NINE YEARS AND COUNTING: Life after September 11.

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on September 10, 2010

That is how much time has passed.

Nine years.

To the day.

Almost to the hour as I write this.

You know what I am talking about. None of us can forget.

Time has gone by, it has in fact, altered everything, and also left scars and open wounds. The smoke has cleared, the debris has been removed, yet the hole remains. Nine years after the twin towers were attacked. The hole remains.

Last night, as I looked out onto where the towers stood, there was a single beam of pure white light, two of them really, merging into one, illuminating the precise spots where towers of steel and glass stood, announcing the city of New York to the world.  Gentle reminders, like ghosts, which shine upon the night sky every year this time in September, every year for the past nine. Faint traces of what was, in a moonlit sky. This very night, it is beautiful, New York glimmers and the sky is inky blue deepening rapidly but for the beams of light reaching toward the heavens.

I am not the only one to remember, nor the only one who cannot and will not forget. It is part of my history now and I am forever changed by it. Nine years ago, a beautiful blue, cloudless New York sky greeted me in the early morning. I had already seen three patients’, and my 8:45 was late, no message, 10 minutes of his 45 minute session gone by. Unusual for him, a man dedicated to details and punctuality, he had never missed a session or been late before. But there is always a first time I said to myself. I decided that I would run downstairs to my corner deli and get some coffee, and at worst, I would run into him in the hallway.

We psychoanalysts lead very isolated lives once we are at work. The world cannot intrude and we are unavailable except for the 5 or 10 minutes that we allow in between our sessions, if that. So off I went to the deli, not knowing that this would be my last delicious moment of  innocence. That as I entered the deli to order my coffee, I would be changed forever and my world would never be the same.

Everyone in the deli was paralyzed. No one was moving. The radio was LOUD. No impatient crowd waiting for their smears and coffee’s. This crowd was silent and open mouthed. And the radio was REALLY LOUD. And then, as I settled into this slow-motion world myself, I HEARD the voice on the radio. I HEARD the words. It was announcing that tower one had been hit by a plane and it appeared to be a terrorist attack. I checked myself. Attack? Must be a re-play of War of the Worlds I told myself. But I stood there and listened. I think the coffee was on the house that day because I turned and ran back to my office where I could listen to the news. Sitting down. Where I could start calling patients who were …where? There?! On their way? Trapped somewhere?!

I walked home, me and many other New Yorkers, zombie like and disbelieving. Dissociated yet here and on our feet. I got home just in time to see tower 2 crumble and disappear into a huge mushroom cloud. War of the worlds indeed: the outside world colliding with everything I held in my world. Imploding on our psyches.

The catastrophe of 911 has affected all of us. We have all became survivors since none of us could have known or expected what happened. That is the way of trauma- it is an assault on the psyche, which remains unassimilated until it is processed, talked about and understood. I count myself as one of the lucky ones.  As a psychoanalyst I found words, many words, with many patients over many sessions. The talking helping both of us: patient and doctor. Each word, each sentence giving meaning to the incomprehensible event of 911. Each story, and the retelling of it, bringing the trauma of it into focus. The words knitting together, spinning  meaning and interweaving it with emotions and feelings into the experience. The pain ushering in our loss, our grief. The clinical space becoming a safe haven for the unbearable to be named, relived, and slowly put to rest. But never too far and never forgotten, Always a part of our history.

This is not a special story, there are millions of them. It is just mine. And I am one of the fortunate few who did not lose any loved ones. I  just lost a part of myself. And every September 11 I remember.

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