Many who were in the city on 9/11 haven't recovered, but some adapted to or disassociated from the day.
Images, sounds, smells, emotions, loss, fear, and confusion never stop haunting, yet they became part of the background hum. No matter how much a New Yorker who lived through it might say it's behind them — well, it's not. The memories come back in all forms.
Oddly, things that weren't funny at the time come to mind. A local television station called "11 Alive" lost its transmitter and the TV signal was stuck on their standard "technical difficulties" still frame. Which was a picture of the trade centers (that looked like an 11) with the perky "11 Alive" logo flying over them. Okay, in hindsight, that's pretty damn funny.
Other images are horrific. There were people covered with gray ash, walking up the street like zombies to get home, since there was no other form of transportation or any place to clean off the ashes. Most of them had a long road ahead. And, it seems, within hours, homemade fliers of missing loved ones went up everywhere. Just everywhere. Those flyers conveyed three kinds of sorrow. We all knew the people behind those faces were lost forever. We knew the survivors were in denial. We knew that we were all in denial.
And after walking by an overwhelming number of those missing people fliers, you could take a left on 9th Avenue and see ambulances from all over the country lined up, for at least a mile, waiting for something to do. As one ambulance driver said to his wife in North Carolina, "This is worse than I thought. There's no one to rescue." And then he clarified: "There's nobody left."
Near a sports complex that converted into a temporary morgue (that remained empty), there was an oversized garage door with well-wishes from all over the world taped to it. While looking at it, and smelling that endless plume of smoke coming from half a mile downtown, a very tall West Indian social worker walked up to the wall with a tiny British girl. The girl wanted to add something to the garage wall. The social worker lifted her, and the little girl taped up a drawing she made. It was a big heart, drawn with markers, and inside of the heart, the girl had written: "Mummy. I love you. Wherever you had to go."
Several us watching wandered up to the social worker and young girl, quietly. We were crying like babies, but all might agree we thought we were hiding the tears. There was a silent group hug that lasted a full minute. Then we separated and walked on. Not a single word was spoken.
Those silent hugs broke out everywhere. At stores (that didn't have much stock), on street corners, near playgrounds that were locked shut, in areas so covered with ash it seemed like film noir. There was no reason and every reason for those hugs.
As spiteful and hateful as New Yorkers pretend to be, we know that we're not. We understand that this is our city, and our city is this country's engine. And that no one fucks with our city and sees us cry.
Today, that little girl at the garage door is probably getting close to 30. Let's hope, whoever she is, wherever she is, she's still bravely holding on to love and finding occasional expressions of human compassion that will comfort her in a world that changed the day she taped a drawing on a garage.