I moved to New York City after college and lived there during September of 2001. My trauma around 9/11 has been packed away for 14 years, completely untouched. With the help of the world's best therapist, I've been unpacking that 14-year old trauma and integrating 2001 Kim with 2015-16 Kim. I opened that trunk in my brain that had never been opened, I started telling my story, I started identifying my triggers (sirens, smoke, heights), I baked cookies for firemen, and I got a tattoo. My "last step" was visiting the 9/11 Museum in NYC, which I did three days ago.
My ho, Jaime (We call each other "ho". Just go with it.) turned 40 over the weekend and we took a trip to NYC to celebrate. When Jaime asked me to go to NYC, I asked her to go with me to the 9/11 Museum, which, pro tip, is a really great way to sabotage someone's 40th birthday trip to NYC.
I'm going to fight my impulse to deflect and make light of this and just jump right in. We walked from our hotel to the museum. I haven't been to that part of Manhattan, honestly since 2001-2002, and it looks a lot different so I didn't have my bearings. But all of a sudden, about a block away, I realized where I was and my heart started to race. And then I saw St. Paul's Chapel and I couldn't go any further. I realized I was scared, and I started crying. We were standing right in front of the PATH Station, so people were everywhere and I was just standing still and crying. I felt so embarrassed, like I was putting on a show, which Jaime reminded me is me telling myself I don't deserve these feelings and this grief, which is how I got here in the first place. Jaime's a good ho.
There are a lot of logistics involved in getting into the museum, so that calmed me down and gave me something to focus on. Once we were inside, Jaime did a good job of somehow seeing things before I did and saying, "Hey, you're about to see a thing. Are you ready to see this thing?" And that helped tremendously. Unfortunately, neither one of us knew what was going to be emotional for me to see.
We were walking through and I was doing okay and I started to think that maybe the museum was going to be fine, that the build up to going and the freak out outside was the worst of it. Then we came upon the "Last Column" and I was not okay. For reasons I won't go into here, my fight or flight got triggered recently and I had a panic attack that was so strong I almost (or possibly did) pass out. When I saw the Last Column that same wave of panic washed over me and I lost the feeling in my legs. I don't remember exactly what I said to Jaime, but she knew I wasn't okay. There was nowhere to sit down and I was dizzy and getting nauseous and I was crying. I think Jaime just propped me against the wall and held me up. I don't 100% remember. I do remember that, again, I was embarrassed and felt like I was making a spectacle of myself and that people were staring at me.
I'm a fast recoverer, so I was okay after a few minutes and we went on through the rest of the museum. We had been in there about 2 hours and thought we were done. We sat down on a bench in a kind of community gathering area and I told Jaime my story from September 11, 2001. I had no idea I had never told her. It felt comforting to tell my story inside the museum. It felt right.
We thought we were leaving and instead were at the entrance to the Historical Exhibition. There's a museum staffer that lets you through the double doors into the exhibition and he basically serves as a human trigger warning - no kids under 10, graphic images, graphic audio - and he tells you that it takes 45 minutes to walk through.
This is hard to write because this was the hardest part of the museum for me. The first thing I saw when I walked in was a television playing the footage of The Today Show breaking in with the news that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Towers. I was watching The Today Show in 2001 when they broke in with that news and immediately knew that was the sound I had just heard - the sound of the plane flying over my building and into the Tower. To see that footage after all of the years is surreal. Standing there in that museum, watching that footage, it all came back - the fear, the panic, the terror of thinking I was going to die, and in hindsight, I think my body flooded with adrenaline. I was crying and shaking. I kept one hand over my mouth to keep from crying out and the other arm wrapped my waist trying to control the shaking. And I stayed like that through most of the exhibit.
God, it hurt so much. I saw things I didn't know I was going to see, and didn't know I was going to remember seeing. It's like going back, years later, to the scene of car crash that's still completely intact. It took us probably 90 minutes to get through that 45-minute exhibit and I cried and panicked through a lot of it, for sure through the entire first part. It's hard to tell yourself you're safe when your brain thinks you're not.
When you come out of the exhibit, you're done and back at the entrance to the museum, and then you go outside to the memorial and reflecting pool. I felt like I had been run over by a train. But I was really proud of myself and really overwhelmed with gratitude for Jaime. We both kind of cried and hugged and then walked back to our hotel.
There is a wall in the museum covered in tiles painted by artists in the shade of blue they remember the sky being on the morning of September 11th. For 15 years I've had trouble with the color of the sky from around late July to August because there is a very specific shade of blue in my memory from September 11th and as the sky grows closer to that color, I start getting anxious. For 15 years. I thought it was just me. Thank you, New York.
P.S. More on my 9/11 trauma.
P.P.S. How I'm working through it.