Fragments of a day lost

Fragments. It all comes back in fragments. The blue, blue sky of a September morning. The three bowls of instant oatmeal laid out on the long forgotten and always frustrating curved counter of our former Brooklyn kitchen. The loud noise, “maybe it was a truck backfiring on Atlantic Avenue?” The phone call from my husband’s brother with the question, “where’s Ira?,” as if Ira would be at home at 9:10am. “He’s on the subway,” or “didn’t he say he had banking in the Trade Center concourse this morning?” or “I don’t know,” when he told me to turn on the television.

The children were downstairs, I think. I remember running down and getting them, especially our eldest who was 11, to come up and watch the unimaginable on the television. Not so unimaginable when I thought back on the events of ‘94, remembering driving up West Street as the snowflakes fell, wondering what was going on at the World Trade Center. There was some sort of hubbub, the news had just broken.

We were on our way to Tuesday morning soccer with a group of homeschoolers, held in the shadow of the Twin Towers in a field belonging to Stuyvesant High School. A regular gig. It was right after school had started and we had all sorts of plans, even ones that included an annual visit to the towers, later that week – Thursday. We had it all planned out we thought. I was making sandwiches, packing up snacks and checking that the bikes had air – we intended to bike over the Brooklyn Bridge, another favorite adventure and the weather was perfect.

Continued fragments. Ira calling in to say he was okay and walking. He would call two more times before finally arriving home midday, confused and sweaty, tired and grateful to be alive. Running up Pacific Street to pick up a friend’s kids. This was before the whole world had a cellphone and nobody had been able to reach her. It was a Jewish Day School and everyone was wigged out.

It was 10:30 that morning. A thick ash fell on me as I ran, panicked as to where my friend was. The air was grey. Both towers had fallen and a steady stream of ash blew its way over the East River to Brownstone Brooklyn. We would find charred bits of paper over the next few weeks, a sort of bizarre and macabre treasure hunt for the children. Reaching the school, I found out everything was okay, my friend had arrived to collect her children. I walked home slowly through the ash, stopping to speak to a few Lower Manhattan refugees on their way home to places far and wide in Brooklyn.

Phone calls. Israel. New York. Whomever else needed to talk that day. At noon we’re asked if we can shelter three children who live on the Upper West Side and can’t get home. No subways running. We say yes and they’re dropped off. Two boys and a girl. Sort of shell shocked from the excitement. Their father works downtown. He’s okay. Just can’t get to them yet. We turn off the television and play, have snack and do normal things. Eventually, Ira takes them to the playground where they reunite with Dad in the late afternoon and go home.

Calling each and every member of our synagogue community. We made up lists and divided the names up, nervous to call even anyone. They were all physically ok. We were all grateful. As the days went on there were chinks in the armor. Colleagues of Ira’s in the South Tower. My youngest son’s physical therapist – her husband was killed. She gave birth to twin girls four days later. An acquaintance on Long Island – I’d been at her house for work – her husband was also killed. A Brooklyn friend who later told me, when I asked how many people he knew in the towers, “hundreds, I knew hundreds of people killed.”

The funerals of fire fighters. A friend’s father, now retired, spent the next year going to every funeral, along with many others who honored the memories of each and every person killed in the line of duty. The friend? He went back to work in the firehouse, both grateful to be alive and haunted that he hadn’t helped in any way that day.

The smells. Which lingered until November. Burning rubber. Smoky stuff that wafted over us in the first days. Walking with my brother and his family who arrived from Israel the following week over the Brooklyn Bridge to gape downtown. Walking over the bridge other times because we just wanted to be close to what no longer existed.

Reading the paper religiously, every day, following the pictures, the stories, the tales of love and loss and lives cut short. Going from street pole to street pole, reading the many flyers posting about missing loved ones. Tales of people’s lives with a picture of them smiling. Hoping someone would show up unexpectedly – a sweet story in the midst of so much sadness. Choosing to no longer look at imagery, of the endless video loops and pictures that have become stock imagery, almost fake in their beauty.

Giving up my direct sales business. It was just beginning to take off but in those early days, weeks and months, none of it was important anymore. Watching friends move away, too distraught by the memories and post-event trauma. Moving to Israel only 5 years later. Maybe it was connected.

Ira’s cough, diagnosed later that fall, following time spent in his office getting papers together and collecting his bicycle, unreachable for three weeks after 9/11. “It’s the World Trade Center cough,” explained the physician. “When were you going to tell me you worked downtown?” The building where Ira worked no longer exists, demolished as part of the new transit hub still in development in Lower Manhattan.

All these years later in Jerusalem, I remember. May all of their memories be a blessing.

About the Author
Beth Steinberg is the Executive Director and co-founder of Shutaf, Inclusion Programs for Children with Special Needs in Jerusalem. A believer in Jewish camping, Beth is a graduate of Massad and Ramah camps, where she learned the importance of informal education programs as a platform for teaching Jewish and social values. As a parent of a child with special needs, she struggled to find workable, appropriate activities for her child. Beth believes that a well-run inclusion program can help educate and change values, creating meaningful and lasting social change. Beth is also the Artistic Director of Theater in the Rough, engaging audiences with free summer Shakespeare.