2001 and the seven years that followed were formative for me. I’ve written about it elsewhere so I won’t tell the whole thing here. Suffice it to say, I learned way too much about 9/11 — and who the hell wants to be an expert on that? It was a lot and I felt that because of it, I was a lot. I felt like a drag at parties whenever anyone asked what I did for a living. My office overlooked Ground Zero, which at that point was a construction site, and I was still recovering from PTSD. It was a useful but unhappy decade.
I remember specifically, sometime around 2007, telling someone that 9/11 would be really over for me when I could walk from one end of the site to the other. I don’t know what possessed me to say those words out loud, but effectively what I did was make a contract with myself, an agreement with the universe and my own psyche that it wouldn’t be over until that moment, that it would continue like an ellipse in my heart until I took that walk.
When the 9/11 relief agency I was managing closed and I moved out of disaster work and the city, I didn’t go back to Lower Manhattan. I just didn’t. I can count on one hand the occasions I’ve had to be downtown over these last sixteen years, so I conveniently avoided visiting the Memorial. Colleagues and friends went. I did not. With all the therapy and healing stuff I did, I backburnered this one.
A few months ago, I had a few 9/11 nightmares for the first time in years, and then I had a coaching session that brought up disaster memories in a way that completely annoyed me because why was it still a thing? And then I remembered that contract I had made with myself and realized that there was a part of me that still didn’t think it was over.
That’s what happens with trauma. Despite evidence to the contrary, some part of us is still reliving the incident and trying unsuccessfully to work it out. I’m dating myself by saying that the tape gets stuck. No matter how illogical it may seem, we’re still living in the feedback loop of whatever it was that traumatized us.
In my mind, the site was still a hole in the ground, exposed down to bedrock. I could smell the office suite with its particular mix of cheap coffee, printer ink, and sandwiches. Everyone I worked with was the same age as they had been at our last conference room meeting, even though…