This calendar date makes me somber each year. I witnessed the unfolding of events at the World Trade Center live via television from just after the first plane hit the first tower. The horror left a spot on my soul. The following story has been published in excerpts earlier on my blog, but here I show it in its entirety to salute those who lost so much that day. Though the story is fiction, it was prompted by small details and the tone of trauma that I have heard from a close friend who served our country at the Pentagon. She, like so many of us, will never forget.
Smoke poured from the Pentagon, an enormous section blown from the earth and redistributed in a new Hell. It looked like it was hit by a missile, which it was—a missile of aborted vacations, missed opportunities, torn families. Shattered passengers, dreams and airplane parts were strewn over the face of horror. Paper and debris caught in swirling winds of Despair’s laughter sifted through the scrambling military and emergency personnel who were streaming every which way like angry rivers that had jumped their banks. High Alert was not an indicator it was a state of being—its tension could be tasted in the atmosphere along with the stench of burning plastic, and human flesh.
Lana’s stomach lurched as she fought to keep up with the sergeant weighed down by her four cameras and grief. Her breakfast had already gone when her stomach fell along with the Twin Towers as she watched live in disbelief that morning on the news. Hope had left her. War had come. The assault of the enemy still raining down on their senses, aiming to kill their souls. This was what she signed up for, though as any Army enlisted, she hoped it would never come to this—combat on her own soil. And she was covered by the filth of it already. She shouldered her duty and soldiered on into the fray.
Carrying her battle gear—filming as they advanced—she witnessed a holocaust through her viewfinder. She switched to stills, documenting the removal of the first charred pieces of death. The lens had been full of injured in the triage areas as they had moved toward their own version of Ground Zero, but the dark remains were something other. Despair caressed the now inhuman carcass, and his shadow took residence in the souls of the rescue and salvage teams. Lana didn’t feel Despair enter through the lens into the depths of her spirit as she recorded the mayhem. She was focused on her duty—capturing the moment. Numb. Staggered by what humans could will to do. The camera scanned the enormity of the devastation, unable to cover the swath of death the disintegrated plane had left behind. She panned up the blasted-open building. Half-offices exposed to the air—a sinister doll house—desks and cabinets leaning out at odd angles like Dr. Caligari’s worst nightmare. All painted black and wafting with smoke into the crisp, sunny September evening. The beauty of the day was lost to Hope. Despair’s fortress dominated the lawn obscuring all in lurid darkness.
Hours were like moments and moments like years. The mass of rebar and concrete continued to reveal body parts and horror movie images—come to life—that were picked up with Lana’s camera and kept for all time. The ash and debris were endless and coated them in black awareness, marking them as part of this grime—this crime against humanity in the name of God—Allah.
The salvage crew pushed them back as an area was deemed unstable. Lana caught a breath of fresh air in the changing direction of the wind. Instead of bringing refreshment, the taste of beauty crashed into her numbed psyche and woke her spirit to the hideous scene. Despair struck the center of her being. She closed her eyes and opened them to see a paramedic handing her a bottle of water. She turned her back on the gaping building and swallowed the offering in gratitude. The lawn was still scattered with workers, injured and debris. The detritus seethed with movement as the soldiers and EMT’s continued their relentless search, removing those that could be helped and that which could not. Lana looked skyward reaching out for comfort. Hope floated high in the atmosphere obscured by the eerie hush of grounded aircraft in the No-fly Zone. She couldn’t reach Lana through the mantle of doom. The deafening peace discomfited Lana like the vibrating silence following a blood-curdling scream.
They were called back in for hours, days, weeks. The deeper they dug, the more horrific the findings. Unearthly things that were beyond recognition—that reeked of the evil that had been thrust upon them. Despair whispered through life self-righteously adulterated and death in dank forms that should never have been known. Specters blurred before Lana’s eyes until the terror became an endless stream of slides on film slipping her into another place and time where she dwelled in jaded distance, collecting images—without intention—to fill her nightmares for eternity.
A year had passed and the nation gathered to remember the innocent that were lost and the heroes that were found in the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Despair had chewed at the hearts of those who walked the streets of Manhattan waving the photos of their dearly loved—who never came home. Hope had united the nation in the outrage that Despair tried to use to break it down. At the Memorial, Hope embraced the families who had survived the shock of the life-rending death of their members on the catastrophic September morning.
Lana felt ill as the bell rang and the names were read. Emotion welled in her like a blistering finger not yet done with the toil of the task. Proud of her nation who pulled together to care. Weighed down by the mass of images she endured and her bittersweet award for outstanding photo journalism. Honor and grief whirled as Hope and Despair continued their dance in her soul—always with a shadow beneath their feet, indelible from that black day.
Copyright, Sheri J. Kennedy All Rights Reserved May Re-blog, but only in its entirety including this notice.