“GROUND ZERO” BY MARY DEIG

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My Story 9/11/01 I am not a storyteller, but I have a story that no one knows. Oh, they know where I was and how my life changed from that day, but they do not know the details or feelings that are a part of me every day and night

My therapist and my doctor know some of these details and feelings. For 18 years, I have wanted to shield my family and friends from my story. I did not want to transfer my burden to them. I did not want them to know. I wanted their lives to be happy and fulfilled. I realize now that even though I kept silent it still affected their lives. I suffered in silence, in pain, broken, but not destroyed.

On the night of September 9th, 2001 before I left for NYC, my daughter was terrified and asked me not to go on this trip because something bad was going to happen. This was unusual since I had been traveling for my job since she was born.

On September 10, 2001, I arrived in NYC for a training session to take place on September 11, 2001. This was my first trip to NYC. At a company dinner on September 10, 2001, a colleague pointed out various landmarks from the window of our dining area. One of those landmarks was the gloriously tall and imposing Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. It was my first and my last glimpse of the Twin Towers because they disappeared the next day.

It was a beautiful sunny day on September 11, 2001. I was in a training session with colleagues on the 46th floor of the tallest building besides the Twin Towers at that time. Around 8:45 am, we felt a small tremor in the building. They said not to worry it looked like a small plane had accidentally hit a portion of the Twin Towers. More tremors, emergency lights and a constant terrorist attack alert on the sound system of our building. Two planes had hit the Twin Towers.

The elevators of the building I was in were locked down. Evacuation began from the 46th floor down dark stairwells. Evacuation through a pathway where you could see the street below until the sun was put out by the darkness of the dust rolling from the collapsing Twin Towers.

Evacuations to lower floors. Communications stopped working, cell and landlines were overwhelmed. The destruction continued. The flight or fight instinct kicked in. There was no way to leave the building because it was less safe outside. So, I continued to go to lower floors with our group not knowing what would happen next. Emotions overwhelmed me, in my mind, I feared being trapped, I didn’t know where the exits were, I didn’t know this building at all. I feared dying without being able to say I love you and goodbye to my husband, my daughter, my sons, my parents, my sister, my nephew.

My first thought was my daughter was right something bad happened on this business trip. I absolutely had to contact her somehow. So, I dashed out of the evacuation group to a desk with a landline. The phone was dead. I tried again and called my daughter’s school office number. My daughter was in the office and I was able to tell her that I was safe, and I love you. Miracles happen.

At other points throughout the day, I was able to somehow reach my husband, parents, sister, and nephew to let them know that I was alive and say I love you. My two sons were young and didn’t realize where I was or what was happening. I didn’t know what would happen, would the attacks continue on other buildings, people or places, would I live, would I die, would I find a way out.

Finally, our group was evacuated onto the street. We began a trek to reach a working subway or train to take us from ground zero. My feet sunk into ashes and dust as I walked. The streets, the buildings, the people covered in dust from the explosions. I saw shoes from people who were probably dead, I saw particles of hair and particles of people in the dust, and I had to walk in it all on that street. Walking in the ashes of those brave people made me feel ashamed and disrespectful, but it was unavoidable.

As we were walking by, 1 block parallel, the 3rd building of the World Trade Center collapsed. Fires were raging. It was devastating and horrific. I wish I was a storyteller because then I could tell you that the unimaginable was true. It is so very hard to explain the emotions, the fear, the terror.

There were the stragglers like our group, but mainly there were firemen, police officers, and US military. In the face of the violence and destruction, they ran towards the destruction to help, to rescue, to contain. M-16’s or I assume they were M-16’s, were cradled by the US military ready to act and to protect. In the midst of all of this, I remember a firefighter in all his gear sitting covered in dust, tired beyond belief, silently crying on that street. Devastation reflected in the eyes of all those brave men and women who I watched come and go from ground zero to rescue the living and bring out the dead.

We finally reached a station that worked to get us away from ground zero. We emerged from that station to streets where the sound of silence was deafening. New York City had been silenced. There was no traffic, no noise, no people on those deserted streets.

New York City was locked down at some point and no one was allowed in or out of the city. We were fortunate that a hotel took us in for the night. I sat by that hotel window in my room, with the window open because I needed that window open. I watched, I waited, I dreaded what was to come. I stayed by that window most of the night, sleep impossible as I watched and took some comfort from the sound and sight of US military jet fighters who circled the city continuously so close that I could almost reach out that window and touch them.

Fear, no way out, airports closed, most transportation systems closed. The shock set in but somehow our group made it into New Jersey on September 12, 2001. It’s all a blur of travel in a rented van where we took turns driving from state to state dropping off colleagues near their homes.
I made it home, but home was a place I didn’t recognize. It was a place where I no longer fit, where life had resumed as if what had happened was a movie that they watched from afar.

September 11, 2001, was the day I was changed forever. It was the day that the me I knew, stopped.

Post-traumatic stress disorder doesn’t affect everyone, but it took hold of me with a passion as did survivor’s guilt for making it home. Forward 18 years later, 18 years of flashbacks, 18 years of nightmares, 18 years of hypervigilance, 18 years in fight or flight mode, 18 years of duck and cover when loud noises occurred, 18 years of trying to be a good mom, a good wife, a good daughter, a good sister, a good friend. I failed more than I succeeded.
18 years of being scared, every day waiting for the next attack, 18 years of having trouble leaving my house, 18 years of fear of crowds, fear of new places, just fear. 18 years of asking why, years of therapy, years of medications, years of worry, years of anxiety, years of numbness, years of not living. It hasn’t stopped, I still have trouble every day leaving the house, I still fear crowds, I fear new places, I worry, I still wait for the next attack.

Post-traumatic stress disorder grabbed me, and it has never let go. It never goes away, it is always there, it will always be there. It is a part of me as I am a part of it.

Logic and reason have no place because September 11, 2001, was just a day like any other until it wasn’t.

I, who survived have been silent not knowing how or if anyone would understand my story. My heart tells me it is time to share, it is time to grieve me before and me now, and it is time for everyone to see in my life, to know the reasons behind my inabilities to be with them.

On this 18-year anniversary, I decided to no longer be silent, to give my story to my family and friends in the hope that they will understand, so that others who suffer silently know that they are not alone and to let them all know why I changed, and why I failed more than I succeeded. And, it’s these pictures that clearly show what is in my mind every day and every night—-

These pictures are not owned by me, nor are they used for any purpose other than to show what is always in my mind. These pictures reveal truths about myself that I cannot convey with words. This is my story.

MARY DEIG
EVANSVILLE
FOOTNOTE: Printed with permission from MARY DEIG and without editing

1 COMMENT

  1. Peace be with you Mary Deig. Your letter is powerful tribute to all the victims of this Islamic terror attack. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

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