The Note

Friday evening was daunting. I tried to stay away from the television but like a magnet, it kept me glued. I moved from room to room and just like on September 11th, 2001, the news was in every room. It was hard to explain much harder to comprehend, why would I need to have the news on when I already knew what had happened and when I knew that all they were reporting were repeats of the events of the hours before?

Friday was no different. It didn’t matter that it was in France, it was very close to home for us.

Saturday morning found my daughter and I dragging ourselves around the house. She couldn’t grade her papers and I couldn’t get into the project I was working on. So we decided to go for a walk. That didn’t help. We still couldn’t figure out why we were feeling the way we were. We did not have a word to describe it. We came back home and watched some old movies and with blank stares for over an hour, we stopped. “Let’s go for a mani-pedi, “my daughter suggested. I got up and thought, that’s perfect. That usually puts us in a great mood. Off we went. It was a great distraction for an hour.

When I got home, I found so many things wrong with my manicure, I immediately removed the polish. How could I go out and polish my nails when so many people would not be able to do that? I crawled into bed. We didn’t even eat the food I had prepared earlier in the day. A bite here and there, was all we could muster.

“I know what this is.” I muttered. “We are feeling 9/11 again. And it’s worse because we are here and they are over there. This time all we can do is sit and watch and pray. It’s sadness, it’s frustration. But we can pray.”

We went back and attempted to do what we had tried earlier but it still wasn’t working, so we put on our thinnest sweatshirt and a vest, sneakers and sweatpants and decided to try a long walk on our green way behind the complex where we reside. It was cold. We needed to feel something besides this sadness, cold was good. Cold was very good. We walked and soon the tears began to flow.

Soon after we came home and now tired, emotionally wasted, we gave in to what we were feeling and climbed into bed attempting to veg, or read a book. The best we could do after an hour was to snuggle with the eventual gift of falling asleep.

I woke up Monday morning fully intending to go to the 9/11 Memorial to attend the memorial service they were having for the victims of the attacks in France. I began to shake as I got dressed and before long, my heart was pounding. I recognized those feelings and crawled right back into bed. I couldn’t do it. I was scared. Frightened and there was no way, I would take the bus alone, walk alone and come back home alone. I turned off the television and read as much as I could. I stayed away from any social media. I could not spend another day reading or listening to anything about this horrible day.

I woke up at 3 am Tuesday morning and soaked for over an hour. I think I shed more tears than the water that filled my bathtub. My sadness turned into anger and disappointment. Anger and what happened and disappointment that for eight years, I fought through my fears and have come down at least 2 to 3 times a week to the Tribute Center and years later to the Museum to give tours and do shifts and now I was right back to where I was after I stopped my work as a recovery worker at Ground Zero.  With determination, I prepared to get ready and headed to the museum. It was very quiet. The great group of people I do my shifts with were just amazing but I wouldn’t know how until the end of our shift.

We had a meeting after our shift had ended and then a speaker came in. He had a comfort/therapy dog with him. As he began to speak of his role on 9/11, I slipped away to the days I was there as a recovery worker. I began to remember in detail the phone calls from my husband that he made each day telling me of the things he saw, of the things he was doing and of what I might be doing later on that evening during my shift. It was flashback after flashback. I had a small moment of relief when the gentleman introduced a young woman from Japan who had spent many months in Fukishima after the Tsunami of March 2011. As I turned my head, I immediately recognized her. I had met her on my trip to Japan when I went there to visit the people of Japan with the Tribute Center. I found my way to her and hugged her. It was what I needed in the midst of the conversation that was taking place.

As I got back to me seat, the gentleman began speaking again and I was once again transported back to 9/11. I had long ago, thought I had put this behind me, this pain, these flashbacks, this incredible sadness. I thought I was okay and could handle any talk of 9/11. It’s what I have been doing for eight years. But today, it was all coming back.

I felt the familiar lump in my throat and kept saying to myself, “Don’t you dare shed a tear. You are stronger than this. This is not about you. Cut it out! Stop it this minute!” One of my friends, Adele, touched my arm to see if I was okay. I was startled for a bit but she bought me back.  It felt pretty good that a simple human touch could do that. I was slowly calming down and as great as the talk was, as great as the slide presentation was, I needed to get out. But I don’t like to be rude.

My throat was beginning to lump up again and in the corner of my eye, I would see my friend Vernoy, write something on a piece of paper I had folder earlier. Like in earlier days in class when you pass notes back and forth to each other, she would pass the piece of paper to me. I slowly moved it to my center and read it….

note from vernoy

It was the hug I needed. It was the comfort I needed. These wonderful women I met just a few months ago, sensed my heart, they felt my hurt, they understood or as many in the 9/11 community would say, “They got it.”

I would like to say it was like magic but that would trivialize what happened next. But within seconds, my heart beats slowed down, my skin wasn’t as warn as it was moments before, and I felt safe. In a room filled with people, in a room where stories of 9/11 were being told, I could breathe normal again. Seven words written on a piece of paper was all it took to make me feel safe again.

To my friends: Karen, Adele and the Note Writer, Vernoy, this one’s for you:

Thank you for being a friend,
Traveled down the road and back again.
Your heart is true, you’re a pal and a confident.
And if you threw a party, and invited everyone you knew.
You would see the biggest gift would be from me and the card attached Yould say:
Thank you for being a friend!

I decided yesterday to do it again but this time I had to actually do a tour and speak to people about the events of the day. I would find out when I went to the docent lounge that I would have a new docent, freshly  trained. I walked around our galleries and ran into a friend. She looked troubled and as she held on to me, she said, she couldn’t handle it any more. She was driving to The Tribute Center and was listening to the radio and all she could think of was the victims. She began to sob. I held her. I whispered in her ear, “I love you, you are important. I value you.” She held on to me tighter and I felt all her hurt and all her distress and pain. Her brother was killed in the North Tower. They never found his body. I told her that I would take over her talk and her tour if she wanted to. She looked at me and said, “No. I can do this. I must do this.”
I got it.

I went out and did my tour and it was harder than I thought. I immediately told the visitors that this tour was hard because my heart was with the people of France. I dedicated the tour to all the victims and their family. When it came time to tell our personal stories, the new docent told his and I couldn’t hold the tears back any longer. They were long over due. When he was done, I didn’t care that people were there, I walked up to him and we hugged for  what seemed like hours and I told him. “Thank you for your service. I am so honored to have done this tour with you.” Now it was my turn to tell my story.

The usual words would not come out and so I went with what was in my heart and I said them all with tears. Tears aren’t always a sign of weakness.

When I was done, a tall man walked up to me and said, ” I am amazed that on the hardest day of your life, you came down here and helped and here we are again, you didn’t know how to do it and you did it again and I was here to see it. That’s the spirit of America and I’m    damn proud to have seen it in you.”

I think he cracked a rib but that w as a pretty nice hug.

Paul the new docent, came to me and hugged me again and said, “This is beyond healing. I can talk about it and people still do care. This  is  amazing.”

And I showed him the Note.

He read it. He didn’t know the story behind it. He held it to his heart and cried. We walked back to the Tribute Center arm in arm. A new friendship was made because of a horrific day in our history. I would have never met Paul, or Karen, or Adele or Vernoy and I’m sad that it took a tragedy for that to happen but as my neighbor Mr. Rodgers once said:“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world.”

I am blessed to know so many caring people in this world.

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