Posts Tagged ‘WTC’

Towers as they were being built, © melabee m miller

Eight years ago in Florence, Italy, it was 3 pm when it was 9 am in New York City. I was running a fire drill in a dormitory and the students trailed out slowly. I told them they could have died if there had been a real fire. They were unfazed.

One of the staff members ran into the office to tell us that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. What could that mean? I let someone else answer her. 

The professor living upstairs from the office, who had joked earlier on the phone, called and told me to listen. He told me the story of the first plane. He was stern and I thought it was another joke. I might have hung up on him.

Nothing made sense.

My boyfriend texted me, “Piccola, are you listening to the radio or watching the television?” I probably didn’t answer until later.

The New York school where I worked had been recently hit by lightning and had lost not only its alarm system, but also the cable television. After the Towers fell, we lost our connection to American internet, like Gmail and Yahoo. We became more and more isolated. 

A kind Italian, who was dating one of the staff members, stood in the television room and translated for the students. I worked with my colleagues to help find and alert the students. My mouth didn’t want to repeat the story.

When no one was looking, I ran out of the office and into the olive grove to call my family. My mother didn’t answer. I called my father. He didn’t answer; I left a message. I yelled and cursed at him. I wanted him to call me back and explain what the f*ck was going in the United States. In New York. Across the river from my home. Surely, he would be the one who could explain it. 

Someone had to be in charge. My legs started to fail me as I walked back to the office.

The students gathered by the dormitories, crying and trying to make phone calls. We let them use the office phones to call family members in New York, DC and in consulates throughout the world. We all needed to connect. 

That evening, my boyfriend brought me copies of the special editions of the local papers. We watched the BBC. The professor upstairs from the office came over. We sat close and tried to make sense of it through the repeating images. We mostly repeated ourselves. My boyfriend, who was Albanian, assured me that he had lived through war and this was not war. At least not in Florence.

I was able to get in touch with everyone I could think of. They were safe. My family called my great aunt and left messages for each other, knowing that she would be home. I was relieved, but remained shocked. It took a few days for me to agree to leave campus and the many phones we had there. 

I had to fly to the United States a few weeks later for consular reasons. My employer, in a meeting with a lawyer, made me sign a contract that I was choosing to fly to New York. If anything happened to me, they couldn’t be held responsible. To avoid agreeing to working illegally, I signed it.

In the plane, I fell asleep and dreamed of a crash. I woke with a stewardess throwing herself on me, begging me to stop screaming. 

Approaching land, I looked down at the gap in the skyline. The enormous space left behind.

As soon as I could, I went to Ground Zero. I walked by the memorials that began in Journal Square, Jersey City and ended downtown. I looked through the fence and watched what had been a recovery effort. 

This was where my mother had taken me and my childhood friend to see Santa Claus. Where the enormous puppet show took place. Where one of my best friends had her sweet sixteen. Where so many people died. I couldn’t focus my eyes.

On either continent, I felt both far away and close to what had happened.




Grief can be public, private and physical. The following is a poem I wrote a few years ago as I continue to try to comprehend not only what happened, but my own shock and fear. 

We have to remember and continue to connect with our loved ones.


The first


Her husband was not her first

love. Her first slept like a starfish,

limbs pointing off the twin bed.

She sketched his profile,

tried to contain him on one sheet

with black charcoal.

She was no one’s first love.


Freehand, she drew the parallel

lines. Steel, glass, concrete –

she couldn’t identify their joints,

only the boxes deleting air. Her skyline

shifted buildings, rearranged height.

She interpreted space, distance.


Some things are never

only ours. When they fell,

one after another, that grief

wasn’t hers to claim,

even if it was her first.



I invite you to use the Comments section to share your own story, poem, etc.

Read Full Post »