Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering 9.11 - panic attacks, ocean prayers, anthrax scares & art

How did I end up in flimsy latex gloves and an allergy mask, opening Mel Gibson's mail in search for signs of anthrax? It never rang more true, that old assistant's mantra. They don't pay me enough for this.

Two weeks earlier, after waking and watching the footage of the twin towers from the West coast, I went on auto-pilot.  I don't remember the drive from Burbank to Hollywood, whether the roads were clear of traffic, or what I said to the guard on my way into the offices at Paramount.  I do remember turning on the copier, measuring water and grinding beans and the smell of the coffee brewing.  Numb and uncertain, having never experienced anything like that in my 25 years in the U.S., I wondered if I was supposed to sit down at my desk?  Start reading scripts like it was any other day?

Those of us who came to work that Tuesday were sent home.  The impact of 9/11 didn't hit me fully for days, overwhelmed but unable to look away from the repeated footage of the planes crashing into the towers, the frightened people on the streets covered in ash.  There was a general sense of shock, having no coping tools for such an attack and loss of life.  It felt personal, and I felt helpless.

A few days later, having made the coffee, turned on the copier, and settled in with a script, the futility of that routine hit me, and I had a panic attack, managing to make it to my car to call my dad while I gasped for air.  I steered in the direction of Hollywood Presbyterian, where my friend had told me they were holding a prayer service, and after that, drove up Highway 1 to a secluded, rocky beach, nature being more of a church to me.  It was a place to turn away from the overwhelming images and conflicting messages about who to blame, to find space and place to be quiet.

I don't know if I realized I was mourning at the time, though 10 years later, we can see so much more of what was made visible when those towers were attacked.

Looking at a journal entry from September 2001, I had written about feeling suddenly thrust into the reality of a new war, learning about small countries that border Afghanistan.  At work we were in the middle of script development, production, and an anthrax scare, so I was opening the office's mail in latex gloves and an allergy mask.  Hardly worth the sad salary of an assistant, and not enough to protect me from a real threat, but then neither were the hastily erected barricades surrounding Paramount.  Did anyone know what to do anymore?

My world both contracting and expanding through the news coverage, I wasn't sure of my role any longer.  Pursuing careers in the arts and the entertainment industry, a friend asked, "In the midst of this, are art and humor still valid?"


And especially then, greeting actors and filmmakers with my plastic gloves and anthrax mask, I had to answer yes.  Now more than ever.

(Share your story, find links, videos more 9/11 recollections, remembrances and find links to videos and stories at The AFD Project.)

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