I have pictures of me standing in the Twin Towers in 1992. There was a floral display in the foyer. It was a pyramid of tulips that stood nearly 8 feet tall. The bulbs were planted to grow in a rainbow of colors organized like a pyramid. It looked like a living sculpture built with flowers. I loved that display so much. I miss it. I am someone who should have been there. Literally. I had packed my bags and had scheduled the weekend off from work. I was supposed to be in New York that morning.
"Where were you when it happened?"
I hate this question. Actually, I hate the answer. Fortunately, it isn't one I am asked ever. I live 3 hours from New York City or The City as we call it here in New York. The week of 9/11, friends called me asking if we could see the smoke. ... I can't do this. Write this all out again. I thought I could, but it's exhausting and I just don't have the mental health to do it ever again. 9/11 was sheer horror. We all know that. My experience of 9/11 was a horror within a horror. I am an author by profession and I wrote out that day out in detail in my memoir. I can't write this out again. I already said everything I have to say about that day in Broken. However, I do want to share that day with you. Here is that excerpt. I wrote what I recalled from that day using Gestsalt Therapy, though I didn't know it was called that at the time. Everything here is 100% true. All of it. It's graphic. It's disturbing. It's hell. It contains triggers for those with a sensitivity to violence. It should not be read by rape survivors unless they have spoken to a therapist first. WARNING: This contains graphic material. Read responsibly. 18+ only.
31 August 2001, I moved into my own place with my cat, Tribble. The constant state of euphoria dropped me on cloud nine and sustained me there. I had a job. I had public transportation. I had just turned twenty- one—which would have mattered if I hadn't been illegally drinking wine since I was sixteen— and, for the first time in my life, I felt empowered. I felt...I simply felt again. Within the first week, I had located a dance studio down the street from me. I took lessons twice a week, worked forty hours, and volunteered at a local cat shelter where I surrounded myself with four floors of cats. I had nothing and my pay was taken by all of my rent. I didn't eat and didn't have enough money to buy food. But that was okay because I hated food. I hated eating. And so I didn't. I managed on half a sandwich a day and a small glass of milk. I drank coffee, which fueled my on-the-go lifestyle. In my spare time, I danced. I danced to spite the music I no longer played. Between the dancing and not eating, I dropped down to eighty pounds at four foot eleven inches. I still visited the City two times a month and was due back September of 2001.
* * *
I felt William stiffen at the mention of that September. I looked at him from across the table.
"Yes," I said. "You know what happened that September. We all know what happened that September." I watched his lips tighten. "How old are you?" I asked.
I smiled and bobbed my head. "You know where your parents were?"
"My mom was attending morning classes. She was between classes when she heard people around her talking about it. My dad was home sick in bed and watched the whole thing on the news."
I nodded. Someone always has a story to tell about their September 11th. I had yet to tell mine.
"What about you?" he asked.
I stared at the table. I felt the tears swell.
"I was in New York so much over the last few years. She was my home. The time spent away from New York, I was waiting...forever waiting to go back. I feel like my whole life was spent waiting. I waited for Piss-ant. I waited for Scott. I waited for my mother and my father to help me. I waited for Isaiah. I waited for someone to come and pick me up off the floor. To help me. I waited. No one ever came. Not once. It is no wonder I lost all faith in the human race and their gods."
William listened. I could hear him holding his breath.
* * *
I was supposed to be in New York that day. Scott changed our plans last minute. I was home that day in my new apartment. I had no television. I had a radio. The sun was shining and I was waiting for Scott to get there. He called me around nine to tell me the news. A plane had hit the Trade Towers. He told me to turn on the radio and see if I could get a signal. I couldn't get reception. I was frustrated. I didn't understand. He stayed on the phone with me, shouting orders into the phone. I fumbled with the radio dial and tried to get reception. But where I lived, the satellite signals came from the Trade Center. Scott relayed the news on his end.
"The towers have been hit. A second plane. A second plane hit the towers!"
"What?" I didn't understand. I couldn't. I wanted to scream. I was confused.
"I'll be there in a few minutes," he said.
I fumbled with the dials. I didn't understand. I had no pictures. I only had the garbled voice on the other end panicking as he did his best to relay the horror back to me.
Scott came into the apartment. He shoved me out of the way and played with my radio, trying desperately to find a clear signal. He found one just as the towers fell.
The reporter played back the event. The billowing smoke. The first tower fell. People, New Yorkers, my brothers, leapt from the buildings. I didn't understand. How can skyscrapers fall? I stood there shaking, not quite understanding, terrified and so confused with the rest of New York and the world.
The first tower fell. New York was screaming, she was falling apart. Scott looked at me and said, "I have to go back."
"What? You just got here!"
"I know," he said. "But I have to go."
"Where? Into the war zone? We don't know what's going on!"
"I know. Which is why I have to go back."
"Take me with you," I said. "I can help!"
"No, you need to stay here. Come on now. I don't have much time."
I didn't understand.
Scott was unzipping his pants.
You can't be serious.
New York was under fire. People were dying.
I shook my head. "I don't want to. I can't—"
Ignoring my protests, he shoved me toward the bedroom. While my head was still spinning, he raped me. While New Yorkers died—while I cried for my people, my family, my kin—he raped me.
He finished, got dressed, said something—I don't remember what—and left. I heard the front door close and I lay there naked, his semen dripping down my leg. My frail, eighty-pound, dancer-eaten body withering away while New York burned and I cried for them. I laid there all day, unable to move or understand. I just lay there and cried in my room for my fellow man while my city burned.
I woke the next morning. I moved like a corpse. I think everyone did that morning. I left my apartment and stepped into air thick with death. I lived three hours away from the City. Too many of the people where I lived had kin in the City, moved from there only recently, or were there only days before. I walked the street to my bus and nearly wretched at the morning newspaper. I saw it and went numb. I tried to understand. I couldn't. I got on my bus and found a seat and stared at every face. Every face looked battered with grief for the three thousand who died only yesterday. I hadn't heard yet about the Pentagon or Flight 93. Each one of us near tears, each one of us looked as if we had just stepped out of a war zone.
I arrived at my job. The lights were still out. I followed my usual routine and made my way to the break room. The TV was on. I looked up and froze. There she was in all her elegance and strength, I stared at my city under fire. The people jumping, the smoke rolling...the towers falling. I went white then quiet.
I left the break room and reported to the meeting. The managers spoke about nothing relevant. None of it mattered. I remember thinking that a lot. I was locked in my own head. I was silent. Confusion battled grief. The images replayed of the day before. Scott raped me. He left me. He denied me the one thing I needed and that was my New York. To see my Old New York. To help her. To be there. To know she was okay. All he could think about was sex.
I tuned into the meeting.
"Due to recent events, I'd like to propose a moment of silence for those lives lost yesterday."
And then there was silence. That silence cut through my sanity and I broke. I crumbled under my tears and everyone there followed me. We held each other. We sobbed and we hugged. Strangers clung to each other, desperate to be rid of the hurt we all shared. And I broke. I didn't know who held me. I had never been held while I cried in my life. Not when my cats died or my cousins.
I looked up and saw Richard, one of the managers, holding me. "Lily," he said to a coworker. "Can you take her—"
He passed me to Lily. She closed her eyes and held me, tears lined our faces and that morning I shared my grief with another human being.
I pressed my knuckles to my mouth.
"I've never gone back," I said.
I felt William's eyes back on me. "Ever?"
I shook my head. "I can't. Not after..." I kept shaking my head. I felt my eyes burn.
"Why not?" he asked.
I forced myself to take a deep breath.
"For fear of what I might see," I guessed. "A different New York? One that I may not know. Or worse, one that may not know me."
William gave a disinterested face and looked back down at his paper.
"I think it's something else," he said.
I dropped my hand to my lap and forced a playful smile.
"Oh, do you?"
I knew I wasn't fooling him. Not this time.
"New Yorkers are strong," he said. "If there is anything 9/11 taught us, it is that New Yorkers—Americans—prevail. Yes, New Yorkers are rude, obstinate, and impatient, but they have a strength, a determination, seen in very few other places in the world. 9/11 wouldn't change that. It would make them stronger. So what is it?" he asked. "Why didn't you go back?"
I made a point of watching my cat in the green room.
"I've never really had the time," I said.
"Bull," William said.
I looked at my guest.
"You're a writer," he said. "You keep your own schedule."
"What difference does it make if I go back?" I asked. "It doesn't matter."
"It matters," he insisted. "Why you didn't go back. Now, today, why didn't you go back?"
My head was reeling. I felt my anxiety rise with the words I needed to say. It had been too long.
"Because..." I trailed off.
I was still holding it in, the bottled hurt. How could I dare cry about my lot when others were dying? I bit my finger.
"Because I should have been there!" I screamed. "I was supposed to be there and I'm sorry! I'm sorry I couldn't do better by them! I'm sorry I couldn't scream louder! Sorry that I wasn't there."
"Sure," Ian said beside me. "Your people are dying, but you're sorry. Keep your Irish sorrys and stuff 'em."
He was mocking me, but I had to make him understand. He had to understand.
"We had made plans to drive up that day!" I said. "I was supposed to be there and I wasn't! We changed our plans last minute and instead of dying with them, he raped me! He raped me! He left me...and people were dying, people were... I should have been one of them, but I was too busy—"
"Too busy what?" Ian said. "Being raped?" He scoffed. "You deserved to get raped, is that it? Use it to punish you for not being there for New York? Is that why you didn't go back? You don't feel sorry for her. You felt sorry for yourself."
Rage distorted my face.
"Now wait just a minute!" I said to Ian. "I do not! I hate pity. I do not accept it, most of all from me. I loved her! I belonged with her! I should have died with her! I should have suffered with her. I got out easy!"
Ian was nodding too politely.
"You did," he said. "And why shouldn't you? You were only raped, after all, while they were dying. Their suffering far outstrips yours. What right do you have to cry about your hurt? One would hardly think you cared about New York at all."
"I do care!"
"What he did to you was nothing compared to what was happening in New York..."
"It was something!"
"...you were only raped, after all."
"I would have been there for her!" I insisted.
"So why weren't you?" he asked.
"Because I couldn't get to her!"
"And why not?" he pressed.
"Because he raped me!"
There was Ian's victorious smile. I looked to William, who sat looking horrified at me. Then all the hurt swelled up inside of me and I burst into tears.
"He left me!" I shrieked. "New York was burning and he raped me...as the towers fell! People were dying. Children lay dying, and he raped me! He raped me! He left me! He raped me and I couldn't...I couldn't even save me."
I shook under my grief and I cried right then for New York and the people who lost their fathers and mothers, husbands and wives. I cried for them as I had cried for days on end. But mostly, right then, I cried for me.
Did I know someone who was there?
Yes, I did. Scott was a pedophile who had used my own mental illnesses against me to entrap me. He was older than my father and was born and raised in the Bronx. So yes, I knew someone who lived there. Actually, living in Binghamton, New York, 2 out of 3 people I knew were from New York. While we didn't see it enfold before our eyes, 2 out of 3 people had family there. We all could only stand aside helpless while we watched 3 hours away as our friends and families were ripped apart.
How has it changed me?
How do I answer that question? How do I separate the rape from 9/11? For me, they were very much the same thing. I used the screams of 9/11 to mentally escape the rape. How did it change me? I walked away with the PTSD I already had being worse than ever before. It enhanced my abandonment issues and took my BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) to the next level. I can't say I developed mental illnesses from this event. By 2001, I had already had six of them: PTSD, BPD, Mania, Bipolar, Hypersexuality, and Depression. After 9/11 I went into a darker, more horrendous place than ever before. I learned that the bad guys can win. But the weeks that followed...it restored my faith in the humanity. I learned just how much I love New York and the people here.
9/11 pushed me over the edge where I would live for the next 14 years. Yeah, I was raped on 9/11...and it would take me 14 years to call what he did to me rape. Instead, I internalized the pain and loathed myself for not being there in New York. I didn't know it until recently, but I wanted to be there to share in the pain, to use that pain as a way to punish myself for being raped. How dare I be raped while people died. I cursed myself as if I had chosen the rape. How badly I wanted to be among the firemen, pulling people out of the rubble. I can't say that 9/11 changed me. It only worsened my already decrepit mental state. I can say though, talking about 9/11, writing it all out like I did in Broken in 2015...writing it all out like this, right now, telling my story to you, that is what changed me. This is why I want to share it with you. Writing it all out like that woke me up to awareness and I stepped back from that moment and said, "He raped me." It took a long time for me to learn to cry for me and New York. It took a long time to learn that crying for me wasn't selfish.
The day I wrote that passage, I finally opened up and cried. A month later, I would be starting therapy.
Where am I today?
Smiling more than ever and still loving my old New York more than ever before. I am still in therapy and have spent many a session talking about New York and 9/11. I still have not returned to the City.
Angela B. Chrysler