Thursday, July 19, 2007

New York: The Zone

Yesterday evening, almost at 6:00, I received a phone call from my boyfriend. I had been waiting in front of my work building for him to pick me up, playing "break brick" on my PDA to pass the time.

My boyfriend never actually got through on the phone. All I heard was an explosion.

The next thing I saw was people, briefcases & handbags in tow, running away from the East Side of New York and talking about a building falling down. They pointed in the direction of where my boyfriend worked.

Soon, everybody was running, desperately pressing keys on their cellphones and twisting their necks to query the stranger beside them, behind them:

"What's going on?! Are we under attack?"

I frantically dialed my boyfriend's number but even when I could get through, it would go straight to his voice mail.

Doing the math, I assumed a building fell on him.

Here is where I measure how much I have changed in the last six years.

When 911 happened, I was a wreck. Sheer terror. And I wasn't even near the WTC.

When 911 happened, I couldn't even think.

Now, six years later, I let my body be carried away by the tide of the evacuating New Yorkers, heading for where we don't know, assuming the worst, bracing ourselves for more explosions, smoke, blackness. This, and that I can't reach my boyfriend, who is where the building collapse/terrorist attack/dirty bomb took place.

But I am not a wreck.

I think clearly.

I calmly tell my fellow evacuees what little I know.

I turn and look towards the East Side and contemplate just walking back to see what happened to my boyfriend.

And I feel many things, and one of those things is a sense of guilt that I do not feel scattered or hysterical. I feel dread, sure. But the dread, or my sadness over my boyfriend's uncertain fate, doesn't overwhelm my judgement.

Because over the last six years I have discovered The Zone. No, not that fad diet.

The Zone is where you have lived through so many crises that you've developed an ability to look beyond the crisis, to remove yourself from it, to see the bigger picture.

You go from "why is this happening to me?!" to "huh. this sort of thing happens to people every day in the world. I wonder if I shall get out of it. well, I'll certainly give it a try."

I first realized I had achieved the zone when I was in the emergency room last year after my accident. The nurses said I was one of the most calm patients they had ever seen for this sort of traumatic injury. And I think I hardly shed a tear while I was admitted there.

So anyway, I'm in the zone, and I'm looking back towards the East Side, and I'm thinking about just just walking to my boyfriend's office. I mean, why not? What, I'm going to flee on the nearest train, assuming they're working, and just not know?

Then he finally gets through, though the reception weaves in and out. He is screaming over the sirens and alarms, asking me where I am. We establish a place to meet. I head out towards the East Side, against the current of humanity.

As I push past the people, I get strange looks here and there, looks that seem to say, "why are you going in that direction? death is in that direction."

I'm running and calling out my boyfriend's name. I find him. He is covered in debris. I hug him.

He just remembered the sound of what initially sounded like thunder, then sounded like a train, then sounded like an airplane, then sounded like a building collapsing.

He seems really calm, but part of that is shock, and part of that is that he is also familiar with "the zone."

We make our way Downtown, catching snippets of information from passersby and the intermittent news from my PDA. Slowly we piece together that a transformer blew up. Later, the explosion will be blamed on a burst stream pipe. No buildings collapsed, but there is a modest crater in Midtown.

Some of the debris got on my mouth as I kissed him. It tasted bitter, it made my throat tight. It was, we assumed, mud. This morning we took the advice of the mayor and bagged up my boyfriend's shirt, boots, bag.

The Zone wouldn't even allow me to get s**t-faced drunk in order to cope with the stress I just went through. After 911, on the way home, I ducked immediately into a liquor store, which was quite full. But yesterday night I could hardly drink a beer. I just wanted to sleep. We both did. And we did.

In the morning, I debated going back into work.

"You've already taken too many days off for San Diego," my boyfriend reminded me.

This was true. His job was in the "frozen zone" area, so he would be working from home. As for me, I suppose I could have called in to my boss, said I couldn't make it in today because of what happened and the stress and trauma.

But that excuse just wouldn't be true.

So I emailed some photos from the incident to my boyfriend, photos of office workers evacuating and him covered in spattered mud. We watched the news coverage on NY1 as we sipped our coffee. We kissed and then I retreated into my bedroom to write this.

When the "frozen zone" is reopened, I would like to take a look at that long, jagged fissure down Lexington. But it might be filled-in by the time I get there. Because Bloomberg is so damned efficient.


  1. Wow. How frightening. I'm glad your boyfriend is alright.

    The zone is a very powerful thing. It certainly helps you deal with things that make absolutely no possible sense.

    Those damn transformers, always fighting in the middle of the city.

  2. "Those damn transformers, always fighting in the middle of the city."

    good one!

  3. Glad to hear everyone's alright.

  4. Shit! Glad to hear you and the other half are okay.

  5. glad the g man is ok.

    i'm well aware of the zone..but mine came at at early age.

    i was barely 6 years old and my brothers and father were digging with shovels and pickaxes in the backyard. i was little and couldn't help. i remember nothing of early youth except for waking up bloody on the couch with my father asking me how many fingers he had up and what my name was. i didn't know who i was. turns out i fell into the hole as they were digging and my broker his me right in the head with the pickaxe. he turned it on its side to keep the points away but couldn't stop the momentum. this lead to years of doctors and tests and insanity. i had bouts of blackouts and the shock of doctors seeing that i not only lived i managed to not have brain damage in the traditional sense.

    then when i was 14 i was beaten by the boyfriend of a girl i liked and his jock friends. beaten damn near to death. they then hammered nails into my hand sticking me to a wooden fence and leaving me to die. this is where the zone first kicked in. i was practicly crusified and i struggled to stay awake and aware. blacking in and out. i didn't panic. bleeding out as much as i was it was shocking i diddn't panic. i tore myself from the fence and dragged myself to the little walking path and managed to get out of the park. not feeling my legs. i was found by a motorist dragging my broken body down the street to get to a phone. they took me to the hospital and ended up with a fractured neck, broken back. various wounds, losing way too much blood, a broken ankle, broken nose, and many chipped bones and such. i still have the scars on my hands though they are faded and small. through at all people commented on how calm i was.

    when 9/11 hit i had just spent the summer working for the parks system dealing with the many suicides at jones beach. i was out of work one day and i got the call. people were in panic and leaving the city. they needed people to help with recovery so without really thinking i went into that mess. it was very surreal to go into that. where most people panicked..i didn't feel anything but the need to help. spending a week there not sleeping doing various tasks. people were weirded out by how calm i was.

    at this point it frightens me that i was able to do any of that. it felt not human to be calm and cold in disaster. it isn't till i get home after it all do i let it sink in. then i cry alot. its the having of knowledge that really regular people shouldn't have. seeing what i've seen and being calm in crazy things is frightening to me. i don't totally understand it.

    then this pipe blowing up thing happens as i'm in the city to drop off some things and hearing the explosion and seeing the steam and getting hit with some pieces of the was very confusing. i'm in my head saying 'run you fucking moron.' but i didn't. i stood there..i guess it was shock maybe. then i went to go see why i was hit with stuff and why people are running away. but there was a big difference in my situation. i had no loved one to worry about. i think if i had i probably would have freaked a bit. felt something.

    i think of it more like 'batman mode' where someone gets some sense of duty above self. perhaps a curiocity with a situation. something that overrides self preservation.

    again i'm real glad to hear the boyfriend is ok. make sure he gets tested though to make sure his asbestos exposure is minimal. he seems like he was alot closer than i am and they had advised me to do so. just make sure all is good. wouldn't hurt.

    sorry for sullying up the blog with all my stuff...i just felt like sharing my zone experience.