PREFACE: This was part of a series of stories I compiled last year called “GROUND ZERO: THE UNTOLD STORIES“.
It’s not about the act. It’s not about politics. It’s about the people affected by it. The events as seen through their eyes.
It’s still merely a .txt file in my hard drive. After the media basically ran September 11th to the ground (as I suspect they’ll do again in the next few weeks…) I felt people didn’t need this.
I also worried about how people would take this particular story as there is more than enough real-life tragedy of the attacks in N.Y.C. and D.C. to fill a thousand lifetimes.
The following story is grim and horrific. Those easily upset may want to skip it.
It’s the “fictional” story of a woman buried alive when the towers collapsed. The sights, the sounds… the terror.
I put “fictional” in quotes… because I sometimes wonder, given my connection with the other side. I wrote this in Mid-October 2001… when the screams of the long-dead still haunted my dreams. I was possessed. My fingers couldn’t stop writing.
When I finished, a woman’s voice whispered “thank you” behind me.
I didn’t bother to turn around. I knew I wouldn’t see anyone.
I feel it’s time for her story to be told….
*****M y * N a m e * i s * M a r i a ********
The sun had settled hours ago in New York City, but the rescue teams had no plans of quitting that first night. Somewhere under the countless tons of smoldering rubble were thousands of people. They were someone’s mom or dad; husband or wife; son or daughter.
If they survived the fall, the fires, the smoke and the gallons of water… they may still be in the many crevices the collapsing skyscraper formed in the “pancake effect”.
If they were still alive… time is running out.
Through the mist and the smoke, a figure was caught in the corner of a young firefighter’s eye. It disappeared when he looked directly at it, but he knew he saw something. He abruptly left his crew, still digging through the debris. His departure was hardly noticed, as they just discovered a pocketbook and personal effects, and close to finding another body.
As he moved closer, walking on the unsteady debris, the silhouette he saw began to take shape. His heart begins to pound harder. The stench of burning rubber, mortar and flesh grew stronger. Even through his oxygen mask, it was burning his throat.
The powerful floodlights surrounding what was once Two World Trade Center barely cut through the clouds of asbestos. But there, off in the shadows, he saw it again.
It was a young woman. Balancing her way across the rubble toward the lights. Her hair matted, clothes tattered; with thick patches of dirt, caked with blood, across the left side of her face. Her left arm seemingly unable to move. Possibly broken.
Miraculously, a survivor has found her way out of the rubble.
Quickly, the young firefighter rushes toward her, ripping off his oxygen mask and putting it over her mouth. At first, the disoriented girl flinches and struggles to keep anything off her face… then accepts it. Her trembling hand grasps the mask, taking in fresh air for the first time since 9 that morning.
“s-s-so.. c-c-cold….”, she says through the mask. He drapes his rubber coat carefully over her shivering shoulders and escorts her toward an ambulance. Her weakened legs begin to falter, so he lifts her up and carries the rest of the way.
She begins to tug on his shirt, with an urgency that she tell him something. Perhaps there were more survivors where she was. He puts her down near a large hunk of cement. He crouches near her and attentively listens to what she is about to say.
“W-what happened?”, she asked, “I was on the phone with my mother, when the room filled with black smoke. I was telling her, I’m okay and leaving the building. As I w-was trying to find the stairs… the ground disappeared, and I felt like I was falling forever.”
“It all collapsed”, he told her. Though he saw it all, he said it as though he didn’t believe it himself. “The heat of the plane melted the metal supports, and it’s weight caused it all to collapse.”
“Was anyone else near you…?” He was afraid to finish the sentence. It was as though the phrase “still alive” became a dirty word.
“When I came to, I heard a lot of screaming.”, she said, answering his question, “but they sounded so far away through the dirt and rubble”.
“You can see the flames off to the distance, but it was so dark. There were so many at first. Screaming for help, screaming to God… but no one heard them. One by one, the voices began turned to painful moans to silence.”
“It was as if we were all in Hell….and leaving, one by one, to the unknown.”
She went on to describe the sheer horror of being buried alive. She was face-up and her lower spine bent painfully backward. She tried to free the lower half of her body, pinned from the torso down with heavy rubble. But it was hopeless. She couldn’t feel her left arm.
She, too, wanted to scream… but a cold hand was clamped on her mouth. Someone’s severed arm from the debris inches from her face. It was suffocating her, and she couldn’t reach it with her good arm.
In the darkness, through the ghastly silence… she found some form of serenity and inner strength. Somewhere deep inside of her that she never knew existed.
A flame ignited nearby, to her right. What was once her enemy just hours ago, is now giving her comfort; giving light and keeping her company. The flicker of the flames provided a distraction, giving her time to reminisce and remember what was important:
Next week is her mother’s birthday. She was hoping to pick up the beautiful set of earrings that she saw in the jewelry store downstairs. She was also going to break the wonderful news that she had finally accepted Joey’s marriage proposal. Her mother always saw him as a family member, and this would just thrill her.
As the flames began to die out, she resolved that there was no way she can give up and stay down there any longer.
With this new-found strength, she began to struggle free. Both arms seemed to work now. She began digging upward, terrified at what she may uncover… but she knew she couldn’t quit. At certain points, it felt as if she were rising up from the bottom of a deep swimming pool.
She concluded her incredible tale: “There was no way I could stay down there… I have to get home to my mom and Joey, and let them know I’m okay.”
The young firefighter and the young woman saw a break in the mist and turned to see that his crew uncovered another body.
A woman charred beyond recognition by an underground flame.
Her body was placed in a body bag. Her severed left arm was found nearby and placed on top of her. The young woman recognizes the engagement ring on the corpse’s hand.
The young firefighter notices her look away and tightly shut her eyes.
He takes her hand as a gesture of comfort.
“Was that someone you knew?”
She looks up to the dark skies, as the bitter reality hits her…struggling to release tears that would never come.
“Yeah…”, she replies, “you could say that.”
She looks down at him. No longer disoriented, she finally makes eye contact with him.
Her facial expression is cold and soulless: “My name is Maria. Please tell my mom I love her, and I’m sorry I’m going to miss her birthday. Please tell her to take care of Joey for me?”
“Wait!” He says, trying to stop her, as she begins walking back toward the mist. “We gotta get you to St. Vincent’s. We can have a squad car pick them up and meet you there…”
“I have to go now.”, she tells him.
“Maria!”, he yells out.
She turns around.
“You realize we’re going to war with whoever did this…”
“It doesn’t matter anymore.”, she replies…
“Revenge is only for the living.”