My life 20 Years Later as a 9/11 Survivor. By Dave Cassera
My memories are shockingly vivid yet blurred. The tastes and smells are the most prevalent. Although 9/11 wasn’t the first time I was a first hand witness to violence and death it was the first time I felt totally helpless watching the bodies fall. I ran for my life while thinking why should I be afforded to live another day, do I deserve it? I thought about my girlfriend over 50 blocks away at her work and that determination to find her was enough to push forward through the crowds and dust.
I felt an overwhelming relief when I found Denise at a deli on 42nd street eating her lunch calmly. It was like seeing her for the first time again. I felt an urgency to whisk her away and escape from Manhattan. Our only way out was to walk through the midtown tunnel and 9 miles from Manhattan to my home at the time in Forest Hills, Queens. It was grueling, physically and emotionally exhausting but calming because we were together.
The next morning on September 12 we woke up together and we agreed to return to ground zero to assess the situation. We made it as far south as Houston Street where military barriers blocked our path. We just stood their staring into a giant abyss of black smoke. It wasn’t a dream, We were reassured of that. It was a nightmare and we were living in it. The weeks and months following the attacks were unnerving. Each day I would have to leave my desk at my design internship on 34th to the sound of emergency alarms. I would exit the bldg and join thousands of people in the street daily as the Empire State bldg and others were evacuated. We literally had to relive it over and over again out of an abundance of safety and precaution.
My experience as a survivor consists of a mixture of denial, anxiety, an aspiration to live life boldly like every day is my last, a desire to help others achieve their creative dreams through my galleries and a never ending sadness for the ones that perished that day.
Every year for the past 20 years on the anniversary of Sept. 11, I struggle to write my account of those memories to friends, family and colleagues. For 10 years I was numb from prescription drugs and only wanted to forget and move on. The past 10 years I’ve matured, stopped taking meds and opened up about my experiences even though it’s painful to have all these feelings again, its impossible to forget.
Fast forward 20 years later Denise and I are married and have two beautiful children. So happy anniversary to my wife! I couldn’t have asked for a better life. It’s true for me that one of the worst tragedies in our lifetimes is where I find peace, love and light even through the darkness. #neverforget #911survivor #ImASurvivor