WAKING INTO SEPTEMBER 12TH, 2021 Continuing Beyond Twenty-Years of My 9/11 Life

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I sat in my living-room 25-miles west of my Freeport, Long Island home, transfixed to the terrorizing drama unfolding on every television station. My mood was one of disbelief, overwhelming anxiety, and hope, that one of the thousands of people racing through the streets of lower Manhattan and spanning the Brooklyn Bridge, were wearing green khakis and a striped oxford shirt with my husband’s face of determination. At 9:59 AM, as Tower Two imploded in a dust cloud, I fell to my knees screaming into the 32” curved window, “Run David, RUN!

I witnessed New York City drenched in chaos. Camera crews fled up avenues chased by rolling cancerous clouds, with lenses wide-opened to the ghosted individuals caught in the aperture. I witnessed news anchors weeping from their midtown studios, choking for words. All were one masked in white dust, moving in two contrails stretching north and eastward from lower Manhattan, like a long expression of vaporous energy scoring the blue sky. Suddenly, Tower One quaked with a tremulous chill, folding into itself in a total progressive collapse, in 15-seconds. So too did my life. Although the initial shattering can be measured in seconds, the healing stretches over the course of a lifetime.

The only way to move forward is to lean into the tenderness loop

Waking into September 12th has always felt like the clicking of a refresh wheel, resetting my life into another year, to begin again. Each year, as the summer tilts toward leaving, I lean into the grief, shrinking toward the same horizon of September 11th. There is a rising crescendo of happy memories knotted with an overture of haunting re-played images and bids to memorialize, along the passage moving me toward the day I watched my husband explode into the forget-me-not-sky. When the name David Garcia resounds in the symphony grosso, it’s like releasing a pearl held firm in my lips, and each year as I exit the stage, everything in my life shifts. I am forced to continue into the future of my 9/11 life.

Every year on the 11th of September, my sons and I lean into the reflecting pools, snap a selfie, cross West Street to walk the Esplanade and sit down to lunch. However, this time is different. This year I am mourning one more. Beside my 24-year-old son and I at the great fountain will be an unembodied shadow, the son who 365-days ago, wore a mask as the nation captured our embrace. The tunnel of lasts lengthens—the last Maine vacation, last memorial ceremony, last birthday celebration, without him—from the footprints of shattered dreams to the day my beautiful boy ended his life on October 31st, 2020.

Children raised in the footprints of 9/11 are locked into a continuous discontinuity, with constant reminders to never to forget. A forced vulnerability that ripples in the undercurrent of the war on terrorism and keeps them teetering on the edge of developing strong identities in a fearful world, and not. My children (8- and 4-years-old in 2001) have never known a world without the war and threat of terrorism that was ignited by their father’s murder on the 97th floor of One World Trade Center. It is the ceaseless death.

Although the initial shattering can be measured in seconds, the healing stretches over the course of a lifetime.

Over the span of two decades, through fierce love and fervent vigilance, I’ve provided my sons with positive life experiences through maintaining connections with extended family, mentors, education, extracurricular activities, and therapeutic support. The hope was that I had done enough to unravel the darkness so they could restitch their worlds. But the Fates weren’t having it. The pandemic pushed its heel into the tenderness. With the sudden suspension of employment that fueled aspirations, sporting and fitness activities that brought joy, and social engagements that instilled emotional balance, the unceasing life intermission of COVID-19 drew my boys into the maw of anxiety, isolation, and hopelessness. “The world is not a good place, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better,” are the words my 27-year-old wrote in the letter he left on the hotel room table.

Seven weeks later, my 24-year-old son, who had believed he had been too young to have suffered from the personal traumatic effects of 9/11, was hospitalized for an emotional breakdown, sending him home to Vermont for a long winter’s rest.

Today, I stand in the interval, of where the tunnel of last family memories lengthens the darkness toward a final passage through death’s days of firsts without our son. As I advance into the 49-days toward October 31st, I feel the life I had fought so hard to re-create, shrinking into the infinite expanse of my beautiful boy’s absence.

During this twentieth year, trembling alone in the dark, I’ve felt myself wavering on the edge of my breath. What evil has taken my lover? What force destroyed my son? Why wasn’t I enough for my second husband? What had I missed? Where am I and where do I go from here? How have I moved forward through the lengthening tunnel? How do I continue without getting lost in the darkness? As reminders of the losses persist through the coming years, I can never expect a smooth sheath to close over the wounds. I can recognize that pain is my constant companion, and I will never let the lives I’ve loved go. Thus, the only way to move forward, is to lean into the tenderness. To mourn, to remain present, to show myself the same compassion I extend to others, and find the courage to share my journey.

At the end of this epoch, the immediate shattering has ended: Bin Laden is dead, the footprints have been memorialized, the families have been compensated, my son’s ashes have been placed beside his father’s pulverized bones, and the author has moved through two decades of her narrative. But the continuous disquietude is interminable. Efforts to identify remains, the cancerous cascade of death, the pursuit of justice and national safety tag 9/11 as a current event.

What I hope is for in my generation and the generations to follow, is that within the interfold of simultaneous human dissonance, there exists a universal sympathy. A sympathy woven so deep in the fabric of our collective substance, that long after the actual witnesses are gone, a common hope threads through our differences, strengthening our resolve, to continue the story.

© Deborah Garcia, 2021 all rights reserved

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