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

    There’s nothing I can say, other than the fact that you appreciate all you are given, which means you most certainly are living a life that deserves that chance you got 10 years ago. The people who lost their lives didn’t deserve it, so it’s never a question of fair.

    I apologize if that’s trite and lame, but as I said, there’s nothing I can say (and rambled anyway.)

    • says

      The unfairness of the whole thing is so, so frustrating. It’s like we all can’t even think about it, or else we’d go nuts.

      And I think this will be a problem with today’s prompt: I don’t think your reply was trite or lame at all, but I am sure I will feel the same way/worry about sounding that way once I get the guts to go start reading everyone else’s posts.

  2. says

    When this prompt was listed, the first thing I thought about was a post I wrote a while back, about my late mother and 9/11. Somehow, sharing a memory of that tragic day seemed to fit.

    Yours was the first post I read and it brought me right back to the moment I was driving to work here in NY that morning and looking at people on the interstate who all seemed to be in shock; traffic crawled, almost as if in a funeral procession.

    My brother-in-law worked at WTC, in a smaller government building; he and his staff were escorted out just as one tower collapsed and he wandered, for hours, walking miles away to a park where he was later found. It was his second experience with a terrorist attack.

    Like you, this memory haunts me still. As if thousands of voices are crying out to never forget them…or that horrific day.

  3. says

    I have chills. What a terrible moment in time to have lived through, both that morning and then the aftermath between tragedy and healing.

    But your spirit, thankful for your “chance”, using it to reflect on what you are doing now? Your spirit is a beautiful one and a lovely tribute to what happened on that day.

  4. says

    The line “the city bled” was the turning point in this piece for me. I guess that’s pretty obvious but I still wanted to point it out.

    I just adore the way you described the city and it’s “pulse” and then transitioned us to that day. I got chills at that line, as I realized what memory you were having.

    This is really good. And made me cry for the memories I have for that day even though I wasn’t there.

    • says

      No, not always obvious. Thanks for telling me that line turned it for you. People feel things in different places. I like knowing about reactions.

      I saw downtown as veins pulsing, always, and felt it had an injury. I imagined the bird’s eye view of us all fleeing the scene that day looked like veins emptying after being stabbed. Bleeding, running into the river, into NJ, into the boroughs. It was crazy. And it hurt.

  5. Becky says

    I have to disagree with you Kim, you weren’t given a “chance” . . . God was not ready to take you home. You were not supposed to die that day, that’s why you were where you were at that moment. Be thankful & treasure the time you were given.

    Awesome post . . .

    • says

      Thanks, Erin. It is such a base, open question I have to ask myself. That I think we should all ask ourselves. I’ve never, EVER not wanted to live. But I worry at times whether I am living enough. if that makes any sense.

  6. says

    I can’t imagine what it was to be there. My father was supposed to be on the Boston to LA flight to come see me. Work got in the way and he was supposed to come a week later. I’m so lucky.

    • says

      So many stories like that. There are so many survivors, in so many different definitions of the word, out and about these days. Which is why it is hard to share this, because I may sound like a a-hole to someone whose spouse died there, or who was in the towers and barely escaped. This is such a touchy – yet connecting – topic.

  7. says

    I feel that weight of the anniversary every year. I remember those days that followed when I was paralyzed, glued to the news. The unspeakable horror at the realization that there were no people to rescue, no bodies to recover. When the weather turns at this time of year, it’s my first thought. The brisk mornings bring me back to that day.

    I was not in NYC on 9/11. I can’t imagine how much more powerful this must be to those who were there on that day. The actual sound of all those fliers fluttering in the wind. Walking by them daily. This is a great post. I can feel the city.

    • says

      The weather the past few days here are exactly like that day. It’s like all of us who were here are walking barometers. We know when the current day matches that day.

      I have so many photos I took of those fliers. Almost an obsession.

      Because one flier was re-posted so many times. And it felt like to me it was one person who touched so many lives. Like there were multiple copies of each poster, because there were multiple lives affected by each single loss. The math itself is overwhelming.

      We have a bin of local papers, national magazines, and photos I took (and some Husband took) from all this. I had clients down in the mess that I had to go see, so I was there quite a bit. I look at those pictures, and I am brought right back. But I think I should be, I am only human. I need to remember.

  8. says

    My friend also had a meeting at the WTC that morning, and was running late, so was in her apartment a few blocks away when it happened. She ended up on her roof, watching in shock, as papers – and a shoe – rained around her. She had to evacuate her apartment for at least a week. And another friend raced down there to look for his girlfriend (she was fine) and saw all the jumpers.

    I received phone calls because I flew constantly for business and my best friend was terrified I could’ve been on one of the flights. There was a young woman from our town on one of the flights. There is a plaque for her at the lake here, and every so often I stop and read it and think about the senseless loss of life.

    It has been 10 years, but the pain and shock will never leave. Thank you for sharing your moment. It was beautifully written.

    • says

      I can see it. I can see your friend, shocked and frozen. What is more telling than a falling shoe? You know where it came from. Horrible.
      I was sickened that the tv kept showing the jumpers. That the newspapers printed their images. I was so mad about this.
      I have a photo I took of one of the WFC buildings next door, the one sliced that all those white papers rained down from. It looks like it is from a movie set. The black building with all the white papers. Those fluttered down, too, but did not stick with me as much as those Missing posters did. Those, I had to touch. I had to photograph. Those people who were so loved, then lost.
      Senseless. You hit that nail on the head.

  9. says

    i agree with Erin, I have chills too. I’m grateful that you were not in the WTC that day. The anniversary hits me every year as well. But not like a New Yorker. Thank you for expressing these words for us, and allowing us to hear your thoughts.

    • says

      It is a hard thing to put Out There so publicly, because there are so many people who were hit harder than I was. But this is my story, and it was worse than anything – anything – I was ever put through before. Since it is genuine and mine, I had to do it. It made me write this.
      Thank you for reading it.

  10. says

    So well written, so truly captured. I need a tissue. Nothing I’ve read lately has brought me back to that morning this much. The inexplicable sunny day. The billowing clouds of downtown grey. As I read this from my office on the 41st floor in Midtown, with those sneakers always under my desk. I was having a “bad day” with car trouble this morning. Feeling a bit foolish now.

    • says

      The weather this week has been so similar, hasn’t it? I couldn’t help but think of it. The news channels, what I’ve seen, haven’t been talking about it yet. But it’s coming.
      I think we need to get pissed off about car trouble, annoying pedestrians, bitchy co-workers to retain some sanity. Because if we *always* compared things to that day? We wouldn’t be able to move forward, I think.
      Take care. I hope those sneakers never have to get used.

  11. debseeman says

    “They were everywhere, because the people were nowhere.”
    The weight of these words are still true. All who are old enough to remember, remember vividly and for me, I am thankful I was here when it happened watching up so closely but from afar. My thoughts and prayers are with you and all who WERE there as we near the 10th anniversary.

    • says

      That was a really difficult concept: that there was nothing left of the actual people to recover. They disappeared, were truly gone. Usually there’s something, when you know exactly where a person died. People were violently hopeful for a while, then…it was just awful.
      Thank you for reading this and for your comments.

  12. says

    So beautifully and hauntingly written.

    I experienced that day as most other Americans – nowhere near NYC. I was driving to work and late, and I was the bearer of the news of the second tower being hit. I will never forget where I was at the moment I knew we were being attacked and, as cliche as it may be, that life would never be the same.

    I am so glad you are here with us.

  13. says

    I haven’t read a lot of first hand accounts of this. I am from Oklahoma City, so I’m no stranger to the way the city feels, but I was pretty young when that happened, and sort of lacked the ability to fully appreciate the situation.
    This is very well written. Thanks for sharing, and for sharing the haunting, very moving, photos.

  14. says

    Oh, Kim. Beautifully done. Especially the posters. I was in Jersey about 30 or so minutes from the city. It was 11 days until my wedding. I was in my mother’s living room, reading. I had no idea. Except that once someone called to tell me to turn on the TV, I realized the air was silent. There were no planes whooshing by. I could have driven out to see for myself; all I’d have needed was to go to some of the very close-at-hand highways and drive over the crest of the road to glimpse the NYC skyline. I didn’t. I’m grateful I didn’t lose any one that day and thankful my images of the destruction are restricted to the TV—I got to turn it off when it was overwhelming. I’m so sorry you didn’t have that choice.

    Strangely, my wedding was a wonderful, happy time. It was, for many of our guests, the first real smiles and happy gathering they’d had since the attacks. It was healing. Perfectly poised to remind us what we had left.

    • says

      We lived close to the city and the smell, the dust, the constant helicopters and fighter jets scanning the air…it was an unnerving time. But I’m glad I wasn’t in the building, or close enough to see the jumpers. I don’t know how I’d deal with that, because I still have a hard time now with what I did experience. So I completely understand not wanting to get closer, see it in real-life.

      I have to imagine your wedding was like oxygen to everyone. I bet it was an amazing night.

  15. says

    Wow. I don’t know how I missed this post. I’m glad Abby linked to it in her comments.

    I work in D.C. and I was running embarrasingly late that morning. So late that if I’d turned on the TV, I would have known what was going on and would never have left the house. I arrived at work to find my coworkers planning to leave the building. No one, including me, felt comfortable getting on metro (even though I’d just ridden it into the city), so several of us walked to a coworker’s apartment on Capitol Hill. As we passed the Capitol, I realized that wasn’t the smartest decision I could have made. But I didn’t want to be alone and no one was going to try riding the metro to VA. I stayed at my coworker’s for several hours until NPR finally said metro was running. I don’t think it ever closed, but I didn’t know that. I didn’t get home until late afternoon, where I finally could be with my husband (who walked the several miles home). We basically stared at the news the rest of the night, which probably also wasn’t the best decision. I kind of became a little obsessed with the news coverage for several days. I sort of had to cut myself off from it to stay sane.

    Even though it wasn’t clear to me that morning, I was never in any danger. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be in NYC. But this post is a very striking, powerful, and moving attempt at describing it. I’m glad you weren’t at the WTC.

    • says

      I have a deeply-ingrained instinct when it comes to Fight or Flight. I knew, when my phone rang and I was told the 1st plane hit that it wasn’t an accident. I stood up, announced it to my whole office who either ran to the Tv we kept in the break room or got on the phone to reach coworkers, friends, family downtown.
      As soon as I saw the 2nd plane hit, I told my boss to let everyone go home NOW. We were between Grand Central and the UN. I felt, truly and rationally, in danger. If I were going to hurt NYC, I would focus on locations with both meaning and a large amount of people in them, which is where I stood between. So I ran.

      But other than being scared (rightfully so) and exposed to terrible, terrible things, I wasn’t in danger because of a single decision that morning. I wasn’t where I was supposed to be and the plotters hadn’t chosen to continue their violence on difference parts of Manhattan.

      Yet…we were all in danger of being changed. And we were. So I don’t think any story of that day, whether someone was in the tower in the city in the state or on the other side of the country is any less valid, less important. Because we were all changed that day.

  16. says

    I have nothing to say except thank you. Thank you for not being in the WTC. Thank you for your writing. Thank you for running across me on the blog and the twitter. Thank you for surviving that day.

    Thank you

  17. Kelli @ No. 7 says

    The posters. The posters were the worst part if it for me to. This is a poignant and real piece. There isn’t more I can say except that I understand the chill and sadness of those faces who were waiting to be found.

    I should have been there to, but had moved a month earlier to Boston. I was waiting for a job interview when the planes hit and had no idea what was happening until the second plane struck. I left my interview, which was now running 40 minutes late, went to my car and turned on Howard Stern. I needed to be home, in NY and couldn’t be. Later, I was thankful and guilty that I wasn’t there…

    God Bless.

  18. says

    After your facebook post I had to come and read. I didn’t ‘know’ you then, but am thankful for tiny decisions. I hope you find peace – I can only imagine the lingering fear and hurt, sadness and grief. Wish I could take it from you for just a moment in time. Please know your words help so many – and I’m thankful for you.

    Joy recently posted..One of Many, I’m Sure…My Profile

  19. says

    Your post from last year stuck in my mind and your comment this morning on Facebook drew me back here again.

    Thank you for the laughter you share, reminders of when we shouldn’t take life so seriously as well as moments that we need to get down on our knees and rejoice for those who make a positive difference in life. You, my friend, are one of those people.
    Patty recently posted..So long, Mr. Chip…My Profile

  20. 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.

  21. 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

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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

  25. 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

  26. 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.

  27. 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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