By Artie Van Why (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It happened yesterday; the momentous repercussions of the approaching anniversary of 9/11.
I thought I was doing so well this year. That my emotions were in check. I had planned my activities to commemorate the day. I’ve already spoken, via webcam, to a class in Las Vegas. And I have two more schools I’ll be speaking at on the 11th and the 12th. I’m even being interviewed on the 10th by a student from Cambridge for his thesis on 9/11 and its aftermath. So, all my ducks seemed in a row.
Yesterday my Dad and I went to a casino; one of the fun things we like to do occasionally; just for the enjoyment of playing Blackjack (responsibly to anyone who might worry). Along with my Dad, I had my constant companion, Ranger my service dog, with me.
When it came time to give Ranger a restroom break, I took him outside. As we walked over to a grassy area, I looked up at the sky (which was a bright blue) and that’s when, out of nowhere, it happened. The weight of 9/1I, and all it represents for me, came crashing down on me; like a ton of bricks. My mind was flooded with images and emotions. I wanted to shout to the sky, but instead screamed inwardly with anger, “why did it have to happen?!? And why did I have to be there?!? I don’t want to be a survivor! I don’t want these memories!!”
I hate that I must live with images; never knowing when they will assault my attention; overpower my thoughts.
I want to be able to go back in time and relive that day without the twin towers ever being hit. I want 9/11 to have been just an ordinary day with an extraordinary blue sky.
At that moment, outside of the casino, I was filled with anxiety and grief and I wanted to just cry. But I was in a public place so I had to put a lid on all that raw emotion and go back inside.
I sat back down at the Blackjack table and tried to bring my focus back to the game even though my mind was flooded with images; my concentration captured by an attack of anxiety, sadness and grief. It took all my effort to try to keep my attention on the game but several times my Dad had to say my name because it was my turn and I was lost in thought; my mental state thoroughly distracted by a barrage of flashbacks.
On my left wrist, I wear a rubber wristband that reads “I am a 9/11 Survivor.” The woman to my right, a school teacher, said to me, “I just read your bracelet. It makes me want to cry.” I thought to myself, “Me too.”
Thankfully, my Dad and I were ready to stop playing for the day and go to one of the eateries. I just wanted to crumble in a ball and hide away; choosing instead to go through the motions that I was okay. I could feel a headache coming on as my anxiety level was amplifying.
Our order placed, my Dad waited for the food while I took Ranger to a table to pour his food into his collapsible bowl. After gobbling it up, and with my Dad still waiting for the food, Ranger looked at me and I started talking to him (which is not out of the ordinary). Sometimes when I look in his eyes while speaking to him I think he’s understanding, if not the words then the emotions behind them. As if he can see into my soul.
“I’m sad, Ranger,” I told him. “Can you help me?” All he could do is just gaze back at me steadily. But it is a comfort for me to be able to pet him and rub his neck or the top of his head. It helps. That, plus the fact I took one of my anti-anxiety pills.
Dad came to the table and we ate. You might wonder, and, Dad if you’re reading this you might want to ask, why I didn’t speak up and say what I was going through. For one, it’s difficult to explain what I’m going through. The words of a survivor’s ordeal can seem like a foreign language. If you weren’t there on 9/11, it would be difficult for you to understand. Because behind a survivor’s words are the sounds and images of war. And unless you’ve been on that battlefield you just can’t imagine the horror. So, Dad, I’m sorry I didn’t speak up. It’s just at times it’s easier to remain silent and let the inner demons of remembrance run their course.
Ironically, when we got back home I received a Private Facebook Message from a fellow survivor. She wrote that she was having a bad day and was trying to get through it. She was thinking of how I was doing that day. Kindred spirits, connecting souls. I wrote back that she wasn’t alone. That it was a bad day for me as well. I then realized it was also September 1. Ten more days.
She wrote back to me something I’d never considered before.
“Some people want us to forget so they don’t have to remember.”
She ended with “I hope sleep is my friend tonight.”
I told her I would try to do some writing. And I did. The words above are the result of my efforts.
I hope they help a fellow survivor. I hope they give a non-survivor a bit of insight. And I hope sleep was a friend for my friend last night.