Traveling along winding, county route #520, also known as River Road, I approached the central New Jersey town of Red Bank.
It was a glorious autumn day. The sky had never been a more intense shade of blue-violet and the air never smelled more delicious. The sun shone fiercely, causing the typically grey skies of a New Jersey fall day to abruptly fade to memory. The foliage, bathed in amber, plum, chartreuse and carnelian, smelled of oak and berry; remarkably similar to the wine I had enjoyed with supper the night before. As I traveled over the small fixed bridge and under the train trestle leading into Red Bank, I waited for the light to turn green.
On my way to the small boutique that I owned, I passed through the quaint town filled with its shops, art galleries and outdoor cafes. Red Bank is known for its history and chic bohemian lifestyle and residents. Throughout the years I had become somewhat acquainted with its more illustrious natives of the film and music industries.
Both of my children were in tow on this day and they were happily playing and chatting with one another as we drove on. They were eight and six years old then.
Red Bank was established in the mid 1800’s primarily as a port to transfer residents to and from New York City. It banks itself along two converging rivers, the Shrewsbury and the Navesink, where twin masted schooners are moored and ice boat regattas take place in the winter months. The two rivers empty into the ocean after making their way around the tip of Sandy Hook. This body of water is also known as the New York Bight where New York City appearing on the horizon seems only a stone’s throw away.
Driving a few miles further east you arrive in the town of Seabright, New Jersey, another quaint seaside town marked with a stone sea wall running along the entire length of the oceanfront town’s main artery. Many times we would climb the sea wall and view New York; with it’s gleaming massive twin structures piercing the sky like mosaic, mirrored, monoliths.
Suddenly from nowhere came the high-pitched screams of an after burner followed by a deafening rumble. The ground shook. Panic filled my ears and eyes. Terrified I worried about my children. But they were tenderly under my guard and held fast to their secured rear seat positions within my view. Confident and soldier-like I mechanically spied the surroundings to determine where the sound emanated from. There were hordes of people on foot, scurrying like lemmings away from town and back in the direction of the train trestle bridge. Cars and trucks honked their horns furiously while others slammed into one another creating pileups of mangled steel. Overhead, missiles were quickly speeding into view; thunderously they shattered the skies above with wide flaming contrails spanning the blue horizon.
My children’s eyes burned with fear as their cries pleaded my name.
I drove frantically on as my mind raced seeking cover out of harm’s way. I sped out of town and headed north, away from buildings, people and cars. Steadfast and resolute, I would get us to safety and thought for a moment if the world should end on this glorious autumn day, we would be together. My children and I would be in each others arms during that fateful moment at the very least.
I awoke in an ice cold sweat and knew I had experienced a dream of prophetic proportions. I could not shake the dream for weeks, then months. Finally I found myself 10 years later, waking up again, for the first time.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I had my day pre-planned. I had taken the day off from the hospital I worked at in Red Bank, NJ. The morning was unusually spectacular. The bluest sky. The briskest air. The delightful fragrance of autumn.
I awoke my son very early to escort him to his new off-campus housing in Philadelphia, where he was studying filmmaking and special effects. ETA was 8:30 a.m. I decided, at the last minute, that even though his sister was still two years away from college, she too could benefit from this day by getting a glimpse of what college life offers and it would be something of a field trip for her. I told her she would not be going to school that day and to get dressed. Excitedly she complied.
While we perused the campus housing, other parents and incoming freshman students gathered in the mockup apartments where a young college student tour guide was our host. A television blared with morning cable news programming.
As the prospective students and parents toured the complex, I was hypnotically fixed to the television screen. Initially I believed I was viewing a movie trailer for an upcoming low budget but realistic action film and called to my son, the soon-to-be filmmaker. In seconds, his eyes met mine, quickly reassessing the severity of the situation. Before the second plane hit, I grabbed my teens and evacuated the building.
The surreal horror of a dream some 10 years prior seemed to be replaying live on the Technicolor screen before me. Parents, students and college guides scrambled out of rooms and down staircases as announcements overhead gave orders, “Evacuate immediately! There is no mass transit operating at this time! All airports are indefinitely closed! The city of Philadelphia will be under martial law in 15 minutes!”
Just as in my dream, I drove heading north and away from the city. My mind furiously calculated the events while my voice was completely choked off. I headed into the mountains and away from traffic and large urban areas. I drove until I nearly reached the Pennsylvania state line. My son and I kept searching the skies overhead. My daughter wept uncontrollably.
The radio endlessly chattered incomprehensible, devastating news. Other stations spewed garbled nonsense, panic and fear. I decided to turn it off completely.
My children, 16 and 18, noticed the haunting, absolute silence. The car we were driving produced no sound nor did any other moving vehicle within our surroundings. The silence was total. It was as if the entire world had simultaneously fallen asleep and a pin dropped 1,000 miles away would be able to be heard. Together on that blistering day of pain and fear, we stood as one and were humbled by the silence after the destruction.
Moments seemed forever as the silence grew larger. Every voice was empty. Every thought was filled. The collective unconscious was permeable and thick like honey. No sound was needed. No voice was necessary. Our souls heard every heart beating. Wet from tears that ceased falling we felt the anguish of all humanity that day. Bewailing those not fortunate to have survived and the sheer horror unfolding before the world, we desperately wished to aid them in their most surmountable moment of suffering and loss.
So we turned east and drove home. Home to the train trestle bridge. Home to the sea wall in Sea Bright. Home, only to witness a mushroom cloud rising where New York City should have been, thick with acrid smoke and bits of burned paper wafting in from over the bight right into our naked palms. The skies filled with what looked like confetti. The victims came in on the ferries to our small hospital, Riverview Medical Center, where I had worked but had taken that day off.
Covered in soot and ash and the burnt remains of their fallen co-workers, loved ones and friends, they came; witnessing the horror, we trembled silently. We stood together not only as a family but as a nation on that day and for many more to come. Yet through all of this still the silence was impermeable. I cannot recall one word spoken on that day. One could only feel the massive pain of others. Of the entire world.
For months following we would learn of the loss of many friends, co-workers and family members. Several in the Twin Towers, others in the surrounding buildings and one, my high school friend’s father, on Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania. Not very far from where I had driven that day to escape to safety with my two children. We attended funerals every day, sometimes two times per day for weeks. Never would the sky be as blue. It would now be grey forever.
My soul was altered on that day. Somehow shaken loose it felt as if it did not fit my body any longer.
I came to know of a godlike being or a super force that resided within me. Much larger than we mere mortals, it does in fact exist in each one of us and all around us, in whatever form it so chooses. The gift of vision that the Universe, this Source, has bestowed upon me, I am grateful for and humbled by.
The importance and fragility of life and of each cherished moment that we share was and is all that matters. I was brought to the brink of destruction in my dreams ten years prior to prepare me for that vile brief moment in time on September 11, 2001.
Chaotically we race around on this ball of molten rock spinning through space and spinning our wheels over minutiae. Yet we united as one after this awful event and our collective conscious was felt all over, far and wide. Our dreams are alive within us and the source of the Universe is as well. We do not need to speak to be heard. Within the silence are the loudest voices of all. Whispers in the sound of silence.