Thursday, 12 September 2013

11th September

9/11 - you only have to say it and people know - they go right back to that day, where they were.  One of those days where millions of people across the world can remember vividly the events, the weather etc.

I happened to actually be in NYC that day.  My old job required a lot of travelling from time to time although mostly to our divisions HQ which was in CT and I normally flew via Boston.  However one of the projects I was involved with was holding a big meeting with people from all over the company and NYC seemed the place to hold it in one of the building on 42nd street that formed the hub of the overall HQ for the company.

That morning the Brits - there were about 10 of us as the entire development team had flown over - this was a big meeting to nail the initial prototype for a new global system.  I was programme manager for the whole thing.  Also several from the business side of our European customers were with us - hence the large Brit contingent.  But we had people flying in from Japan, Michigan, California and many from New York and surrounding areas like Connecticut as well coming in.

We decided at breakfast not to visit the world trade centre although I agreed to take one of the crew there later in the week to go to the observation deck and see the city from there.  With hindsight that was a smart decision.  We all headed into the office to set up, the tech guys needing to get themselves all set for a late morning kickoff once everyone turned up.

We couldn't see downtown from our meeting room but our host came in and said "Just so you know there's been a terrible accident a plane has hit the World Trade Centre so things will be a bit mad around here, people may well be late arriving".  One of the guys brought up CNN on his PC and projected it on the large screen just as the second plane hit.  I knew then "This is not an accident this is an attack".

The day was a right off workwise obviously and finding where people were became a nightmare - we had people in the air all over the place.  One called from Grand Central and I walked up to meet her.  It was a surreal place to be, people heading in and out of the city, but all just looking totally shocked.  A look of numbness I hope I never see in such a large collective again.  As I walked back with her we looked down one of the Avenues at the smoking towers and watched one of them collapse. 

Late in the afternoon we decamped to the hotel.  We were stuck there pretty much until the weekend when we got out to CT and then home on one of the first UK flights back from Newark.  The city was surreal - almost deserted.  I walked around one afternoon, the Thursday I think and past a car hire place with a queue around the block and watched a lady drive off shouting "I'm out of this city for good!".  When we landed we all came through into Heathrow T3 arrivals and there was an old boss of mine to make sure we were back and in cars to get us home.  We all gathered in a huge hug, most of us crying just feeling overwhelming release to be home.  A press photograph tried to take a photo but was told by security to get lost in the most impolite terms.  My kids didn't know I was coming back as there was every chance the flight wasn't going to happen so only when the woke the next morning did my wife tell them to come in to find me. There is no better feeling that being with the ones you love.

Flip back to the 11th - my wife was working in school.  She came dashing out at the end to pick my daughter up from the other class she was in.  A friend of hers said "Isn't it awful what happened in New York".  She went white and nearly collapsed as her friend told her then saying "don't tell me Graham is in New York".   She tried to call my phone - no answer as there was no network in NYC.  She rushed home - luckily a friend of mine was decorating my sons bedroom at the time for us - I'd just managed to get a message to him that I was safe and ok.  But it wasn't until very much later I spoke to her from the hotel when I could finally get a line to the UK after the city emptied.

This recollection is because to other bloggers have posted their reflections of that day.  runningonsober and byebyebeer  Both of their reflections talk about the events in relation to thier alcoholism.  Well I think I can safely say that day was the beginning of the end for me, I was still a drunk at that point although given I was "senior bloke in charge" I actually didn't drink that madly, apart from the last evening in NYC where I remember drinking way too much vodka and lying in the bathroom throwing up for a long time afterwards. 

When I got back home my drinking escalated.  I was angry and destructive not thinking how lucky and grateful I should have been.  I was a bit messed up about it, especially my then boss who I had a bizarre conversation with where frankly I knew he was lying to me through his teeth to try to make himself look better.  Boy was that a resentment I have struggled to deal with. 

Less than 2 years later I was embroiled in my year long battle to quit/control on my drinking and inside 3 years I was at rehab beaten and broken and finding a solution that so far has kept me sober to date.  A lot of people died and went through much much more than I did that day however, even though the recollection of it all is painful to me, there is that part of me that has to admit to being grateful that it accelerated my decent into lower depths of alcoholism and that finally it helped bring me to my knees and admit defeat.  And still as I finish typing this that awful taste I'll never forget of the acrid smoke and dust that swirled around the city that week is in my mouth.


  1. Phewwww. Chilling stuff. What a time for you.
    It still seems totally surreal even given the interim years/events and my physical distance from it.
    Glad that your particular story had a happy outcome.

  2. Graham, can I vent my spleen just a bit? Not at you. I read those posts by runningonsober and byebyebeer and I think that taking 9/11 and turning it around and making it all about their recovery is wholly inappropriate and kind of grotesque. My god, does every event have to somehow tie into their precious fucking recovery? It rained bodies that morning. They should stop gazing lovingly into the mirror for a moment and look at the big, busted outside world, even if it's for just one post.

    Apologies if this seems harsh and wrongheaded. But if we don't mix it up in the comment section once in a while, things can get awfully dull.

    1. That is a tough comment. I read them as honest reflections from people where they are now.

      I think one of the reasons I didn't deal with that well was because I thought I should be grateful but I wasn't so that created more tension inside me.

    2. I'm not an alcholic, although last time I kept a diary it was 160 units for the week and I'd forgotten to write down Friday. One thing I find very boring about people who can't handle their drink is the way that every fucking event gets used as a handmaidmaiden to their record of themselves. Alcoholics are narcissists, like us all, but manage to be uniquely dull in their accounts of that self-absorption. I've been around alcoholics for decades, and there are no greater self-dramatists. The first thing alcoholics seem to lose is an interest in others.

      However, having said that, I think it's fair enough for people to relate how a "big" news event to a way that it became a catalyst in their giving up.

      I am tempted to say that Americans resemble alcoholics in those respects. They make a huge memorial every bloody year out of 9/11, yet rarely consider the reasons why people spent years and years planing it and doing it, nor considering the far greater loss of life that their government inflicts on other people. But then that would make me sound like a thick-veined ranter, and more importantly, the glass a few inches from my typing hands is empty, and that's against my religion.

  3. What a horrendous thing. Poor Mrs F.