I rolled out of bed that sunny September morning, my head swimming and throbbing from last night’s activities. My mouth was dryer than a dryer sheet – and far less fragrant. Hastily I dragged a brush through my hair and yanked on some jeans. The t-shirt I’d slept in last night would do. I scrubbed a toothbrush across my teeth. No time for coffee. At least I was sort of awake.
That morning I was en route to read to the blind people – – my volunteer gig. And it was shameful how often I was late or how often I didn’t show up because I’d overslept. Even though it was a volunteer job, I took it very seriously – maybe even more seriously. I remember being bitterly angry one morning when I arrived to find the director arranging some brochures and to see they were from A.A. “Am I an Alcoholic?” was the title of one. My cheeks burned redly and I was sure they were meant to convey some secret message to ME.
On the morning of September 11th, Howard Stern was on the radio shouting about NYC and planes and chaos. Incensed, I turned the channel. How could he joke about such a thing?
But the next station had a news anchor’s voice parroting what Stern was saying. The next station said the same thing. I could have hit the “scan button” and had a seamless news report in the same male broadcaster’s voice. I took a right and headed for my mom’s. It was sort of on the way. I turned on the TV and watched. One of the Twin Towers was smoldering. I watched in disbelief. Just then there were screams and a plane came ripping across the sky. Pow. My hands clutched my face and I stared and stared. I was too shocked to cry.
I watched and watched and watched.
The Pentagon got hit. I was numb.
I was pushing it, time-wise. But I couldn’t stop watching. Couldn’t stop being numb. My “radio show” was going to start soon. Part of me wondered if I should be afraid to leave the house. But I wasn’t. I raced to the agency and the director told me what had happened in NY. I told her I knew, adding little else. She advised me to JUST read the paper. “Give them one more hour of peace,” she whispered. The duo doing the 2-hour show before mine were emerging, smiling and chattering, their papers rustling as they folded them back up and put the sections in order. The director sat them down and told them the news. They looked at each other, gauging each other’s reaction….. stunned looks on their faces. They sat there and stared for a long time. I went in and read the paper in my usual cheery voice. Normalcy felt so good.
I went through the motions of driving home. Once in a while it would pop in my head to just accelerate at top speed and plow into a building. I wouldn’t do it, not really. In hindsight, I was just trying to figure out how someone could plow a plane into a building. Was it as simple as roaring the engine and flying low? Do you just close your eyes? With the doors to the cockpit closed, do you just forget all the people in the back? Is there screaming? Do you get the urge to take to the sky and call it off?
At home I made coffee and tried to shake off my quasi-hangover. Pretty much the only thing to watch was live news broadcasts. They zoomed in on people on the upper levels hanging out of the window, charred smoke enveloping them. I realized in horror that it wasn’t debris falling from the towers; it was people. Unable to take my eyes off of it, I watched with jaw agape. Eventually the towers collapsed in neat columns, great gray clouds of dust and ash and fragments of everything soaring into the air.
Not knowing what else to do, I walked to Red Cross. I power-walked there, arms swinging and a deadly look of intent (probably) on my face. The two ladies running the desk answered the phone repeatedly, smiling politely at me and raising a finger in the classic “just one minute” gesture. I stood there politely, wanting desperately to donate blood. Another person came in behind me. And then another. We stood there silently, waiting to DO something. The ladies were putting people on hold and answering questions briskly. Both were clearly moved by the inundation of phone calls.
We were turned away. We knew we would be. We overheard the ladies on the phone, but didn’t want to leave and have them think we were impatient – yeah, that seemed to be the consensus. The lady thanked us profusely but said they were understaffed and they had a regularly scheduled blood drive on Tuesday. I wandered away feeling empty of satisfaction, full of anxious energy. I walked all over town. The streets were quiet, save for the occasional car. I walked all over with that nervous energy that Forrest Gump had when he ran across the country. I was too sad to run. But I couldn’t sit still.
What nagged at me was how intensely I wished I was dead. And here was a buildingful of people with careers and families and LIVES. I had none of that. My life was a broken record, skipping to the same redundant beat. It was equally annoying. I would work. I’d come home. I’d get drunk. I’d pass out. I’d wake up some time after noon. Repeat. I drank all my money, paid my bills with credit cards, and detested myself for being so irresponsible – and then there was the denial. “I’ll get more hours soon. Business will pick up and tips will be better. I’ll get a better job …..”
It was an empty void. I hated it. I wanted off and didn’t begin to know how to stop. And here it was …. one of the biggest events in modern history and I was sitting in my one bedroom apartment pitying myself, the injustice of THEIR being dead and not me, feeling jealous, feeling envy, making this epic event about ME. I was one selfish drunk.
I thought at times about killing myself with pills and booze. Seemed like the right way to go. Mellow. Sleepy. Would look like an accident – at least to anyone who knew me at all. But I was afraid of brain damage.
I thought about a one-car accident, but I figured I’d survive and wind up paraplegic. Drowning didn’t seem too bad either. When I was a kid, I got pushed under water and I remember sinking a little and hovering there. Everything was still and serene and quiet. I couldn’t get up to the air. I was an awesome swimmer, too. I was just stuck there in that watery limbo. I enjoyed it, the sunlight permeating the clear water. The muffled soft sounds, the near-silence. My cousin yanked me out. I lay on the cement next to the pool coughing and fighting to catch my breath. Right. Drowning didn’t seem too bad. Was I drowning? Or was I just stuck? There had been no struggle. That was what I liked. Hanging seemed a bit extreme. I couldn’t see myself doing anything that involved blood. All of that could go horribly awry, too.
I cracked open a beer, watched the news and cried. I cried for a lot of obvious reasons, and then there was the fact that I was alive. If I had any foresight then, I’d know that being alive was another chance. If I had had any common sense at all, I would know that I was lucky and that I should be living the best life I can – the life those people would have loved to have lived, breathing fresh air this balmy evening and hugging loved ones even tighter. But at that time I was so completely self-absorbed, wallowing in the misery I created without knowing I was creating it. The nightly news was neatly edited, the people falling from or jumping from the towers erased from the footage. I watched the news compulsively for the coming days, but it didn’t replace the compulsion to drink. And it didn’t give me any more will to live – or to really live instead of exist.