By B.L. Ochman
I’m avoiding the news, paying no mind to the special editions of magazines, ignoring the memorials, disgusted by the products related to the 10th anniversary of 9/11. While PTSD removed the memory of several hours of that horrible day, I remember every detail of the days that followed.
It was the kindness and love of people I’d never met, as well as my close friends who got me through it. I want to tell you about some of them.
Friends put Sammy, my late Yellow Lab, and me up for a week or two, and then the Red Cross put us and in a hotel where we lived til November. While I was there, I heard from Judy Vorfeld, one of my earliest online friends from the early days of the Web.
She said – and I’ll remember it for all my days – “I can’t help everyone in New York, but I can help one person, and I’d like to help you.”
And then she offered to handle my business for me while I got better from pneumonia and mercury poisoning and other immediate ailments.
That meant she answered my email, handled my e-book sales through my website, answered emails from people who had questions for me, published and sent out my email newsletter when I had the energy to write it, and lovingly encouraged me to keep healing.
One day, approximately six months later, she gently told me that it was time for me to go back to work. She said that she would help me ease into it and then leave me on my own. I have never met Judy in person, but I love her dearly and always will be grateful for her incredible love and kindness toward me.
I’ll never forget
There were so many other people who helped me and showed me kindness that I could hardly name them all. They include my brother-in-law, Andrew Schwartz, who drove alone down deserted highways and around police baracades to find me that night. John Counsel in Australia, whom I’ve also never met, who mobilized thousands of people via the Web to make my landlord let me out of my downtown lease. Karma Martell, who helped me find a hotel that would accept my dog. Gerlinde Puchas, who, without being asked, went out and bought me clothes because it was getting cold, and I couldn’t get to my apartment to get my clothes. My dear friend, Jill Elliot, was by my side, past the soldiers camped in the lobby and into the dust-covered West Street apartment when we could get in for a few minutes to fill a suitcase with clothes. And there were so many other people who wrote, called, and cared.
Thanks to all of you from the bottom of my heart. But especially you, Judy, and you John. I’ll never forget.
My story, if you want to know it: Antegrade amnesia is amnesia in which the loss of memory relates to events that occur after a traumatic event.
In a way, I was happy to learn that there’s a name for my inability to remember the time between counting the people jumping from the burning building and a man asking me if I needed help around 1 in the afternoon of September 11, 2001. He helped me get to a hospital in New Jersey, with my late Yellow Lab, Sam, via ferry and ambulance.
I didn’t know I had lost part of the day, so I didn’t tell the doctors. I thought I was fine at the time. When you’re in shock, you don’t know it. I have some flashes of what happened in that lost part of the day, but had no idea, for example, that the second tower fell until friends told me a few days later.
You can’t go home again
I lived three blocks south, was evacuated into the street, herded into Battery Park. None of it seemed real at the time, and it still doesn’t. I thought it would be like a fire drill. We’d all go home soon.
But I never got to go home again, except to pack my stuff and move months later, with the fires still burning at Ground Zero.
I had atypical pneumonia within three days, mercury poisoning with a blood mercury level of 27 ( below 6 is normal) and I’ve had asthma every since and have had pneumonia four times in 10 years and bronchitis every time I’ve gotten a cold. All of that was horrible, as were the loss of friends and colleagues.
I dealt with PTSD for the next few years, and can’t say with certainty that it’ll ever be completely gone. It took me 5 years to sleep through the night. Sirens still undo me. I still seem to notice twice a day that it’s 9:11, and the present fascination with the anniversary by people who weren’t there is making me more than a little anxious and, yeah, I’ll admit it: angry.
Choosing to remember the kindness
But the most important thing I’ve had to do in the past decade was put one foot in front of the other and move forward. Thanks to all the wonderful people who helped make that possible.
I’m choosing to remember the kindnesses I was shown, and am still shown, and trying like hell to keep moving forward. Maybe I’ll turn the TV on in a week or so and watch a sitcom.