K.T. leads A Life Less Ordinary

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“Despite only sleeping for 2.5 hours Tuesday morning, I could not sleep after hearing about the attack. Watching local and CNN coverage of the events all day, I felt claustrophobic. I went outside a number of times to stand and stare at the space that once held the twin towers. I smiled at the cops, firefighters, and survivors that trudged past me, and made small talk with the neighborhood residents. I tried to find a number or website that indicated where I could go to volunteer, but there was nothing for untrained civilians like me. Around midnight, my frustration finally got the better of me, so I decided to go outside and start asking around. I came across a pair of police officers using pay phones at the Mobil station on 6th avenue. One of them told me that a call had just come in saying that overflow from area hospitals was going to the Jacob Javits center, and that they were accepting volunteers. I walked back home, changed into better shoes and grabbed several bottles of water. Frank asked if I was ready for trauma; I replied that I would find out soon. I headed north towards the West 4th street subway station. The only time I have ever heard the city that silent before was at 4am after a heavy snowfall. Five doctors in scrubs and lab coat walked together ahead of me, their faces blank and their backs hunched. For those of you that don’t know, everything below 14th street is closed to non-essential traffic. The subways are being diverted, stopping at 4th street, which is only one stop away from my neighborhood stop. From Canal street down, no one is allowed if they are not a part of the rescue effort, not even residents. I live 2 blocks north of Canal. As I walked to the subway, I discovered that there are roadblocks at Houston to block entry to anyone that is not a worker or resident. An ID with my address on it would be necessary to get back home. I took the A train (for free) up to 34th street Penn station. The roads were completely empty except for the ambulances and utility vehicles that passed every few minutes. From there, I walked to 11th ave and 35th street, the Javits center. I spoke with several officers there, where I found out that only uniformed officers were being accepted there. I was directed to go to either Chelsea Peers on the West Side Highway at 23rd street or to North Moore, which is ~6 blocks below where I live. Only medical volunteers where being sent to Chelsea, because it was being made into the triage center for the attack. N. Moore was supposed to be a general volunteer registration area. Unfortunately, I did not think that my minimal medical training would be useful enough for me to work at the triage center, so I headed back to the subway. There, I waited for the A, C, or E to return me back to W. 4th. While waiting, I met a man that was stinking drunk, obviously trying to cope with the loss of a number of friends who had worked at Morgan Stanley. For those of you that don’t know, that company occupied 22 of the upper floors in one tower, as well as having several other offices in the WTC. On the train, there were around 10 men and women wearing dusty plaid shirts and steel-toe boots, and carrying sledge hammers and other equipment. They were joking loudly, in stark contrast to the silence of the other dozen or more passengers. I suppose it helped them deal with what they had just seen. Getting off at W. 4th, I grabbed a slice of pizza. My favorite parlor, Rays on 6th, was still open- at 2am on a weeknight. Most of the bodegas (small grocery stores) still seemed to be open, although they were running low on many staples. In nearby Demo square a number of homeless people roamed, unusually undisturbed by any police. A uniformed national guardsman slumped on a bench, sleeping. The adrenalin of the day kept me moving at a pace that shamed my usual high-speed New Yorker walk. I stopped at the road block to show my ID and headed down 6th ave, swallowing the last of my pizza. I quickly reached Canal, passing several evacuees dragging or carrying suitcases with them as they trudged north. One woman had a rattan cat carrier stacked on top of her suitcase. I asked an officer at the Canal barricades where the volunteer center was. He said that there was no way that information was correct, since the area was in total lock down. He directed me to a sergeant in order to find out where to try next. The sergeant directed my to the Javits center. I told him I had just been there, and relayed the information that I had heard thus far. Disappointed, I arrived back home sometime before 4am. The lights were off but Frank was awake, which is unlike him. He turned the lights and TV back on as I headed for the shower. I got to bed and watched the news for awhile, looking through the channels to find more information on how to volunteer. I caught part of an interview with a doctor at the triage center, and heard that they needed volunteers there. But I was unclear as to whether that was only medical volunteers, and did not see a follow-up. I saw a number for medical volunteers, and called to sign up. They took my name even though I warned that I had very little training, and also gave me a number for general volunteers. I was told that if I were called, if could be days later. I decided to sleep awhile.I woke around 10am. Frank did not want to leave the house, which is not normal for him. He wanted to go to work to fix their servers, but his workplace is in the evacuated area. He listened to the news and decided to turn off the a/c and open the windows. I warned that it might be good to keep them closed, in case something happened, but he insisted. I then convinced him to come with me to get some pizza, to get out into the sun.We left our building with our dog in tow. We noticed that the smoke at the south end of our street, where the towers had been, seemed to be getting thicker. The smell varied, reminding me of burning wood, burning trash, or burning sugarcane fields at any given time. Most of the restaurants in the area were open, patronized only by local residents and others with access to the area. One restaurant with notoriously rude service had set up tables with food and water for rescue workers. When we reached the Houston roadblocks, there were crowds of people north of the barricades, staring at and taking pictures of the clouds of smoke to the south. We worked our way past Houston, and noticed that there were more pedestrians on the street than usual. The absence of traffic noises made them seem very loud. We got a couple of slices and slowly (did I mention that my dog is *very* old?) headed over to Washington Square Park, where we sat on a bench and ate. We heard fighter jets pass over a number of times, but were unable to see them from beneath the trees. The crowd at the park was large, as large as on the nicest spring afternoon, but much less jolly. When we finished eating, we noticed that the winds had changed. Smoke had started rolling over the park, and many people were breathing through masks, shirts, tissues, whatever. I remembered a bandana in my bag and tied it around my face, cowgirl-style. Frank said he was fine, but I decided to carry the dog so that she would have less respiratory stress. It wasn’t unbearable, so we decided to head to the grocery store while we were in the area. Passing a newsstand, I noticed that there were no newspapers whatsoever. I had heard on the that the papers were all printed outside of the city now. Since delivery trucks have been unable to get into Manhattan, we will not be seeing any of them for awhile, including the NY Times. At the store, the checkout lines were short, even though there were more customers there than I had ever seen before. Most of the shelves were socked normally, but the large spaces usually occupied by milk and by bread were completely empty. I decided to get some dried milk, just in case. As we headed from the grocery store, we saw that the smoke was getting thicker. I made Frank take the scarf that I had had around my hair, and he did not protest. We showed our IDs at the roadblock at Houston and West Broadway, and headed south. It felt like w

e had entered into a gated community. The smoke was thick enough that we could not see beyond the Canal street roadblock 5 blocks ahead. Again I carried my dog most of the way. When we got home, we immediately closed all of the windows and turned on the a/c. I can’t smell the smoke anymore, but my eyes are still stinging slightly. I’m trying to decide what to do next.I feel well-rested, and I still want to find somewhere to volunteer. I am afraid that the experience of seeing a number of people jump off a building will catch up to Frank. He is sleeping now, but when he is not, he seems oddly listless. I’m sure that my restlessness doesn’t seem normal either. The remnants of the second tower are collapsing at this moment, and building 5 is in danger.

“Good luck to you all.”

K.T.

Alumni, Punahou School

(contact information withheld upon request)

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