courtest http://www.gospelgifs.com/ Jim SuttonNothing will wipe away the olfactory memories I carry to this day of what I smelled on that sad September 11, 2001.
Imprinted in my brain is the 'smell' of a mixture of 'the smoke'...of wet concrete dust and some wood...of jet fuel and more smoke.
I have a 'good nose' as a chemist and always did. What served me so well while formulating and testing drugs and cosmetics only served to torture me. Now I know for certain that sometimes ignorance really is bliss.
We saw the orange glow and the smoke from our vantage point, too. We viewed it from the land and we viewed it from the water as we cruised at a 'respectful speed' towards the horizon of burning, smoking, glowing, hazy-hot what-used-to-be the WTC area of Manhattan. Others joined in this 'spontaneous flotilla'--ready to help, accompanied and observed by the Naval and U.S. Coast Guard and other ships in the area.
In a sense we were all there involuntarily. We were drawn to the water in order to get as close to 'Ground Zero' as possible for whatever may come after the initial terrible crashes, explosions and collapses.
All of us were on alert, while at the same time grieving, shaking our heads at the vision unfolding before us. We could only take in only so much before we slowly headed for port for more grieving, responding and strategizing.
When a plane flew overhead, whether we were on land or sea, all eyes assessed it anxiously. Was it ours? Would it be shot out of the sky? We were ready for anything by that time and 'up' for it, too.
Things got much worse fast. After four or five days the even more ominous odor of death and decay wafted towards the house, over the Sound and smack dab in our direction. It was so bad by then, that smell creeping opportunistically every time someone dared to open a door or window. There was no such thing as 'getting some fresh air'. There was no such thing as 'catching one's breath' after being overcome with emotion. The air was ropey and foul--thick with heartbreak, anger and fear.
You'd have to hold you breath between house and car, those of us doing 'community work'. The air was saturated with the stench of terrorism in a way I shall never forget and I was changed that day. As the ashes of a beloved sprinkled below a growing plant become a part of that plant, so that stench became a part of all of us, as we breathed those days. Our skin and hair absorbed it; there was no escape at all.
On the day that the odor of decaying human bodies first arrived at our door, I impulsively 'took the day off' and drove up the line. I had to escape that stench and nothing short of a family emergency would hold me back.
Me--the one with the 'strong stomach'--I couldn't take it. All that I'd seen and smelled and experienced over the years meant nothing these first weeks after September 11, 2001.
I think it was the persistent and lingering 'jet fuel' bottom note on 'stinker day' that finally made me break down. I wished I couldn't detect what I could.
Today I will tell you something I've never spoken of publicly before. I knew that this 'new' smell reaching us represented those walking wounded who never reached us at our Stamford Rail Road Station/Stamford Hospital Triage staging area.
Steel vaporizes, you know (or so an architect friend told me the day of the attacks). That's why the two towers 'collapsed' as they did. I don't know how an architect can know with such certainty a few hours after the attacks that 'there would be no survivors'...but that's what he told me. I listened to him and was better prepared for what was to come counseling-wise because he was right.
So that scent of molten, vaporized steel--that was something I'd never smelled before either and you can add that note to the repellent and deadly smell of terrorism those first few weeks after Sept. 11.
Even as I was 'escaping', I was reviewing likely 'constructs' sure to evolve around the debate of 'whether or not' first responders and survivors of 9/11 would sustain lasting respiratory and other injuries and sequelae. Shades of 'Agent Orange' debate from years ago when Uncle cruelly rejected victim claims.
How much better today that September 11, 2001 claims were not so similarly dismissed, but still, it's been a struggle to see justice meted out so that truly innocent victims can be compensated.
These are my olfactory memories of those days. I've auditory, visual, tactile and worse sensory memories I don't completely share, but these are some.
God Bless America,
Reverend Barbara Sexton
"The Biblical Biochemist-Where Science Meets the Cross"
http://www.gospelgifs.com/ Jim Sutton