The Fluttering

I don’t have to look at a calendar.  I feel it coming.

The humidity lifts, the sun shines, the breeze washes the streets.

I duck my head, focus on the busyness of school preparations.  Of an upcoming change of seasons.

Another day passes.

I try to push it away.

It ignores me, reaches out from inside me.

The pulse of laughter, mobile phones ringing, cabs honking, newspapers crinkling, the puff of a city bus before it pulls away from the stop.

The thunks and clicks and shuffles of all different kinds of feet from all over the world, converging in one place.  The melody of the mixing of humanity.

Business.  Money.  Food.  The white glare of sunshine off of blue glass windows forcing pedestrians to don sunglasses as they sip their coffees.

The sharp creek of heavy metal bulkhead doors before they crash open onto the early morning sidewalks.  Heavy men in white aprons yelling in colorful languages at skinny guys hefting crates off of delivery trucks, down into the bowels of restaurants.

The life.  The flow of people, bikes, cabs, cars, buses, vans through the streets like blood rushing through a living creature.


The city bled.

I ran.

My breath huffing to the quick beat of my thick black shoes heading West on a late summer morning.

The bleeps of redial and a busy tone Eh! Eh! Eh! on the cell phone at my ear as I prayed to connect with the one I love.

The cries, pleas, reassurances of others on the street just finding out, disbelieving, shouting “No!” as sweat built up inside my blue button-down shirt.

The soft rumbling of hundreds collected by the pier, waiting in uncharacteristic patience for the ferry, as it hushed Eastward towards us, empty.

My heart thudding in my ears when we pulled into the water.  A gasp, then nothing but the hum of the engine when we saw the cloud of dust rise.  And what was no longer there.

My breath slowed by force.  I turned away, closed my eyes from the sun, the dust, the long golden tendril that tickled my face in the breeze of a rooftop ferry ride away from disaster.

And then.

Two days later.

Back to work.  

Tentative steps were met with the fluttering posters of missing loved ones taped to buildings, poles, phone booths.  Cars, windows, newspaper boxes.

The rippling of prayers, pleads and hope.

The faces and numbers.  The names and smiles. The buildings and floors of where they were.


They were everywhere, because the people were nowhere.

The city, as any creature would, eventually healed.

The pulse thrummed again.

The streets rushed again.

But the fluttering, The Missing, they stay with me. 

They slow my pace.

Every September.

They make me lay my hand on my chest, take a deep breath, feel the thud of life inside me.

And I remember.

Some of the thousands of Missing flyers I photographed in the days, weeks, months following the WTC attack. Of all that happened, this has been the hardest thing for me to experience.

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This post was written for  Write on Edge’s RemembeRED Memoir writing prompt.

The prompt went like this:

We all have them.
Memories that we wish we could forget…things that we wish we could banish from our minds.
Imagine that writing down your worst memory will free you of it.
What is it?
Why does it haunt you?
What could you have done differently?
Write it down and let it go.
Let’s keep it to 600 words or less.

I was supposed to be in the WTC the morning of 9/11, but I wasn’t.

You could say I was saved, given a chance.  For this, I am unspeakably appreciative. That I wasn’t in the thick of it.  That I ended up in Midtown, rather than in the towers.

That a tiny decision changed it all.

But I feel them all.  All the men and women who were lost.  The faces that fluttered at me from the Missing posters as I walked to my office, my yoga class, my bus stop.

They weigh on me this time of year.  I mourn them, I mourn for their families.

And I wonder: am I living a life that deserves that chance I got 10 years ago?

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  1. says

    Do you know I woke this morning and didn’t even remember until I saw your post on Facebook? Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

    I was in lower Manhattan that day. I rode through the subway stop that got demolished about an hour prior. Then I watched it all happen from 10th St and 7th Avenue. I remember walking a few blocks up to St Francis Hospital (it seemed many people instinctively did the same) and waiting for the ambulances to arrive but there were none. The message was clear— either you survived or you didn’t. There was no in-between.

    Thanks for making me remember on this day.
    Ilana recently posted..The Baby is Out of the BagMy Profile

    • says

      The whole thing is just crazy. My kids were asked to wear Red, White & Blue to school today for Patriot’s Day…and they were asking more about it. My 7yo is starting to understand The Big Things, so I’m trying to give him enough to grasp that it was serious, but not too much to completely freak him out. I told them both that some people will be sad today, even though they are very grateful. These emotions need to be respected.
      Thanks for sharing your experience. There are so many stories…
      Take care.

  2. says

    I say “Never lose that feeling.” Those feelings are the markers of life. If you don’t feel that flutter, then you’ve lost the lesson.

    We felt them here in NOLA last week when, on the 7th anniversary of Katrina, Hurricane Isaac struck, leaving his calling card. The stark blackness, the sweltering heat, the smell of decomp. I don’t ever want to forget.
    The Lucky Mom recently posted..A New DayMy Profile

  3. Rebecca says

    I have the strangest memories of that day. I remember having tickets to go see Aerosmith. I remember my friend, who had come to visit, didn’t believe me when I woke her up to tell her what was happening. I remember not being able to contact my husband, and him not being allowed to leave the base. Then, when he was finally allowed to come home, telling me they would most likely be deploying soon. It was terrifying.

    One positive to come from this, was I was one of the people to have a 9/11 baby (at least that’s what we were called at the military hospital lol). 65 other women gave birth to babies on the same day as I did in that hospital. And I was lucky enough to have my husband back home to see her be born.

  4. Christina says

    I was feeling guilty this morning that I wasn’t as strongly *feeling* this anniversary as I had every other year. I hadn’t turned on the tv (I don’t want my four year old to know about evil yet) and this was the first I had gone online…. Then I broke into sobs upon reading the line “They were everywhere, because the people were nowhere”. Thank you for remembering and for sharing, those Lost and their families deserve that.

  5. says

    The photos of the missing have always been one of the most haunting images of the tragedy for me. Just seeing yours I got chocked up again and had to scroll quickly by, not letting myself linger too long on them. I can’t imagine seeing them up close and so very personal.

    It’s hard to say why some people are spared because of a single decision and others were not, and I’m so sorry it weighs so heavily on your heart. I cannot imagine.
    Leigh Ann recently posted..I have arrived…to 2011My Profile

  6. says

    This was beautiful and powerful. I think this captures the sense of loss and fear that was evident in the days after 9/11. I didn’t even need the pictures to remember the missing posters.
    Julia recently posted..I Can’t WaitMy Profile

  7. says

    The way you tell your story – it’s beautiful. It was the first thing I read this morning, and I’ve thought about it all day. I didn’t comment earlier because there was nothing I could say to do it justice – there still isn’t, but I had to at least tell you how much this touched me.

    • says

      Thank you for sharing this with your readers! I know a lot of people were looking for posts from those of us who were around NYC, around the trade center, so I figured I might as well make it easier. Everyone’s comments and sharing are really touching. Truly.

  8. says

    On the opposite end of the globe, here in Australia, we sat in shock in front of our TVs, wondering if this horror we were witnessing was a bad B-grade movie…because it’s couldn’t be real. IT COULDN’T! I was, quite literally, the furthest away from the World Trade Centre that anyone could possibly be, I didn’t know anyone involved and still, I cried. We all did. We cried and we shook and we screamed. We prayed for miracles. Our hearts bled. You are not alone.

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