Sensory Overload

I know the 9/11 anniversary is tomorrow. I don’t have a lot to say about it, other than to say that I remember sitting in that godforsaken LRA meeting, with (Wh)ora Lee flapping her jaws and HRP acting like her usually snooty self — I believe I was wishing that a plane would hit our building, just to get me out of that hellish, three-hour debacle.

One of my colleagues had an all-out panic attack during that meeting (related to 9/11, not the content of the meeting, although I could certainly understand the latter cause! lol) — I was in with a bunch of religious kooks who were all praying for those who perished and praying for the woman who was gasping for breath amidst cries of “Thank you Jesus, thank you Lord.” I called the medics two or three times, as it took them close to an hour to respond to our call, in the haze of many Pittsburgh residents going nuts over the terrorist attacks. I was fighting with the dispatcher, who was asking me her medical history, and I barely knew her and was ordering them to come to the building and find out for themselves. It’s weird — I know I didn’t do much, but my ability and desire to take over in a crisis really kicked in. Everybody was staying the fuck out of my way — they knew I wasn’t going to let this woman’s condition get any worse, even if I had to carry her to the hospital on my back.

I remember sitting with my arm around this woman, bringing her paper towels soaked in cold water and basically not knowing which end was up. I remember the secretary Cora Lee (not to be confused with the infamous (Wh)ora Lee) interrupting the meeting to tell us about Flight 93 crashing in Somerset, and she popped in again to tell us to take our kids out of school, if we had school-age children. That’s when my colleague started her panic attack, and nobody noticed but me at first.

I remember HRP calling a moment of silence when Cora Lee first appeared. That would have been fine, but what the bitch did was say, “As the leader of this meeting, I will pause our discussion to have a moment of silence.” She had to throw in her authority, even in such a moment. I remember looking across the table at F/OM, and at Lori to my right — the utter disbelief of everything was registered on all of our faces. Maybe not disbelief, but dumbfoundedness. I remember wondering if these were the people with whom I would die, right then and there.

We had to work the full day, which sucked because everyone who had kids (which was nearly everyone) brought the little bastards back to work with them, per HRP’s orders. It was chaos. I vaguely remember checking in with Brat and CTL to make sure that they were hanging in there. I was able to get a phone line to call my mom, because she was on the verge of her own panic attack. She insisted on driving me home from work that day, as Downtown had been evacuated, and I had to go through town to get to my apartment on Mount Washington. So she and my grandfather came to get me and drop me off. That was it … that made them happy, to see me get home safely.

Life returned to business as usual, and I forgot about 9/11 until last month, when I interviewed several mental health experts for some stories I was working on. I had the hardest time writing my three articles (one on what they accomplished during the last year, one on burnout and another on what schools were planning to do to commemorate the anniversary) — I was vicariously traumatized for each and every one of them. Their stories were as fascinating as they were painful, and I am proud of my articles because I poured my fears and my tears into each and every word.

Now, every time I turn on the TV and flip the channels, at least half of the stations are airing something related to 9/11 — the same images are haunting me again, in one way, but in another way, it’s like watching an old movie — it’s like it didn’t happen, almost. Or maybe I’ve just successfully convinced myself that it didn’t happen, not the way I remember it, anyway.

I grew up in the generation when wars were fought on TV. The first televised conflict was the Gulf War back in 1991, which was amazing to watch and even more amazing to have to-the-minute coverage. I’d heard stories from the World Wars and Vietnam, where people waited forever to hear what was going on. Not today — you might not be fighting the war, but you’re as close to the front lines as the cameras can reach. It was kind of nice to be sheltered as a kid, to not know what was *really* happening in the world. Kids today have no opportunity to be idealists and dreamers — no matter how much their parents may attempt to protect them, the ugliness of the world infiltrates their lives at the strangest times and in the most subtle ways. But maybe it’s best they become disillusioned early on, and when you put it that way, I was 16 when I watched the Gulf War unfold — that was when I realized how infinitesimal I really am, in the grand scheme of things.

With the 9/11 anniversary coming up, I am not going to go to the memorial activities at the newly rebuilt Pentagon, although I probably should, just because I live a few miles from it now. I feel like I should do something, but perhaps the best thing I can do is to not dwell too much on it. I’ll have a moment of silence for the deceased, and I’ll light a candle or two and remember the past year’s events, both nationally and personally. Last year was such a bizarre time in my life — getting over my *procedure* and thinking I’d found a man who was going to make things all better … the guilt over what I’d done was tempered with the hope and excitement of getting to know him and thinking that maybe I was finally entitled to some happiness in my life. And then I had to get over that, too.

The world is not a fair place, but the powers-that-be haven’t blown it up yet, so here we are, carrying on, for better or worse. Perhaps I will light a final candle for the innocence we all lost and the hope that someday, somehow, we can return to a place where we aren’t always on high alert, braced for the next disaster or disappointment.

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