Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Actual travel journals I found while looking through my novel manuscript: Travel Journals from 9/11/01

Travel Journals & September 11th


I underestimated how physically, and consequently emotionally, grueling this trip would be. I also underestimated the travel narcolepsy that would develop, leaving me only 10 minute or so blocks of writing time as I fell asleep very soon after starting to write. Not a GOOD sleep mind you, as buses are cramped spaces, even for someone as small as me, and even when you can manage to get both seats to yourself.
I was tired from the trip and hadn't really had any decent sleep or alone time. I really hadn't even been able to be naked for more than a few minutes at a time while showering at my friends' house or changing clothes in the bus terminal, and I was starting to get a rash from the heat and from always being dressed.

It rained the whole way to New York and I didn't get into town until about 6:00 that night. My hosts and I walked around, hiding under awnings when the rains and winds got too intense, and finally made it to a pub where we could have dinner. As the rain let up, Bob walked me down to the Chelsea Piers and showed me around. I still felt very out of sorts and was anxious for the next morning, daylight, and a decent night's sleep to start fresh.

Several days prior, traveling from Chicago to New York, I had become stranded in Cleveland at 3:00 am when the two buses that left Chitown dwindled to one and we were at the mercy of Greyhound company. On the way from Boston to New York, I scribbled something to the effect that riding the Greyhound was like being a refugee. You were dragged off the bus in the middle of the night with all of your possessions, you were given no information about your fate or when you might be able to leave, you were malnourished--you didn't DARE leave the station for food and were therefore depending on vendables or possibly the Greyhound cafeteria. The only difference between a Greyhound passenger and a refugee was that you didn't fear for your life--unless your driver was depressed or a suicide bomber.

Even now, six days later, I can't believe it.

I keep waking up thinking it never happened. I have probably 30 pages of notes, a head full of images I can't sort out that keep coming back to me. My best friend asks me if I am having nightmares. I say no, I haven't dreamed in days. The most shocking symptom to me is how belligerent I feel. I have no patience for whining or complaining about anything. I have the trump card. A pass. The thing that sends me to the front of the line every time. "I was there when it happened." Everyone knows what that means.

For the next hour we are glued to the television. We can only get one station. The frightening events unfoldlike everyone else in the country, we wonder how widespread the attack is; how many more planes, how many more cities will be affected. Everyone is frozen in front of the television waiting for more news.

We run back and forth between the close-up shots on television and the full eyewitness account we have by leaning out and looking down Sixth Avenue.
I finally decide that it's time to stop seeing it on television and head down to the site to try to make it more real and to try to understand. So within 15 minutes I am dressed and head out the door.

Hoards of people are walking slowly toward downtown. The streets are largely taken over by pedestrians who gather together spontaneously around car radios and portable televisions. We stand together and watch or listen to a few minutes of news and then move on to the next block, all on our pilgrimage to get as close to the site as possible.

There are lines at all the pay phones; cell phones are working only sporadically. I walk down a side street between Fifth and Sixth avenues to a spare phone to call home and come out the other side five minutes later only to find the other tower is also down

As I make my way down Manhattan, there are people outside Yeshiva University saying prayers, the Kaddish I presume. There is no airline traffic except for the F16s.

Hearing them overhead elicits a shudder from me. People look up or run outside to get a look whenever they go by. The closer you get to the site, the more people you see with face masks and wet towels around their shoulders. On the way downtown, one woman sees me crying and stops to ask if I lost someone in the attack. I explain to her that I didn't but I feel overwhelmed by it. She touches me on the arm and smiles. "You're so sweet to be so upset." We talk for a few minutes, she tells me again how "sweet" I am and we part ways.

It seems that everyone in the city has made their way to Canal Street, The first thing I hear is frustration as much as anything. "How could this happen?" "Why didn't they stop them?" Emergency vehicles pass up and down the street, in and out of the site covered in soot and trailing smoke.

I manage to find an open café. On the radio they keep talking about how this is like a movie. They compare it to "Die Hard," "Independence Day." I think how much it is like the news, that there are people around the world who live with a steady stream of violence like this every day. There's not much conversation among strangers. There is some talk about this as the beginning of war, but for the most part, there is silence. This is personal to everyone who witnesses it. The police are tense and afraid as concerns of car bombs start to surface. As quickly as you can make your way a little farther south, they chase you back out. "I can't believe it" is all I can repeat over and over as I hold my hand over my mouth, intermittently breaking into fits of sobbing.

I slowly make my way back up to Chelsea, stopping periodically to peer back. It's been an exhausting day. People are starting to worry about logistics as the sun goes down. How are they going to get home? Where are they going to stay? There are simple black and white printed signs everywhere urging people to give blood. People are being bused to Lincoln Center. United Artists Theater in Union Square is closed but offers shelter for the day to anyone who needs it. Traffic begins to move uptown again. The president observed a moment of silence, but New Yorkers have had an entire day of it. There's nothing to say. It's unfathomable. The streets below Union Square are desolate except for emergency vehicles and foot traffic. As I reach my temporary home, I see several boys skateboard down the center of Broadway.

I sleep fitfully, listening to sirens all night. One lone Verizon truck parked on our block gives me some cause for concern. Is it going to go off in the middle of the night? Each small sound makes me start out of bed. I am more paranoid than I wish to be. I run through all the questions all night. Is it over? Will the subways be safe? What will I wake up to tomorrow?

I am sitting in the McDonald's in Times Square watching CNN and I can't stop crying. I go into the bathroom for an all out weeping before I leave and go back out into the street. "Apocalypse Now" is playing at one of the movie theaters in Times Square.

The mood on the streets is morose. Some people are out and about, but quiet, still stunned. Several people describe the city as a ghost town. There is virtually no car traffic down Broadway, except for emergency vehicles and an occasional taxi. The woman delivering mail says to a man with a briefcase, "Where are you going? This is a ghost town. Nobody's going to work." A young man tells his friends "I can't believe that asshole called and asked me to come to work after what happened." And it feels true. There are the ghosts pouring out of the wreckage, but there are also the living ghosts as well. Everyone on the street is a shadow of themselves. No one can look anyone else in the eye. All we can do is look away, stare off into the distance. In a few days, I will come to understand why Oedipus had to scratch his own eyes out in anguish.

We are still trying to grasp the immediate event, not the big picture. Mary says that I'm lucky. I get to go home, walk away, whereas the people who live there will be dealing with this for a long time. I feel bad about this. She's right--I won't have to be there to rebuild the city or my life. But I will carry this around with me for a long time as well.

The black smoke of yesterday has given way to gray and white clouds. I make my way up to Columbus Circle in Central Park today. There is a bit more bustle here than the lower parts of the island, but the knowledge of what happened is still with everyone. A few people are talking about it, some sitting and reading the papers. Others just sit around, silently, alone or with friends.

Somewhere around 3 p.m. there is a palpable break in the mood. Like yesterday, today is a gorgeous day. The breeze is warm and a little cheering. There are more people streaming out into the streets, activity is picking up. Several people walk beside me and strike up conversations about what has happenedthe first time all day that has occurred. We share our sense of grief and personal loss with one another. "Can you believe it?" are still the words on everyone's lips. The city starts to feel alive again. Later that evening, the restaurants and cafés start to fill up a little more. The mood is not jovial by any means, but people are trying to get back out, trying to feel better.

A 3 year old child who, not knowing what happened, nonetheless understands more than you might think. "Everybody's so sad," he tells his mom. "I'm going to sing for them so they'll be happy."

After dinner with a friend, he invites me to walk part of the way home to SoHo with him. He gets me past the barricades, showing his ID with his address to the police guards, and I am admitted to the military zone that surrounds the area. There is no getting to ground zero, and I don't even try. But even being a few blocks in is strange, eerie. For one thing, I've never had to walk past police and armed guards just to go down the street. The candlelight vigil that began at 7 p.m. is still going on well past 8 o'clock. We stop by a fire station where people are lighting candles and writing messages for the firefighters on the job and the ones who lost their lives.

We go past St. Vincent's hospital where it's a sea of television vans and live interviews, including the local Spanish channel. There are small lights everywhere from the handheld recorders. If there are mourners there, they are not as readily obvious.

Surprisingly, while Midtown is largely closed, the area just south of Union Square, which is on the edge of the closed off parts of the city, is bustling. All the restaurants, cafés and grocery stores are open. Posters of people who are missing are just now starting to go up on light posts and street signs, as are pleas to abstain from retaliation against any of our neighbors.

I am tempted to stay, settle into a café and start writing. But it's getting late and I am now walking home alone. Crime has been minimal, surprising considering the high concentration of police in one area of town. The personal way that everyone there feels about this event seems to have kept most people from indulging in their worst tendencies. I feel safe walking down the street. Still, better not to tempt fate.

By evening the wind has shifted north. As I walk back up to Midtown, the smoke stays thick all the way down and starts to settle in my lungs. It reminds me of walking down the street while people are burning leaves, only much more intense. My throat starts to burn and for about a half-hour I find it difficult to breathe deeply.

Nighttime is the eeriest. Processions of police cars and emergency vehicles provide most of the light among the smoke-filled sky, carrying loads of police, doctors or rescue workers. I decide on a small deli a block and a half from where I am staying. I sit down with a fruit tray and start making notes when I notice a taxi go the wrong way down the Avenue of the Americas.

The scariest thing isn't the sirens. It's when the sirens stop right in front of you.

Police cars wheel around and block off the intersection in front of where I am eating. I pack up my food and notebook and go running down the street. Others are running as well, spewing out rumors as we go. There's a bomb in the subway. Bomb at Penn Station. Bomb at the Empire State Building.

The edge of the quarantined area stops at the end of the block where I am staying. My door, half a block down, is presumed to be safe. The police officer says, "I hope this is safe. I'm standing here." I run upstairs and tell my hosts what's going on, to mixed reactions from the two of them one is nonchalant, the other is hanging up the phone and running out the door. I decide that half a block is not enough buffer and walk down a little further. After 45 minutes I go home and stumble into bed.

I feel weird about leaving, but Thursday was my scheduled time to leave anyway. The place I am staying is small and my hosts have another guest there with whom I have to share the futon, so there is little incentive to stay. I cry in the shower, which appears to be my new morning routine.

The island is open again and the bustle and traffic are back. Taxis are honking and trying to get through. This is the New York I am accustomed to and it makes it even harder to leave just as things are trying to come back to life. There is still great sadness on everyone's faces. Sirens, barricades, police on every corner tell you everything is not really normal. There is a haze over downtown that replaces two days of billowing smoke.

On Wednesday the Greyhound Web site had said to take a train to Newark and catch the buses from there. That's what I'm prepared to do. Having walked by Port Authority yesterday, seeing police and barricades everywhere, I am surprised to call Greyhound and find out that it's open. I drag my heavy bags down there and am further surprised that no one has stopped me or tried to check my bags. I get in line, hoping to make the next bus to Cleveland and all points west, prepared for a day of sitting in line.

There is jubilation in the bus line when we are told that an earlier bus is being brought in to accommodate all the travelers. At 12:15 p.m. I ask someone to watch my bag while I go to the bathroom. When I come out, everyone is running upstairs. Port Authority is being evacuated. Eventually, so is Penn Station, the Condé Nast magazine building and, rumor has it, the Times Square subway station. (The woman sitting next to me on the bus later calls her cousin, who informs her that there were 42 bomb threats in Midtown Manhattan on Wednesday.)

At 1:25 p.m. we go back in and someone immediately screams "bomb" again and goes running up the stairs. I am not budging. There is no bomb, I declare, and I am not losing my place in line again. At 2 p.m., we finally start boarding buses. There is chaos as I try to get information from anyone I can, including drivers, baggage handlers and other passengers. Reportedly, Port Authority has been evacuated three times today, and it seems, once on the bus, that they are trying to evacuate us again. The drivers refuse and people pour out the doors and onto buses like refugees, tired, edgy, frantic to get onto the next bus out. I keep repeating the mantra that I started out on the sidewalk. "I should have gone through Jersey." I Greyhound driver walks past me. I pull him aside and say "Go grab a bus and meet us back here. . . " Everyone on the sidewalk smiles or laughs.

Soon after we get back inside, buses start pulling up to the docks and hundreds of people pour out of the doors in large streams, frantic to get on any bus out of town. Last minute decisions are bein made by drivers about the routes they will take, so you have to ask 3 or 4 drivers if you should get on their bus or not. It is chaos and is straight out of a movie scene. Refugees, again, are all I can think.

I hear the driver of the bus I will be on arguing with someone from the station. "Just get them on the buses. These people are going to riot if we don't get them on a bus."

Loaded up at last, we start driving through Port Authority and toward the sunlight and the street. At the end of the ramp, the bus is stopped and the driver gets out. We all groan. Just keep driving. The driver returns and the sunlight of Manhattan finally comes through the windows and we all take our last looks as we head for the Lincoln Tunnel.

Everyone cheers as we leave New York, anxious to put this as far behind them as possible. I don't want to forget. It's too soon to go back to normal, although I assume all of this will fade in time as all memories
do. I wonder as I leave, if leaving alone will make it fade. Everyone holds their breath as we pass through the Lincoln Tunnel, which is open for the first time in days. Then the collective sigh on the other side alive, our bus intact. There is no other comparison--we have crossed to freedom. It is shocking to watch New York from the Jersey shore as we pull away. The buildings are still smoldering and the skyline is small. Only the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building stand out now.

The next morning, up and back into line to head to Chicago and then home. I call home from my hotel and in the middle of conversation every few minutes, I break into loud sobbing. I can't stop myself. This will be my pattern for the next several days--spontaneous bouts of sobbing.

The man sitting ahead of me starts obsessing about his luggage. I am tired and fed up with problems, delays and complaining. He goes on and on wondering if they have put his luggage on the right bus and eventually declares "this is a nightmare". I snap. "I just got back from New York. This is NOTHING."
The first few days back have been difficult. I feel guilty for leaving as early as I did. I should have stayed and participated in the vigils, or even just been there, continued to be a part of it. I have tense e-mail discussions with my friends, who are also all trying to make sense of it from afar. I try explaining to them that if you can talk about war and the big picture of this, that you are operating from a position of luxury. Having been there, it is just an intensely personal trauma to me. I am still walking around in a daze, unable to look anyone in the eye. All I can do is look away. The first few hours of each day I can think of little else. I'm light-headed and become extremely tired every few hours, as if I have a concussion. It takes me until the late afternoon for anything to be able to distract me.

Back in Minneapolis, life is disturbingly normal. On Hennepin Avenue, people are going to the theater as usual, laughing and having fun, the streets are crowded, and marquees are bright and festive. I do not belong here. I am not ready for this. No one here can possibly understand what is inside of me right now and I struggle to keep from sobbing every so often as we ride the bus, as I look at our very intact skyline, as I listen to people talk about something other than the attacks.

I feel perversely grateful to have been there. This is not abstract to me the way it would be if I had only seen it on television. I know that when I see something like this on the news in the future, my conversations and debates will be on an entirely different level. But I also still feel empty and distracted and do not know what to expect or what I will feel from day to day. Suddenly I can't talk about it enough. I want to stop everyone on the street and tell them where I've been and what I've seen although oddly, the more I tell it, the less I seem to be able to convey.

I still keep thinking it couldn't really have happened, that it was impossible, just a product of my overactive imagination.

There is also survivor guilt. I should have gone down on the 9th as planned and I would have gotten to see the buildings once in my lifetime. I was supposed to have gone down there the day it happened, but I didn't. It's as if I was there, but not FULLY there. I should have been one of those people in the gas masks and wet towels, covered in soot. It should have been me, except for one extra hour of sleep.

Then there are the constant flashbacks. The sounds of sirens set them off. Skyscrapers. Steam coming off the IDS tower later in the fall, sometimes nothing at all but the sounds of voices and conversations and the pictures in my head. For the first two months after I return, I cry every single day.

The dreams do eventually start, and some of them are disturbingly accurate. One morning in December, I dream that I am in Central Park, on a beautiful sunny day, like September 11th. As I make my way downtown, it becomes as dark as night and there is thick billowing smoke. Among dark coal-like ash,. animal carcasses, particularly goat's heads, are being excavated from the site--mad cow incineration scenes meet the World Trade Center. That day, 13 bodies are found at the site--the first in months.

Six months later, I don't want to forget, but I don't dare go back into those memories fully. To have a full and visceral memory of any moment of those four days means touching something that I don't have the strength for. The tears are still just at the edge, particularly when I tell someone I was there on the 11th and they give me "that" look of disbelief. The more I have to explain it, the harder it becomes. But my tears are still a little shallow. I can't continue to sob every day, but I can't let go of it either. I don't want it to go away. I want to turn the clock back to September 10th. I want it to never have happened. But I can't have that, and so I can't give this away either. I weathered the worst of it. I weathered the hopeless feelings, the thoughts of killing myself. It was difficult to imagine that I could ever be happy again or see a point to my life. There were flashes of those thoughts.

I feel irresponsible now. After being an activist most my adult life, I find myself having to turn it all off a little, building a little cocoon around myself. It is never not with me. But I am finding a lot of happiness in my daily life, and have had to keep the focus on that right now, on what is possible and positive. And like my extremely personal reactions that day, have to leave the bigger picture to people who had the luxury of only seeing this on tv. At the moment the best I can do is make a little place for myself and take things as they come, trying not to be overwhelmed.

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