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The Survivors’ Circle

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Earlyne Johnson, 36, left
North Tower, lobby
The communications specialist had just missed the elevator up to her 65th-floor office when she felt an explosion, followed by a hail of shattering glass. She covered her head with her arms, dashed for the exit, then set out to find her 51-year-old, asthmatic mother, who worked on the 73rd floor. She searched for twelve hours, before finding her safe at home in Newark late that night.

Wayne Schletter, 41, right
South Tower, 80th floor
The technology director was mid–conference call when he saw a fireball burst out of the North Tower. Colleagues in London and Hong Kong heard him scream through the phone. He headed for the stairs, stopping on the 56th floor to look out the window and see people jumping. He was on the 44th floor when the South Tower was hit but escaped minutes before it fell.
  

Zedeño: The way I resolved it was that everyone has to play a role, and this is mine. And it’s not about sitting around trying to answer that question: Why?

Chea: When people say to you, “You’re here for a reason,” there’s a pressure. You’re like, “What the hell is it?”

Zedeño: Everybody told me I was blessed. I didn’t feel that way. For me the question was not only why did I survive, but why did I have to survive? To live with those memories? It was memories that I couldn’t bear.

Fishman: Has the experience changed you?

Johnson: Well, I think I am a totally new person. Before 9/11, I would just get so irritated over small things, but now I’m just, like, go with the flow.

Canavan: My wife says I’m cold now. I’m not afraid of dying anymore because after being buried underneath it, I couldn’t see anything, pitch black, I couldn’t feel anything; the first thing I said was “I’m dead.” But my second thought was “It’s not so bad, it didn’t hurt. If this is what it’s like, it’s not bad at all.”

Fishman: When your wife says you’re cold now, what does she mean?

Canavan: My feelings … I had no patience for my kids and my wife, always snapping. At that point, I said, “I gotta get some help.”

Pasquale Buzzelli: I was distant for a while. I think what saved me is my children. I don’t want them to lose out on having me, you know, and after having survived [starts crying], so they kind of got me out of it.

Fishman: Are you really out of it?

Buzzelli: I thought I was over a lot of things. And then my department moved … I used to work in a two-story building, now I’m traveling up in the elevator to the twelfth floor. I didn’t think I’d have a problem with it, but … I was getting nightmares again, and it wasn’t something where I couldn’t function, but my sleep was starting to get interrupted again. You know, there’s certain things you never really get over. You try to avoid them as much as possible, or certain situations.

Fishman: Is it always the same nightmare?

Buzzelli: Yeah, it’s funny. Out of everything, and it’s not funny, I mean, it’s just weird, out of everything, you know I was in the collapse itself, falling with the building, laying on top of the rubble, and the one thing that I have a nightmare about is being trapped in an elevator … I’m trapped in an elevator and it just starts free-falling. And I have that feeling of falling. And then I wake up.

Fishman: If there were stages to your recoveries, what are they? Anger…

Canavan: Guilt.

Buzzelli: The numbness.

Zedeño: Forgiveness. But it wasn’t about forgiving other people, it was forgiving myself.

Fishman: One survivor told me he felt like it was September 12 all the time. Do you?

Buzzelli: It’s like September 16 now! [Laughter]

Canavan: Is anybody bitter? Like, toward Arabs, whoever, Saudi Arabians or Iranians?


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