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Mistakes were made

New York City meets Munich

September 15th, 2001 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Dig we must

What is there to do but try to pick up some pieces and move forward? Even if it is just one step, I suppose it’s the only choice I have. The hardest about taking that step is the sheer volume of futile waiting it involves.

We scramble around at work, trying to establish a small sense of order, but so little progress is made. I feel like I’m accomplishing nothing. But we are making progress, as small as it might be.

Shuffling out of the Contingency Center around 10PM, we are tired. I share a ride with two people I work with, but they both live in Brooklyn, so that’s our destination. It’s too difficult to get in and out of Manhattan still. At least I can take the subway to and from Brooklyn, but it means at least an extra thirty minutes of travel time for me to get home, and that’s after the almost hour ride from New Jersey through Staten Island, to Brooklyn.

As we approach Manhattan, a column of ghostly smoke cuts the night sky where the Trade Center once was. The Manhattan Battery tunnel, like a cauterized wound, is closed with red warning flares and trucks with flashing lights. Periodically emergency vehicles pass us swiftly in a lane dedicated to them. So much to do. So much to heal.

I am deposited at the A line subway, and descend. Even here, in Brooklyn, streets are closed and police are in abundance. I am not far from the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. Just two days ago, refugees from the Financial District made an exodus across its span to safety. Most of them were walking the bridge for the first time in their lives. Now that span is empty, sealed to all but official traffic.

I am weary, and wanting to be home. I want the subway ride to be over. Unlike the journey in, that took the F train route which doesn’t go as far south, this A train takes the regular route. This means we will pass through Chambers Street station. That is where I would get off for the World Trade Center on the times I took the A or C. Usually I take E, because after Canal Street, it goes on another track, and makes a final stop at World Trade Center. The Chambers Street stop is connected to the World Trade Center station by a long hall, about a two minute walk.

I get up from my seat on the subway and move to the door. The train will not stop at Chambers, or Canal Street or Spring Street for that matter, but at Chambers, I am passing underneath a mass grave. This is where the Towers died, and with them, so many people who were just at work, earning a living. I want to see my old station.

The train slows after we cross under the East River and enter Manhattan. We carefully roll along the track, the usual crashing and rattling of the subway car respectfully silenced. Quietly, we creep through the tunnel, like a frightened child tiptoeing through a graveyard. It feels like everyone on the car is holding their breath.

We float through a dark Chambers station, lit by only a few emergency lights. The light seems brighter, reflected off the white dust which has managed to penetrate even underground. The platform looks like it has been abandoned for years. As we leave the station, I can’t help but think about what the streets above look like. Three days ago, there was a shining monument to engineering brilliance and financial might above me. Now there is nothing but rubble and carnage to draw rats.

As we get distance between us and the dead, the train slowly accelerates and emerges into West 4th Street station, the first stop in Manhattan from Brooklyn now. The doors open, and a man steps into the train. Dust covers his clothing, a heavy-duty dust mask hangs around his neck, and a fresh American flag bandana is on his head, striking in its cleanliness. In his hands he holds a hard hat and a pair of canvas work gloves. A yellow utility flashlight hangs securely from his belt.

It is hard not to stare at him. I wonder what he saw today, what images are etched in his mind. I want to talk to him, but I cannot bring myself to intrude. I feel myself wanting to do something for him, to offer comfort or support. But his face is a grim mask, his jaw slack, his mouth open slightly like a sound should emerge from it. But there is no sound. He leans against the doors, and seems unusually motionless in a jostling subway car. There is a gravity about him.

I stand next to him as we approach my stop. His eyes are scanning the car slowly, but its like he doesn’t see anyone. I glance over at him, one final time before the doors open to let us off. An American flag is attached to his dust-covered backpack. Our eyes meet as I step off the train, and I realize that words are useless right now. In all that I can see in his face, I am sure my face is no less clear.

I walk home in the cool night air, to catch a few hours sleep, only to have turn around and go back to work. Each of us here, in our way, toils to restore our world. I am grateful I am not faced with more horror in my efforts.

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