A sensory memory reliving

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An email in my inbox remains unread after several days since it arrived. Today I decided to investigate what has been holding me back from opening it.

As soon as it was conscionable, I noticed a sensation starting from above my shoulders, from the trapezius muscles, and it flowed down my arms. I took a moment to be present with the sensation as it moved. I felt an energy familiarly leave my body. At this point I decided to write this post.

I am reliving a moment sitting at the table where 9/11 volunteers sat, answering the phone calls of people looking for their lost. I have cried while typing this and my eyes are still wet.

I have not noticed feeling sensations reminiscent of 9/11 for over 4 years. In this moment, I feel heartache. Though I no longer have PTSD, I am in this moment feeling grief. My body is remembering the moment when I had no strength left to tell callers to try calling different hospitals. At that moment in the early hours of September 12, I could no longer continue thinking that no one else survived beyond those who made it to hospitals that day. That night, I could not cry. But I cry now, 22 and a half years later, feeling a sense of loss.

The pain in my chest has shifted from an all-encompassing ache to a concentrated sharpness to a weight at the bottom of the heart where it slowly drips away. As I look back at my words making edits, and then returning to noticing the sensations, I notice that they have changed. Bated breath, engaged shoulder muscles, weakness in the upper back. The weight in my chest has shifted into my abdomen. The weakness is now in my arms. Tears return with noting this weakness which I felt back then. My body is hunched. I remember that night putting my head on the table because I was too weak to sit up, and then picking up my head and asking the others, “What do you say to people?” A man looked at me and shook his head, “All you can do is tell them to try other hospitals.”

The weight is gone from my torso and a feeling of taking a fresh breath is in my lungs. Strength has returned to my arms and upper back, though there is exhaustion in my kidneys. A weakness has just appeared in my lower back, again familiar with those early hours telling the next caller to keep looking despite the grim reality that most callers would never see their missing loved ones alive again. The weakness has moved to the gluteal muscles and a pang in the heart remembers the loss. For the most part I am calm, but the grief is ever-present as these shifting sensations recall the night the world changed.

The unread email about a project budget reminds my body of the financial hardship that came after 9/11. Despite volunteering well into the night, I received no financial help after becoming sick with bronchitis, exposed to the dust from Ground Zero which had made its way into Brooklyn. Brooklyn residents who lived in the path of that dust cloud have not had access to compensation, and it makes no sense to me. Is it a race issue? Brooklyn had yet to be gentrified by White people. I lost my job because I became too sick to keep it. And the soot continued to seep into my home after seeing the doctor. My mortgage would have been paid off by now had I not lost my job. Though I have made progress, I feel impeded by initial attention on money management.

The grief I am currently feeling with this paragraph is no longer about the loss of lives, but about the loss of financial security during those years because someone decided that only people who can prove they were in lower Manhattan that day and some months after may receive financial compensation. It doesn’t matter that I gave my time, energy, and my entire self before returning home from volunteering. Later, I was rejected by FEMA from receiving an air purifier. I am distressed in my face from remembering this and can feel the facial muscles forming lines and wrinkles. FEMA rejected me because of a stupid rule that a person had to have an air purifier already in order to receive one. HOW DOES THAT MAKE SENSE? Why didn’t I lie and say that I had one? Probably because I had PTSD and was too stressed to realize what was necessary to get my needs met. As the face relaxes, I notice my mind is exhausted and does not want to remember what happened next. But that is basically why I became sick with bronchitis: because of FEMA’s stupid rule. And now I don’t want to open an email.

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