My Elleven

My experience and evolution as a survivor of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. A poetic essay.

World Trade Center, Twin Towers, May 7, 2001

TW (Trigger Warning): Honour yourself by prioritizing your mental health. Proceed with curiosity, compassion, and self-care.


The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Screaming all around, drowned out by the deafening silence of the unknown, wondering if this was my last bow. Curtain call? I didn’t know they’d fall. It was still too soon. Not the end. But I was ready for it as I asked for my creator’s forgiveness. I did not seek to stay for my own sake, but for my parents’ fate; who wouldn’t have recalled that I would walk through the mall to get from one tower and exit through the next as part of my morning stroll; who wouldn’t have known how to search for my body, or who to contact – perhaps nobody; who would have wondered what kind of way I moved onto the rest…of eternity. Would there be remains or just a void that could only be filled with pain? These, the only thoughts that felt sane as everything went shaky and hazy. I ran across the platform praying I wouldn’t soon transform into a worry then a memory. 

My living was to prevent their suffering. Running towards a beam of light, while my life was buffering. Heels when I normally wore flats and a heavy physicality because my body was that and with that, hastening my pace was the best I could do hoping I’d get through… to the street, through flying debris, to a landline.

Was this it? Was this all? I stood and watched the bodies fall. 

Burning airplane hubcap, drawing a blank — a temporary stop gap.

Front row tickets to the show. The sight of those jumping, their only way to go. Down. Boom. Gone. Boom. Gone. And it went on and on like an abrupt ending to every song that started that day the same way. Maybe with a sense of possibility and play. But certainly not their last day, not doomsday.

I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.
I lowered my head when you chose the best way was to fly and I prayed for you when you passed by. 

“May peace be upon you,” I said. “May you return to the light from which you came.” May your consciousness be cradled as you grew your wings. When you closed your eyes for the next life to begin, so you didn’t experience a thing. Nothing that would cause any more terror, than deciding whether, or if, knowing your life’s only outcome was never. 

Severed ties from connected lives.
Severed limbs strewn about with unimaginable things. 

Thick plumes of smoke, tingling skin. Was this a cruel joke? What nightmare was I in? Some, only 20 years later I recall. Back then, I just stood there, stalled. Against the scraped sky, choking on tears, spirit aching, a yearning to reverse it, as if it was a script being rehearsed. What’s to come? Processions of an empty hearse. Bursts of emotion as wide and deep, as Mariana’s Trench. Going through the motions and all the above felt like eternity in a single moment. Later, would come that stench.

Momentum that said, “call mom.” Each time it went through as if the universe opened a direct channel and shielded me with a dome. Hearing the facts through the phone, from the television, thousands of miles between two places I called home. A home three time zones behind…

…and she couldn’t sleep tight, so she rested on the sofa and heard the only phones with the ringers on, otherwise silenced upstairs throughout the night.

“Flee”, she advised, as tears found new paths down my face, each in a race to create more space. “Walk away and don’t look back.” Not a peek over my shoulder. Getting further away, feeling the weight of a boulder. Anyone will say it was the perfect weather day, beautiful, but it just felt darker and colder. I could feel myself age 10 years older, I was just out college starting my life and, in an instant, it felt over.

I don’t recall my feet leading me.
It’s as if the footprints belonged to someone else who carried me. 

I was immune to the cacophony of the wretched sounds. Then came the frantic call, “Are you okay, can you see, did you find a place to duck, where must you be?!” Confused, I wondered why she was in extreme panic. “You can look now,” and I turned around to see one tower missing, not dismissing the fact that I felt like I was just there a few minutes back. I couldn’t fathom how I made such a long trek in a short while and I wailed. All I could do was cry on the quad of my alma mater’s campus surrounded by a few familiar faces who embraced me with their arms, shocked faces, and gentle graces.

 Then it swallowed me. Broken but whole. An undigested experience and immediately detested because I was brown. 

 “Who are you to speak of this pain?” some may say. “You lived.” Oh, but I didn’t. I died inside that day and every day since from jolts of a system and its players that proclaim the colour of my skin and choice of faith decades later, still do not make this life mine. 

20 years and the hours and days that were taken are now for me to reclaim. To release the shame that choosing mental wellbeing has always been a champions game. 

I will no longer be tamed.

My lived reality is a journey of beginning again. I will not be kept down because of my melanin, quieted because I don’t belong within the box constructed for destruction of identity. I am who I am, my values speak louder than bias ever can.

Decades of double. Still troubled by the status quo. The pressure to say yes when every cell of my being says no. Says run. It’s done before it’s begun, and then some. Some have the audacity to question my capacity to accomplish within their narrow, comfortable definitions, while I have premonitions of red flags waving frantically in the wind. My skin does not need to be thick. My body need not be thin. I can only win if I’m right within, thank you Lauryn Hill. 20 years I’ve kept it all in and it hasn’t felt right. More shining of my hues and neurosuphero moves. Bob Marley’s wisdom begs, “Everything’s gonna be alright.” 

It’s never too late to participate in the reality that’s not an alternate. Sometimes it’s just a bit of a wait.

Over is the pause. I don’t need a because. I am my own cause, of joy and freedom. I am leading in a new way. For a new day. The next decades. From broken heart to a fresh start.

Life is how we design it. Make it beautiful. Make it you. Be the masterpiece of our own truth. 

Let us never forget. Let the strength of who we are set our worth. Nothing short of our values is worth the effort for those who want to rule their piece of the earth for reasons that say we don’t belong.

Keep singing your song uncaged.
No matter your age.
You are the sage of your destiny.
Be who you are and want to — just be. 

Blessed, as I release my story and rest. Grateful that my fate was full – of love and learning and listening to the voices around me, above me, and within me that said I am meant to be here, now. It is not curtain call. It is not yet time to take my final bow, but a vow to be my voice and that of others who don’t have this luxury of choice.

Salima

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