I have wondered for several years now, how I would feel when today arrived – the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11th. I pondered what my thoughts would be; where I would be and with whom. What kind of force created by sentimentality and nostalgia would occur, connecting me with emotions and events I rarely speak about – not necessarily because I dislike speaking about it, but because I enjoy listening to the experiences of others…that combined with the delicate fact that my experience is relatable to a select few of photojournalists who, like me, walked through the dust and debris that day ten years ago.
When I awoke this morning, I sat at the kitchen table sipping the cup of coffee my sweetie made for me, still wondering how I felt. I was entirely unprepared for how quickly the tears came when we started talking about the arrival of today and the significance of the anniversary.
I found myself wondering aloud to Mike about the people that I photographed that day…where they are, who they are with and how they are marking this day. Where is Daisy, who lost her sister Batilda? Where is Michelle, who lost her husband of two months who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald? Where is Karrah, possibly the most photographed woman during the days following 9.11 as she tirelessly kept every candle lit at the Union Square memorial? Where is the firefighter from Ladder 21 who lost his brother, also a firefighter? Where is the man I photographed taping two missing person’s posters up outside of Bellevue Hospital – posters of his mother AND his father? So caught in my own tears for his loss, I could not speak to him to ask him his name. Where is the single firefighter I saw rescued that day? Where are all the doctors and nurses that I met and photographed at the triage station in the Staten Island Ferry terminal, all waiting and waiting to treat the injured that never arrived.
Most of all I wonder where Sophia is. Sophia’s husband, a Port Authority police officer was killed on 9.11. She miscarried their baby due to the stress. From Latin America and without family or many friends, she was utterly alone as her parents were denied visas into the country to come help her. I met, photographed and sat and cried with Sophia as she rocked in a rocking chair in a small, dim, quiet room. Sitting and crying with her in that room was the only thing I had to give her, which a decade later still feels an inadequate gesture for the gift she gave me of trusting me to tell her story and capture her image at such a moment in her life. Did Sophia eventually return to her native country in Latin America or did she decide to stay in New York? Did she find love again? Is she a mother now? Am I sure that I want to know?
I shared with my sweetie a quote that I have carried with me for years, since the beginning of my career. I found that today I have a much deeper understanding and connection to the words.
“Sometimes the price is heartbreak. There are people you carry around in your heart for the rest of your life, and some of their stories are sad beyond tears.” - Cathy Newman, ‘Women Photographers at National Geographic’
I do carry the people I have photographed around with me. I cherish and protect them and I don’t speak of them often. Maybe because the person they were in the moment our paths crossed is so delicate. Maybe it is because of the vulnerability we experienced together that I protect that momentary version of them.
I will continue to carry these people. I will bring them with me through my life, in what may be a strange and feeble attempt to spread the heavy load we were given through the events of that day and to stay connected to others who saw what I saw, smelled what I smelled, heard what I heard.