Opinion: Musings on the Coast


What Came After 9/11

A friend was on the 34th story of 7 World Trade Center (47 stories) when the first airliner hit the South Tower (110 stories, like the North Tower) on Sept. 11, 2001. What follows below is his story, slightly modified to maintain his much-desired anonymity. It is told in the first-person to convey the enormity.


When the first plane hit, we heard the explosion and saw the flames and smoke. Almost immediately our building’s loudspeaker screeched that we should not leave our building due to falling debris, but I yelled at everyone to exit now and by the stairs. We made it all the way down even as the North Tower was hit. Outside, I saw a woman whose skirt was on fire and rushed to beat it out when a jumper fell on her.

I looked up. More bodies were in the air.

I sprinted uptown maybe 15 blocks when the first Tower collapsed and the debris cloud engulfed me. I kept going, found an abandoned bicycle and pedaled to my place on the Upper West Side. My wife and kids were there and threw me into the shower. The dust clogged the drain and my wife moved me to the kids’ shower.

The next day, one of our remaining executives called and said they needed help. All of the firm’s financial records for the prior month were in one of the tower basements and would I go get them? At the site I donned a full hazmat suit and descended into the building. It was boiling hot even in the suit, and chaotic as I clambered down over twisted steel and concrete.

By day three came the funerals, 42 in all, haphazardly scheduled so there were less than one per day, mostly my colleagues lost in the first Tower.

By day 10, the survivor suicides began.

I helped clear the Pile for more than a year. I was crazed. I ignored my wife, kids, and my remaining friends—my entire life. After 15 months, my firm insisted on a paid sabbatical.

I saw many shrinks and took anti-depressants. By year seven, I was divorced and moving from city to city, chasing better bars or better meth, heroin, or whatever was available.

After year 13, I found myself in Eureka, Calif.—as far from New York City as possible and on the beach. I thought the right thing might be to swim out and keep going, and I still don’t understand why I didn’t.

Then I wandered into a weirdo Yoga-ashram center. It was Hippie Mumbo Jumbo. But one night a woman talked me into attempting meditation. She said, try it just once: simply lie on the floor and let my mind wander. When my head touched the carpet, I instantly dropped into a deep trance and my world transmuted.

Outside it was drizzling, and I was outside there too and I knew—I knew—I was one of the drops. I was not in the drops; I was of the drops. And I knew I was not a person. I was/am a speck connected to a continuum that connects everything and is forever.

That saved me.

My wife had re-married and had a new life, but I called my grown kids and I tried. I am still trying.

I do not know why I have not contracted one of the many cancers killing other ground zero workers.

That is all I know.

Michael is a Laguna Beach resident and principal officer of Laguna Forward PAC.

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