of us can do, let us know.

Just you folks being “here” is helping. Thank gods for the Internet. Thanks gods for you all.

I’ll be hearing sirens in my sleep for a very long time, I suspect. Even when they stop for a moment, I can hear the echoes.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: leaving the office
Date: 11 Sep 2001 12:07:36 EDT

I’m heading out now, starting the trek uptown. I’ll try to check in when I get where I’m going (I have two offered shelters…a lot will depend on how bad it is out there)

Keep posting, people. Talk to each other.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Re: leaving the office
Date: 11 Sep 2001 13:59:16 EDT

Home now. Walked past Penn Station, heard that there was limited train service to Newark, and took a chance. So many wonderful people on the way — Americans are hanging together, making it through. More on them later, when I can type coherently again.

And Peter picked me up, and I’m home, and Pandora’s on my lap. Peter’s watching the news. I can’t. It’s already all embedded in my retinas. Forever, I suspect.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: GIVE BLOOD!
Date: 11 Sep 2001 15:00:05 EDT

I know I don’t have to remind you all. But I’m going to anyway. Give Blood!

Our center is overwhelmed right now, but I’m going down tomorrow.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: a thought
Date: 11 Sep 2001 15:19:27 EDT

A thought to keep close to mind and heart: If we shut down, if we cower, if we change our lives to suit their actions…

then the real “terror” of  terrorism has won.

Walking in Manhattan this afternoon, the thing that struck me was how calm it all was. No screams for revenge, no wild rampaging…just people being concerned, worried, frightened…and getting on with getting on.

Let that be, in the end, our final word.

– Laura Anne
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Re: oh god. oh god…
Date: 11 Sep 2001 15:28:45 EDT

WTC Building #7 (all 40+ stories) has collapsed. I can’t imagine what that area looks like now. There’s a hole in the NYC skyline that hurts. Oh, it hurts…
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Re: oh god. oh god…
Date: 11 Sep 2001 17:33:11 EDT

The fact that I don’t have a list of dead friends to say kaddish over right now is nothing short of a miracle. The fact that I still have names unaccounted for is a nightmare.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Hug your loved ones, people.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Bush’s speech
Date: 11 Sep 2001 18:43:58 EDT

well, he’s still a terrible public speaker, but the speech he presented was a good one. I cringed when he just _had_ to go and bring the Judeo-Christian scripture into it (there are Muslims in the country who are horrified by this as well, not to mention the Buddhists and pagans… but oh well. It _is_ Shrub, after all), but several of the lines resonated. Especially the one about not making distinctions between those who commit terrorist acts, and those who shelter terrorists.

We’ve tried prying bin Laden out. Now maybe we’ll blast him out. I hate violence, I agree that it’s a cycle that rarely solves anything long-term… but you don’t let a mad dog-pack roam your neighborhood, not when you have the means to put them down.

– Laura Anne
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: 11 September 2001 (1)
Date: 11 Sep 2001 19:14:42 EDT

Forgive me if this is disjointed, or not up to my usual semi-standards. I need to get it out before it blurs in my mind even more.

I made it into the office around 8:30. I had thought about taking the PATH train via WTC, but went with the midtown line instead, since I was on time, and it was a beautiful day. Ran into co-workers at the bagel cart, and we exchanged comments about the Giants game the night before, and how nice a day it was. I got upstairs, had time to turn my computer on, look at some stuff in my in box, and go get my first cup of caffeine before I noticed a large crowd in a friend’s office.

The PPi offices are about 15 blocks north of the World Trade Towers. From the south side of the building, on a clear day, you can practically see in their windows. Today was a very clear day.

I looked out the window, over the heads of people exclaiming in shock, and saw a huge gaping wound in the side of the nearest tower. Five stories high, angular, it really did look like a wound. Black smoke was rising, and red flames were licking from the inside out.

“A plane hit,” someone said.

“Where is it”? someone else asked.

“Inside. The plane’s in the building.”

I confess, reluctantly, that my second thought was “damn, I don’t have a camera.” I can’t help it, I have a photojournalist’s instincts. There were people on the building near us, on the roof, taking photos. I felt a twinge of jealousy.

At first, we all thought it was a terrible accident, that someone had somehow lost control of the plane. We were all a little shocky, but dealing with it, each in our own way. Probably inappropriate ways, in retrospect. I wandered down the hall a bit, to an office with less people in it. and saw the second plane circling around. At first, we thought it was a photographer trying to get a better shot. And then we saw the fireball explode out the side of the second building, and we Knew. We just looked at each other, and in every single mind in that room was “oh shit.”

The next few hours are blurry as hell. Someone turned the tv on in the conference room. Norman kept saying “I thought it was a movie, I kept waiting for someone to say “cut.” Everyone was on phones, cell phones, trying to reach friends and loved ones. I run through my list of people working down there, and come up with far too many people. We wandered from window to window, office to office, trying to get some grip on things. Rumors started to fly. I logged on, and started contacting everyone I could by IM. Our president came by and told everyone she wanted us to stay put, stay calm. That it was safer inside than out, right now.

I went to get another cup of tea. And I heard a scream from down the hall – I got to the window just in time to see the South Tower collapse.

There are no words to describe it. None. Total, devastating emptiness. And all I could think of were the rescue workers at the base of the tower. People were gathering in small groups, hugging and whispering reassurances as best we could.

Our corporate president came by a little while later, and told us that the building would remain open; she didn’t expect anyone to get any work done, but that she wanted us to stay put, and stay safe until such a time as we could get home. By then, we knew all exits off the island were closed, and were making plans where to sleep, stockpiling food, making a run on the soda machine, just in case.

And still the news kept coming. The Pentagon. The crash in Pennsylvania. Our office was in lockdown – nobody could get in without employee i.d. I throw up for the first time. By the time the second tower went, we were all in tears. It had gone beyond incomprehensible and into some state beyond that.

Around 1pm, a group of us had decided to start walking uptown. There was a rumor that NJ Transit was running intermittent service, and it wasn’t likely to get any better any time soon. Besides, the air in the office was flavored by the distinct taste of ash. We had to get out of there.

But first, we got fed. Some kind soul with clout had managed to arrange several platter of food, water and soda to be delivered, I don’t know how, and everyone got a sandwich, cookies, and pickles to fortify them for their hike. People are watching the coverage on the tv. They show a montage of shots of the second plane crashing, towers burning. I throw up again — thankfully, both times I made it to the ladies’ room.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Re: 11 September 2001 (2)
Date: 11 Sep 2001 19:47:24 EDT

Two co-workers and I start our trek up Hudson street (which turns into 8th avenue). It’s bright and sunny, with a slight cool breeze, and the sky is a clear, clear blue. The perfect September day. If you look behind you, you can see the great cloud of ash and smoke rising behind. I kept looking back, like Lot’s wife.

Everywhere, there are people walking, gathering in small groups, having lunch in restaurants and gathering in outdoor cafes. It has almost the feel of a street fair, except for the fact that voices are muted, gestures subdued. There is no traffic in the streets, save for emergency vehicles. The (very) few cabs we saw weren’t taking passengers. And the sirens never stop. Never. But for every ambulance, I tell myself, there’s someone who isn’t dead. Someone who still has a chance. Verizon trucks are out, and several of them were letting people make calls from them. I rarely have a good word for Verizon, but they were out and about and doing good today.

We walk, and walk, and occasionally run into people we know. Everyone’s calm. Angry, raging, but calm. There is much concern for the Arab community in NYC and elsewhere. We hope we’ve learned from the OkC bombing, not to rush to judgment. A plane goes by overhead, and I flinch. It’s a fighter jet. I know it’s one of ours, but… another time, a subway rumbles underfoot, one of the few that are running, and the guy walking towards us goes into panic mode. We’re all showing signs of PTS syndrome.

By the time we get to Penn Station, in the 30′s, we can see a large crowd forming outside the building. It doesn’t look good. But when I go to inquire I’m told that yes, there is some train service out of the city. I decide to take the chance. Although I had two offers of sleeping space, I really want to be home tonight. So I wave my companions on, and join the waiting masses.

This entrance was for NJ Transit only. They open the doors a few minutes before I join the crowd, and people begin to shuffle in. Slowly, carefully. Better behaved than most commuter packs. The cops directing traffic are matter of fact, and even amusing – “If you’re on the left stay to the left. If you’re on the right, stay to the right. There ya go, I knew you could do it!” We get to the lower level, where the ticket booths are, and all I can see is a mass of people. “I’ll be hours getting a ticket,” I say in disgust. A woman next to me hands me a ticket. It’s to Trenton, but she thinks they’ll honor it, if they’re taking tickets at all. She refuses to take anything for it – she has a commuter pass, that was for this weekend.

Just as I put the ticket away, they announce a train is leaving for Newark Penn Station. I start moving in that direction. The crowd is huge, we’re sharing a gate with a train going to Boston, and the women directing the traffic flow – “One at a time, people. We’ll all get there but one at a time” – sound as though they expect to be overrun at any second. They’re not. We ease through, one at a time. Gently, gently.

I get to the train, standing room only, like the last copter out of Saigon. I start talking with three women – they’re co-workers, and one woman’s husband worked in the South Tower. She hasn’t heard from him yet, and is in bad shape. Someone gets up and gives her his seat. One of her companions loans me her cell phone to call Peter, first at home, then at the office. I leave messages at both places. We joke, as best we can, about the situation. Everyone crouches to look out the window at the smoke. I don’t. I can’t.

To Newark, which is controlled chaos. No trains north, everything’s going South. You can’t get there from here. You can’t get much of anywhere. Roads are blocked off, cops and emergency personnel and tv cameras everywhere. Some people are pooling together to get a cab to Harrison, where many of us parked. I’m tempted, but then think that Peter may have gotten my message already, and be waiting. I find a free pay phone, and call him. He’s there, he’s on his way.

Our usual pick-up spot is behind the marked-off area, so I have to improvise. The 20 minute trip takes him almost 45 minutes but he spots me, swings by, and I’m in the car. I almost collapse – but not yet. We still have to pick up my car.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: Re: 11 September 2001 (3)
Date: 11 Sep 2001 20:30:24 EDT

The parking lot in Harrison is still almost full. Most people haven’t gotten out of the city yet, I suspect. Peter lets me out, and waits while I get into my car. God, the familiarity of it is. overpowering. I pull out, Peter behind me. Route 280 is deserted – there’re very few cars on the road. I’m listening to the news on the radio, when in my rear view mirror I see the billowing gray smoke. And I go from Dealing to Not Dealing in .01 second. I’m crying so hard I almost pull over, but the need to be home outweighs everything else.

I pull into the driveway, and wait for Peter to catch up. I am in dire need of a hug.

I get one, and realize he’s shaking. I hadn’t really thought about how scared he must have been, with me in the city. He was there for the WTC bombing, so he knows, as much as anyone can, what happens. We go into the house, and I try to call my mom. We can’t get through. I get online, and connect with my brother-in-law on IM, ask him to pass word along that I’m home, and okay. He tells me a co-worker of his was on the first plane. A siren goes by outside, and my entire body tenses up. I used to be able to sleep through a serenade of sirens, courtesy of an apartment senior year down the street form the county hospital. No more. Not now.

I wallow in the online community, then Peter and I go outside to clear up the backyard – we had done some pruning that needed to be cleared away. Physical activity is good. But when I came back into the house I got ambushed by the tv showing video of the second plane flying into the Tower again. That would be the third disgorging, if there was anything left. Instead, I start to cry again. Peter puts me to work making dinner, and we try, try to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

I’m not sure I know what that is, any more. I know that I don’t want to go to sleep, tonight. Not with what’s lurking the minute I close my eyes.

Instead, I will light candles for those lost, for those missing. And for those who are grieving. And I will sit by my small lights, and I will brighten the darkness, and not curse it.
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From: Laura Anne Gilman
Subject: midnight
Date: 11 Sep 2001 22:06:45 EDT

Helicopters rumbling overhead. Huge, heavy-motored beasts, with powerful floodlights, heading City-ward.

I think it’s time to try and get some sleep.
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