My beautiful sister spent some time at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum this past weekend and I believe her life is forever changed because of it. After hearing her reminisce about her journey of grief on that hallowed ground, I began to think of my own memories of that fateful day.
I was thirteen years old in 2001 and I believed in magic. I believed in fairy-tales and innate goodness. I believed that I could fly if I really wanted to. One Tuesday morning, and the days following, robbed me and many others of our childlike wonder, of our innocence in the midst of such brutality. I can vividly remember where I was, what I was doing, what was said word for word as the Towers were hit, as they fell, as the plane wrecked the Pentagon, as the fourth plane cut a gaping hole into that Pennsylvania field. I will never forget the images, the feelings, the nightmares that haunted my days and nights for years onward. I will never forget the sounds of bodies slamming into the ground in front of a background of smoke, flames, and unsettling dust as the reporters’ cameras zoomed in too close. I remember my father telling me to back away from the television as footage was shown from inside the base of the Towers as the thousands of people were being evacuated. I remember my mother burying her face in her hands as they played the cellphone calls from the hijacked planes. I remember my sister asking what the World Trade Center stood for. I remember. I remember. I remember.
Here is a poem inspired by my sister’s visit to the 9/11 Memorial:
“I am surrounded by a mass grave.
I am in the heart of their tomb.
The once beautiful skyline
Is now the City’s gaping wound.
It is meant to be a memorial,
Built into the core of a warzone.
I feel so stunningly heavy,
But I am not alone.
I can feel them as I walk in,
I can hear their screams and shouts.
I can taste the smoke, the fire, the dust;
I can smell their death all around.
As I close my eyes tightly,
I feel a chill go down my back.
I hear a faint whisper
As I read the names on the plaque.
‘Come along now
And walk with me please.
Let the silence enter you
As I tell you my story.
I never made it out you see,
I’m one of the two thousand, nine hundred, and seventy seven.
Let me tell you the events
Of Tuesday, September the eleventh.
We’ve been collected from the Towers,
The pentagon and the field.
We are gathered here today
Between these beams of steel.’
They take my hands,
And they guide my soul
On a journey of grief
That I’ll keep with me til I’m old.
I sense them in the Survivors’ Stairwell
And I am immediately taken away,
Back to a peaceful Tuesday morning;
It was a calm, clear day.
It is 8:46, AM
In the heart of lower Manhattan.
A plane has crashed into the North Tower
Of the World Trade Center.
There is panic abruptly all around,
There are flames in the windows.
There has never been so much smoke,
Encasing the buildings like a silver snow.
The scene is forever frozen in time,
Everyone is watching the no longer blue sky.
For a moment everyone thinks the terror is over,
But there’s a plane out of the corner of my eye.
It is 9:03 AM
And the nightmare is just beginning.
The South Tower has been hit
And people are trapped in it.
The sound of bodies falling to the ground,
As people jump to their sudden death.
They’ve picked the only way out they know,
Because smoke and fire are taking their last breath.
It is 9:37 and the Pentagon
Has just been attacked.
They’ve rammed a plane into, too;
The western wall has been severely cracked.
There go the brave first-responders
Running towards the blaze.
Firefighters, police, men, women
All running towards the haze.
They won’t all survive,
Surely they know that, too.
They’re trying to rescue just one more,
God, help them get through!
The hospitals are all on alert,
They know they’re being depended on,
But one woman cries out,
‘No one’s coming, they’re all gone!’
It is 9:58
And the South Tower has collapsed.
There is rubble all around the streets,
No one knows how much time has elapsed.
It is 10:03 AM
And the final plane has been revealed.
They brought it down hard and fast
In that Pennsylvania field.
It is 10:28
And the north Tower is no more.
They took it down to the ground
In a vicious act of war.
I am walking through so many memories,
The beginning and end of so many lives.
It is not just history unfolding,
It is a painful memory of mine.
It is not something you ever get over
Or simply move on from.
We all carry pieces of September with us,
Pieces that keep us numb.
“Paris is here to help.”
A promise written in the ash with trust.
People came from all over the world
To help us dig through the rubble and dust.
The iconic melted cross,
The raising of the red, white, and blue.
The infamous ‘Dust Lady’
And the rescuers resting in the church pews.
We were all damaged in those days,
But we were certainly never broken.
“I hear you, the rest of the world hears you!”
Truer words were never spoken.
Millions of us still remember,
Most of us will never forget.
It still feels like yesterday,
Where we were on September 11th.”
Jaimie Elizabeth Miller
January 11th, 2016