09/11/2013 10:47 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Fluttering

I don't have to look at a calendar.  I feel it coming.

The humidity lifts, the sun shines, the breeze washes the streets.

I duck my head, focus on the busyness of school preparations.  Of an upcoming change of seasons.

Another day passes.

I try to push it away.

It ignores me, reaches out from inside me.

The pulse of laughter, mobile phones ringing, cabs honking, newspapers crinkling, the puff of a city bus before it pulls away from the stop.

The thunks and clicks and shuffles of all different kinds of feet from all over the world, converging in one place.  The melody of the mixing of humanity.

Business.  Money.  Food.  The white glare of sunshine off of blue glass windows forcing pedestrians to don sunglasses as they sip their coffees.

The sharp creek of heavy metal bulkhead doors before they crash open onto the early morning sidewalks.  Heavy men in white aprons yelling in colorful languages at skinny guys hefting crates off of delivery trucks, down into the bowels of restaurants.

The life.  The flow of people, bikes, cabs, cars, buses, vans through the streets like blood rushing through a living creature.


The city bled.

I ran.

My breath huffing to the quick beat of my thick black shoes heading West on a late summer morning.

The bleeps of redial and a busy tone Eh! Eh! Eh! on the cell phone at my ear as I prayed to connect with the one I love.

The cries, pleas, reassurances of others on the street just finding out, disbelieving, shouting "No!" as sweat built up inside my blue button-down shirt.

The soft rumbling of hundreds collected by the pier, waiting in uncharacteristic patience for the ferry, as it hushed Eastward towards us, empty.

My heart thudding in my ears when we pulled into the water.  A gasp, then nothing but the hum of the engine when we saw the cloud of dust rise.  And what was no longer there.

My breath slowed by force.  I turned away, closed my eyes from the sun, the dust, the long golden tendril that tickled my face in the breeze of a rooftop ferry ride away from disaster.

And then.

Two days later.

Back to work.  

Tentative steps were met with the fluttering posters of missing loved ones taped to buildings, poles, phone booths.  Cars, windows, newspaper boxes.

The rippling of prayers, pleas and hope.

The faces and numbers.  The names and smiles. The buildings and floors of where they were.


They were everywhere, because the people were nowhere.

The city, as any creature would, eventually healed.

The pulse thrummed again.

The streets rushed again.

But the fluttering, The Missing, they stay with me. 

They slow my pace.

Every September.

They make me lay my hand on my chest, take a deep breath, feel the thud of life inside me.

And I remember.

Some of the thousands of Missing fliers I photographed in the days, weeks, months following the WTC attack. Of all that happened, this has been the hardest thing for me to experience.

This post was originally shared on Let Me Start By Saying on 08/23/11. I was supposed to be in the WTC at 9am that day, but a moment's decision kept me a safe distance away, in Midtown Manhattan. Twelve years, one marriage and two kids later, the loss on those fliers hits me even harder. It will always stay with me. They will always stay with me.